Leslie Gelb on the “C” Word: Bad Politics but Good Diplomacy

Did the first several drafts of history leave out Kennedy’s compromise with the Russians–a key fact that led to diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and yet undermined the myth of Presidential resolve?  With seemingly intractable challenges in the DPRK, Iran, and even next door in Cuba and Venezuela foreign policy constants, Leslie Gelb’s paean to the truth behind the event that could have resulted in nuclear war has an important lesson:

COMPROMISE IS NOT a word that generally makes political hearts flutter, and it is even less loved when it comes to the politics of U.S. foreign policy. The myth of the missile crisis strengthened the scorn. The myth, not the reality, became the measure for how to bargain with adversaries. Everyone feared becoming the next Adlai Stevenson, whom the Kennedys, their aides, and their foes discredited for proposing the Jupiter deal publicly.

It took extraordinary courage to propose compromises in arms control talks with Moscow. Even treaties for trivial reductions in nuclear forces on both sides faced furious battles in Congress. Today, it is near political suicide to publicly suggest letting Iran enrich uranium up to an inconsequential 5 percent with strong inspections, though the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty permits it. And while Barack Obama’s team is talking to the Taliban, its demands are so absolute — the Taliban must lay down their arms and accept the Kabul constitution — that any serious give-and-take is impossible. Were it at all serious, the White House would have to at least dangle the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban.

For too long, U.S. foreign-policy debates have lionized threats and confrontation and minimized realistic compromise. And yes, to be sure, compromise is not always the answer, and sometimes it’s precisely the wrong answer. But policymakers and politicians have to be able to examine it openly and without fear, and measure it against alternatives. Compromises do fail, and presidents can then ratchet up threats or even use force. But they need to remember that the ever steely-eyed JFK found a compromise solution to the Cuban missile crisis — and the compromise worked.

via The Myth That Screwed Up 50 Years of U.S. Foreign Policy – By Leslie H. Gelb | Foreign Policy.


3 thoughts on “Leslie Gelb on the “C” Word: Bad Politics but Good Diplomacy”

  1. I think compromise of any sort is good for in any situation but sadly we all are driven with a motive of maximum personal gain and as long as people have greed, compromise will never work whether in be in a household, or in the international community. Countries make compromises so that they avoid a bigger conflict.

  2. “Rejecting compromise is not about winning, it is about making sure the other side loses. Properly executed, compromise produces victory for everyone and no losers” (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/10/06/men_of_principle_and_the_lost_art_of_compromise_115646.html).
    I think this was a good article because it reminds us of when compromise can be a good thing. We don’t have to compromise of everything, but we don’t need to be inflexible either in order to have a “winning” outcome. The trick is to accurately read each negotiation, weight the consequences of different outcomes, and then precisely act to get the best results.
    Another interesting article compares US politics–recently characterized as being uncompromising–to Filipino politics–too eager to compromise. It introduces some examples of how the two extremes can be hinderances to political efficacy.

  3. I agree with Ankit a certain degree. A compromise will be ideal for the United States, just how a compromise works well in any relationship, like between husband and wife. The US needs to figure out if Iran is in a rational state in order to make a compromise with them and have it work. Iran is in a very unstable state of government right now, and the leaders are much more radical in my opinion than those of the USSR during the times of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following is a link showing Freedom House’s view of Iran in terms of their government.


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