The last time that a U.S. president looked as weak to a Russian leader as President Obama looks to Russian President Vladimir Putin was back in the early 1960s when Nikita Khrushchev regarded John F. Kennedy as a lightweight.
Early in his administration, Kennedy didn’t react when the North Vietnamese, in blatant violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords, began to build the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos to supply rebels in South Vietnam. Shortly afterward, he authorized the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, but failed to provide the naval and air support, without which the attack had to fail. He then acquiesced when the East Germans began to build the Berlin Wall. All this led Khrushchev in September 1962 to tell the visiting poet Robert Frost that Kennedy was “too liberal to fight.” He had already begun to install intercontinental ballistic missiles in Cuba.
During the ensuing Cuban missile crisis, the world almost ended. It didn’t, in large part because the Soviets backed off, but only after Kennedy secretly committed that the United States would never invade Cuba and would remove American Jupiter missiles from their Turkish base — then lied to the American people about doing so.
Will Mr. Putin push a demonstrably weakened Mr. Obama as hard as Khrushchev pushed Kennedy? We already know that, echoing what America was compelled to do 50 years ago, one condition being imposed on the United States is a pledge not to attack Syria. America can’t give up missiles stationed close to Russia, because in 2009 Mr. Obama canceled plans for anti-ballistic missile batteries to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic. Certainly, Mr. Putin will press his advantage, requiring that Mr. Obama show even more of the “flexibility” that he promised Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev in 2012. What more will the president be made to give up secretly in order to save face lost by his feckless Middle East policy decisions?