A Tale of Two Crises, by Jenny and Sherry Thompson

The differences between the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Ukraine Crisis sixty years later all favor the former. While Putin matches Khrushchev, the U.S.’s current leadership, such as it is, can’t hold a candle to John F. Kennedy. From Jenny and Sherry Thompson at antiwar.com:

On its 60th anniversary, the Cuban Missile Crisis has been evoked in the media with regards to the danger of the use of nuclear weapons over Ukraine. Both crises include indirect and direct threats to do so. Both have the real possibility that escalation, miscalculation or mistakes could trigger a nuclear exchange between the world’s largest nuclear powers, an existential threat to life on Earth. In both crises, the US and Russia (then USSR) face off over a third country with a passionate, patriotic and wildly popular leader. Both leaders are under intense domestic political pressure. Luck played a critical role then, and we will need it now.

Those are the similarities. The differences between these events are important and not particularly comforting:

In 1962, there was time for both sides to think things through without the scrutiny of a 24-hour news cycle. President John F. Kennedy was able to keep the crisis secret long enough to deliberate the American response. Kennedy himself said in a broadcast that if he’d had to make the decision in the first days of the crisis, things would have turned out badly. The main players involved (Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev) had a direct channel of communication via their “Pen Pal” letters. The two nations had robust diplomatic relations. Both men had firsthand experience in war. Kennedy had the secret Executive Committee or “ExCom” of the National Security Council to help him through each step. One adviser in particular, Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson, was able to help Kennedy develop “strategic empathy” in order to understand the Russian position that Khrushchev believed missiles in Cuba were equivalent to NATO missiles near the Soviet border. Thompson persuaded the President that the Soviets would agree to remove the missiles in exchange for a non-invasion agreement. Kennedy, and a small group of his advisors, including Thompson, added a secret promise to eventually remove NATO missiles from Turkey as a backstop. Dialog, diplomacy and compromise defused that crisis.

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