Sitting on an aircraft-carrier deck in 1962 didn't prepare John McCain for the presidency.

Military analysis.
Oct. 23 2008 3:57 PM

This Is Not a Test

Sitting on an aircraft-carrier deck in 1962 didn't prepare John McCain for the presidency.

(Continued from Page 1)

On Oct. 26, the 13th and final day, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a telegram offering just such a trade. Kennedy favored taking the deal. "To any man at the United Nations or any other rational man," he can be heard on the tapes saying, "it will look like a very fair trade. … Most people think that if you're allowed an even trade, you ought to take advantage of it."

All of Kennedy's advisers—his brother Robert Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff—vociferously opposed the deal. All of them at this point—even McNamara—urged Kennedy to bomb the missile sites. They protested that trading the missiles in Turkey would amount to appeasement; it would wreck NATO, betray the Turks, advertise our weakness. On the tapes, they sound hysterical; you can hear the quivering in their voices.


Kennedy remained preternaturally cool. He recalled that the attack plan, drawn up a few days earlier by the Joint Chiefs and endorsed by McNamara, was calling for 3,500 conventional bombing sorties against the Soviet missile sites and air bases in Cuba—500 sorties a day for seven days—followed by an invasion of the island.

"I'm just thinking," Kennedy said, with remarkable calm, "about what we're going to have to do in a day or so … 500 sorties … and possibly an invasion, all because we wouldn't take missiles out of Turkey. And we all know how quickly everybody's courage goes when the blood starts to flow, and that's what's going to happen in NATO … when we start these things and the Soviets grab Berlin" in retaliation, "and everybody's going to say, 'Well, this Khrushchev offer was a pretty good position.' " At another point, Kennedy noted that if we went to war and it was later learned that this deal had been on the table and we had rejected it, it was "not going to be a good war."

At the end of the day, without telling more than a handful of his advisers, President Kennedy ordered his brother to tell the Soviet ambassador that he accepted Khrushchev's deal—as long as it was kept a total secret, as indeed it was until the tapes came out 20 years later. (Not wanting to appear weak, Kennedy himself contrived the cover story—and ordered his palace historians, Arthur Schlesinger and Ted Sorensen, to perpetrate the myth—that he'd stared the Russians down.)

And so, the point is even more clear-cut than it might seem at first glance: Just because John McCain sat in a cockpit on a flight deck during the tensest five days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, that doesn't mean he absorbed the slightest bit of wisdom about how to handle a crisis from the top.

What about Sen. Barack Obama—has he ever been tested for a crisis of this sort? There's no evidence that he has. In this sense, former President Bill Clinton's evasive remark a few months ago when he was asked about Obama's qualifications—"You can argue that nobody is ready to be president"—may well be true.

The lesson of Kennedy's performance in the Cuban Missile Crisis is that a president should be cool-headed, ask the right questions, listen to a wide range of advice, then exercise his own judgment.

With this history in mind, which of the two candidates—McCain or Obama—seems best-suited to handle a crisis? That's the appropriate question.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.