JFK the worst president of the 20th century? Maybe…

July 19, 2011

So argues Thomas Ricks, a lifelong Massachusetts Democrat, in a short article at Foreign Policy:

“As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.

In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.

Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam’s President Diem on Kennedy’s watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there. (The other was the decision to wage a war of attrition on the unexamined assumption that Hanoi would buckle under the pain.) I don’t buy the theory promulgated by Robert McNamara and others that Kennedy would have kept U.S. troops out. Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam — just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: “We’ll scale down our presence after victory is secure.” And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, who I suspect had been looking for a “small war” mission for the Army for several years. Indochina looked like a peachy place for that — warmer than Korea, and farther from Russia.”

It’s an interesting argument. Clearly Kennedy has been overrated to the point of canonization by Democrats who see a Golden Age in his administration that was lost to assassination. Along with the foreign policy problems Ricks mentions, many of Kennedy’s major domestic initiatives were stalled in Congress, only to be pushed through because of LBJ’s skillful politics in the wake of Kennedy’s murder.

On the other hand, JFK’s reputation has had a bit of a revival on the Right, at least by comparison with those Democrats who came after him: he did set us on the course to the Moon; he was a Cold Warrior vis-a-vis the Soviet Union (albeit an inept one); and he pushed through major tax cuts that lead to the early 60s boom.

But the worst of the 20th century? It think Ricks is using a bit of hyperbole to to force a reconsideration of Kennedy, for I can posit a few candidates for “worst:”

  • Woodrow Wilson, for his imposition of segregation in the federal government, his needless violations of civil rights during and after World War 1, and his general disdain for the Constitution.
  • Herbert Hoover/FDR. Peas in a pod, controversial only because Hoover is a demon and FDR a demigod in the liberal theology. Yet, far from being a laissez-faire do-nothing whose evil had to be undone by the New Deal, Hoover was a big-government interventionist whose work laid the foundations for FDR’s programs, and those programs lengthened the Great Depression by seven years. Considering the misery of the Depression, that should put both men up there on the “worst” scale. There’s also the matter of the Japanese internment of World War II, a candidate for the greatest civil rights crime of the 20th century, rivaling slavery and the ethnic cleansing of the Indian tribes in the 19th. Let’s give FDR the lion’s share of this.
  • LBJ: His “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” massively and unconstitutionally expanded the federal government, harmed African-Americans, and put us well on the road to the entitlement crisis we face today. And let’s not forget badly, horribly mishandling the war in Vietnam.
  • Nixon: Criminality in Watergate, wage and price controls, and weakness with the Soviets via detente. The latter made the Soviets feel they could make a final push to gain superiority over us, which for a time they may have achieved.
  • Carter: Need I say more?

So, while Ricks has a point about Kennedy’s weaknesses, there are others arguably as bad or worse. If forced to make a choice, for now I’d choose LBJ; Carter was weaker, but Johnson’s entitlement binge is doing us much greater long-term damage. And while FDR expanded the government and mishandled the Depression badly, he at least won his war.

Whom would you choose?

LINK: Doug Mataconis votes for Woodrow Wilson.

via Big Peace

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Brit Hume: Obama’s DoJ resembles Nixon’s

July 10, 2011

More and more people are noticing the stink of coverup surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, aka “Gunwalker,” and the Obama administration’s role in it. Hume asks the question many of us want answered: What did Holder (and Obama) know and when did they know it?

BACKGROUND: Earlier posts on Gunwalker.

via The Daily Caller

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


This would probably have adversely affected my childhood

December 6, 2010

In 1969, I was eleven years old, and my family had just moved to Sacramento. Little did I know, as I started sixth grade and worried about making friends, that the Soviets were on the verge of nuking the tar out of China:

The Soviet Union was on the brink of launching a nuclear attack against China in 1969 and only backed down after the US told Moscow such a move would start World War Three, according to a Chinese historian.

The extraordinary assertion, made in a publication sanctioned by China’s ruling Communist Party, suggests that the world came perilously close to nuclear war just seven years after the Cuban missile crisis.

Liu Chenshan, the author of a series of articles that chronicle the five times China has faced a nuclear threat since 1949, wrote that the most serious threat came in 1969 at the height of a bitter border dispute between Moscow and Beijing that left more than one thousand people dead on both sides.

He said Soviet diplomats warned Washington of Moscow’s plans “to wipe out the Chinese threat and get rid of this modern adventurer,” with a nuclear strike, asking the US to remain neutral.

But, he says, Washington told Moscow the United States would not stand idly by but launch its own nuclear attack against the Soviet Union if it attacked China, loosing nuclear missiles at 130 Soviet cities. The threat worked, he added, and made Moscow think twice, while forcing the two countries to regulate their border dispute at the negotiating table.

So, while Moscow was planning on reducing Beijing (and Canton and Shanghai and…) to radioactive cinders, Nixon was promising to do the same thing to Mother Russia, if the Kremlin didn’t back off.

This was the period of Nixon’s outreach to China, and his and Kissinger’s grand scheme saw the Chinese as a counterweight to the USSR’s aggression. They were also worried about the effect a nuclear strike on China would have on US troops in the region, and undoubtedly on our allies in the area, too. The President played the ultimate US trump card and, fortunately, Brezhnev and company weren’t willing to call him on a bluff.

Not only is this another illustration of how close we sometimes came to ending the world, but it also stands in contrast to our modern confrontation with would-be nuclear powers, especially Iran. While Moscow was indeed on the verge of nuclear war, the USSR was still a modern European state with a rational interest in its own survival. In the face of a credible threat from the US, it made a calculation of its interests and decided the price for carrying out its planned attack was too great to pay. It is just this kind of rational decision-making in an environment of mutually assured destruction that paradoxically kept us all safe from the end of World War II to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

But, would this threat work with Iran, whose leaders see themselves as having a divine mission to bring about the Islamic version of the End Times? Their intellectual paradigm is very much different from that shared by US and Soviet leaders, and I fear that, after gaining the bomb, Tehran might decide the price of a devastating counterstrike would be worth paying, in order to bring about the return of the Mahdi and Islam’s final victory.

In that case, many, many children will not have the close escape I had.

PS. Do click through to the article, if only for the picture of Nixon with Brezhnev. Britons especially will appreciate the gesture Tricky Dick is making toward the Soviet leader.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Nixon’s lost 18.5 minutes found?

July 28, 2009

Here’s a really interesting article on the possibility of finally finding out what was said during the infamous 18.5-minute gap on Richard Nixon’s “Watergate Tapes.”

CSI: Watergate?

Many have since tried to figure out what transpired during that gap. But now, Phil Mellinger, a one-time systems analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA) who went on to a career in high-tech corporate security, thinks he has discovered a way to determine what was wiped off the tape. And the National Archives believes he’s on to something. In response to a request from Mellinger, the Archives unit in charge of the Watergate files has proposed conducting a scientific test that could yield information on what was said during the missing minutes. This procedure would not, as has been tried unsuccessfully in the past, seek to recover the obliterated audio. Mellinger’s approach takes a simpler route: resurrecting Haldeman’s notes via a CSI-ish technology that can extract information from the imprints made by a ballpoint pen.