Friday, October 26, 2018

The President is Busy Saving the World


President Kennedy was unable to attend this rally in 1962 for Pat Brown, who was running for reelection as governor of California.  The president was busy with something more pressing:  It was day eleven of the white-hot Cuban Missile Crisis.  Indeed, it was on this day fifty-six years ago, that Soviet Premier Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s letter of October 25.

But before the message arrived, a representative of the Soviet embassy in Washington sought out John Scali, an ABC news reporter.  They had lunch at the Occidental Restaurant and the diplomat, counselor Aleksandr Fomin, had a message:  Would the United States refrain from war if the Soviet Union removed its missiles from Cuba?  Scali conveyed the apparent backchannel feeler to Dean Rusk, the secretary of state and a member of the EXCOMM (the NSC Executive Committtee) evaluating the crisis.  It is unclear how official was Fomin’s intervention.

Khrushchev’s message then came to the White House.  In his lengthy correspondence he said, “I see, Mr. President, that you too are not devoid of a sense of anxiety for the fate of the world understanding, and of what war entails.”  After dismissing charges of offensive plans against the United States and emphasizing his similar concerns about war, the Soviet premier offered what was effectively a quid pro quo:  No Cuban invasion and an end to the naval quarantine of Cuba in return for removal of the missiles.  Kennedy quickly agreed.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was effectively resolved.

Governor Brown, who apparently did not need Kennedy’s presence, went on to defeat Richard Nixon by 300,000 votes ten days later.  On November 7 the former vice president, bitter about his defeat, told the assembled media:  “But as I leave you, I want you to know: just think how much you’re going to be missing.  You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”   Of course, it wasn’t.

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