- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — More than 40 years ago in October 1962, 30-year-old Edward Moore Kennedy was a first-time candidate for U.S. senator from Massachusetts. He was running for the seat previously held by an older brother, President John F. Kennedy.

During that month, with the congressional election only weeks away, President Kennedy unilaterally justified an act of war — a blockade — against Cuba.

The reason given was that Cuba had accepted delivery and had deployed new missiles from the Soviet Union that greatly increased the range of missiles in the Western Hemisphere that could threaten the United States and other countries.

There was no "imminent threat" in the sense that Fidel Castro had announced his intention to use the missiles. On the contrary, Castro claimed the missiles were for defense. President Kennedy alleged they were offensive.

Without a vote in either Congress or the United Nations, JFK pre-emptively moved by air and sea power to a state of near war where U.S. Navy ships actually challenged Soviet ships on the high seas. There was a vote of the Organization of American States to back the policy. But no one doubted that the military power used to enforce the blockade was a unilateral action by the Kennedy administration.

President Kennedy justified his blockade by saying that we lived in a world where nuclear weapons were so fast that the mere deployment of the weapons or "any increased possibility of their use" was an unacceptable alteration of the balance of power.

But his doctrine went much further than any president before or since. JFK declared that any missile, launched from Cuba against any country in the Western Hemisphere, would be regarded as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States that would result in a full retaliation response by the United States on the Soviet Union.

In other words, if Cuba launched an attack against Argentina, JFK was willing to instantly order air and missile strikes against the Soviet Union without any further consultation with or vote by the U.S. Congress or the United Naitons. Kennedy's U.N. ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, would inform the U.N.'s member states, but not ask for permission.

President Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Paris to inform President Charles de Gaulle of France of the actions against Cuba, but not to seek his permission or even to consult with him. But de Gaulle still announced his support of the U.S. stand.

It is hard to imagine a conversation between Ted Kennedy and his brother Jack in October 1962 that might have gone like this.

"Jack, you cannot unilaterally blockade Cuba, that is an act of war. You have no proof of any imminent threat from Castro. Just because we don't like him and he beat back our surrogates at the Bay of Pigs last year is no justification to launch a pre-emptive blockade. You will need two votes from Congress to approve this. One vote to assemble troops, and then another vote to show that Congress really means it. Moreover, you will need two U.N. resolutions to approve the policy since we cannot act unilaterally."

If it is hard for you to imagine such a conversation between Ted Kennedy and President Kennedy in 1962, you would not be alone. Yet, Sen. Ted Kennedy, 40 years after the Cuban missile crisis, wants President George W. Bush to submit his policy to Congress twice within five months and get approval from the U.N. twice in five months. Otherwise, Bush will never get the benefit of the doubt and will be accused of acting in a pre-emptory and unilateral manner when a threat was not self-evident and was not "imminent."

Reasonable people of good will may have reasonable differences as to how imperative the immediate need is to force the hand of Iraq in verifying that it no longer has weapons of mass destruction previously cataloged by the U.N. inspectors in the 1990s.

Some of Bush's European critics suggest the mere presence of inspectors by itself is a sufficient deterrent to contain Saddam from further aggression against neighbors or his own population. Perhaps they think if U.N. inspectors had been in Baghdad in the 1980s or in 1990 that Saddam would have been prevented from mounting invasions of Iran or Kuwait. This idea seems to be a stretch.

But in October 1962, Castro had never invaded a neighboring country, let alone two neighbors. Nor had he ever indiscriminately used weapons against his own civilian population even though his army fought against the CIA-backed Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Except for strategic location, there is much to suggest the case against Castro in 1962 was weaker than the humanitarian case for action against Saddam 40 years later.

All this leads one to wonder what President Kennedy might have thought about the current debate over preparations for war with Iraq.

Would he have been charged with the sin of "unilateral" or "pre-emptive" action? Would Congress and the U.N. have tied his hands with two votes and set a bar of "smoking guns" and "imminent threats" that the United States must conclusively prove before it could act in defense of peace?

Fidel Castro did go on to send Cuban mercenary troops to Africa, Granada, and South American countries in the 1970s. But he never did launch a conventional invasion of a neighboring state.

President Kennedy was lucky his brother Ted had not yet been elected to the Senate in October 1962; otherwise, we might still be waiting for Cuba to declare an "imminent threat" before we could recognize reality.


Mark Q. Rhoads was a 1982 fellow of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and was a Republican state senator in Illinois in the 1980s.


"Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.

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