JFK's 'Eyeball-to-Eyeball' Standoff Is a Myth

And it has messed up our foreign policy for decades: Michael Dobbs
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2012 1:55 PM CDT
In this June 3, 1961, file photo, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy talk in the residence of the U.S. ambassador in a suburb of Vienna.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – It's modern political legend, in which JFK trumps Khrushchev: Soviet ships are heading toward Cuba—and potential war with the US—but they turn around at the last moment instead of confronting a US blockade. "We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked," said Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Except it didn't really happen that way, writes author and historian Michael Dobbs in the New York Times, and this eyeball-to-eyeball "myth" has set a dangerous foreign policy precedent ever since.

For one thing, Khrushchev's ships were 750 miles away from the US ships, and already heading back to the USSR, when the supposed "eyeball" incident took place, writes Dobbs. What's more, abundant evidence now shows that Kennedy was "a lot less steely-eyed than depicted in the initial accounts of the crisis," skeptical about the notion of "red lines," and willing to make concessions to strike a deal. Doesn't matter. "The myth has become a touchstone of toughness by which presidents are measured," writes Dobbs, and it's led to missteps from Vietnam to Iraq. Read the full column here. (Read more Cuban Missile Crisis stories.)

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