The JFK Factor

Joe Lieberman says "When I find among the candidates running this year that the one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, is John S. McCain." This will no doubt offend a lot of liberal sensibilities, especially among Obama fans who have a tendency to compare their guy to the youthful energy and excitement that Kennedy inspired.

But I think there really is truth to the idea that McCain's foreign policy is more JFKennedyesque than is Obama's. The difference is that Kennedy's foreign policy wasn't very good. Under first Truman and then Eisenhower, the United States established a constructive, internationalist approach to policy in Europe -- a strong NATO alliance would ensure that the western bloc didn't fall prey to infighting while also deterring Soviet attack. Combined with a strong bilateral alliance with Japan, the idea, as outlined by George Kennan, was that if the "free world" could stay united and defended it would ultimately outlast the fundamentally unworkable Soviet approach.

In the third world, the Eisenhower administration did develop a taste for imperial adventures, but then first JFK and then LBJ took this much further in Vietnam and no good came of it. As I argue in Heads in the Sand, the Clinton administration mostly, and wisely, followed the internationalist elements of our Cold War policies -- policies that emphasized rule-governed cooperation among like-minded countries rather than coercive efforts to manipulate the destiny of foreigners. The Bush administration came into power and, for some reason, decided that the kind of thinking that gave us the Mossadegh coup and the Vietnam War was what the country really needed and McCain fits firmly into that tradition.