Editorial: Iran - the wrong lessons from the Cuban missile crisis

IssueOctober 2012
Comment by Milan Rai , Emily Johns

Back in June, a former US presidential advisor and Harvard University professor, Graham Allison, described the current confrontation with Iran as 'a Cuban missile crisis in slow motion': 'Events are moving, seemingly inexorably, toward a showdown in which the US president will be forced to choose between ordering a military attack and acquiescing to a nuclear-armed Iran'.

(In fact, all the indications are that Iran is seeking not a nuclear weapons capability, but 'the Japan option' of being a threshold state with the technical capacity to develop nuclear weapons if it chose to.)

Allison argues that Kennedy was faced with a similarly unpalatable choice and instead found another, more constructive route. Allison believes a third way is also available to US president Barack Obama in relation to Iran today.

The trouble with this analogy is that Kennedy's 'third way' was to go to war with Cuba (instituting a naval blockade of the island without any legal authority), to continue covert operations attacking Cuban facilities, and to refuse the Soviet offer to withdraw its SS-4 missiles from Cuba, 90 miles from the USA, in return for the US withdrawing its Jupiter missiles from Turkey, on the very borders of the USSR.

This sounds very much like the current Obama strategy towards Iran of economic strangulation, cyberwarfare including the Stuxnet computer virus, sponsorship of Iranian terror groups like Jundallah, and a steadfast refusal to negotiate in good faith (see PN 2523-24).

The real lesson of Cuba is that the US is implacably opposed to economic nationalism, to true independence, to a loss of control. In 1961, Kennedy liberal Arthur Schlesinger warned the incoming president that Latin Americans were drawn to 'the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hands'.

In 1964, the state department warned that: 'The primary danger we face in Castro is… in the impact the very existence of his regime has upon the leftist movement in many Latin American countries…. The simple fact is that Castro represents a successful defiance of the US, a negation of our whole hemispheric policy of almost a century and a half.'

Iran too represents successful defiance, and therefore it must be crushed.

Kennedy should have ended his illegal blockade and accepted the Soviet offer to withdraw the SS-4 and Jupiter missiles simultaneously. Today, Obama should end his unilateral sanctions on Iran and accept the Iranian offer of a 'grand bargain' whereby Iran's uranium enrichment facilities are operated by an international consortium, providing continuous, intrusive monitoring. Kennedy ended up offering Cuba a no-invasion guarantee. Iran deserves no less in return.

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