Who Cares About Afghanistan?

From a Yale Law paper: If Americans know one thing about their system of government, it is that they live in a democracy and that other, less fortunate people, live in dictatorships. Dictatorships are what democracies are not, the very opposite of representative government under a constitution.

The opposition between democracy and dictatorship, however, is greatly overstated. The term “dictatorship,” after all, began as a special constitutional office of the Roman Republic, granting a single person extraordinary emergency powers for a limited period of time. “Every man the least conversant in Roman story,” remarked Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 70, “knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator” to confront emergencies caused by insurrection, sedition, and external enemies. No political constitution was well designed, Hamilton believed, unless it could confront emergencies and provide for energetic executive powers to handle them.

…Nor should we forget John F. Kennedy’s actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is often viewed as Kennedy’s finest hour because the United States avoided a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. What is often overlooked in the dramatic tales surrounding those “thirteen days”‘ of meetings in Washington with Kennedy and his Ex-Comm (Executive Committee of the National Security Council) is that everyone participating assumed that it was up to the President to decide whether or not to embark on what would surely have become a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The exact nature of the crisis was hidden from almost everyone in the country. Kennedy’s acolyte Theodore Sorenson reports that at the time Kennedy estimated the odds of nuclear war at one in three. Interestingly enough, Abram Chayes, in his flattering portrayal of Kennedy’s conduct during the Crisis, did not suggest that there was anything amiss in Kennedy’s risking nuclear annihilation. Kennedy’s behavior seems even more potentially reckless if one accepts the argument made at the time-in secret, of course-by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara that the Cuban missiles in fact posed little or no threat to actual American security. After all, the United States had an overwhelming nuclear stockpile and Soviet leaders surely believed that the United States would use it in response to any missiles fired from Cuba.

One is tempted to analyze the Cuban Missile Crisis-and perhaps foreign wars in general-as purely problems of “foreign policy” or “international relations.” But these issues-and the ways presidents approach them-are often deeply influenced by domestic politics. One of the reasons that Kennedy found himself in such a delicate situation was the fact that constitutionally required elections were about to take place for Congress, and Republican New York Senator Kenneth Keating, among others, was denouncing him for being soft on Soviet penetration of Cuba. Kennedy needed to retain healthy Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate because he could not always depend on Southern Democrats to support his “New Frontier” agenda. Kennedy was also concerned about
his prospects for reelection in 1964.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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