Picking up a technique from Tom Friedman, I decided upon waking this morning that I’d write about an imaginary conversation with former President John F. Kennedy. I thought that might be an enlightening experience for us all. So here’s my riff on how that dialogue would go down.
Me: Thank you, Mr. President, for joining me today to talk about what’s happening in Ukraine.
JFK: Oh, call me Jack. Everyone here does. Say, you have an uncle named Jack, right? I played 18 holes with him last week at Pebble Beach. He and I were partners in a foursome with Dick Nixon and Rumsfeld.
Me: That must have produced some interesting conversation.
JFK: Not really. But your uncle is a pretty good golfer. We beat the bastards. They had to buy the beer at the clubhouse.
Me: That’s great…Jack. Now, if we could change subjects: can you give me some thoughts about the war between Russia and Ukraine?
JFK: Well, first, let’s get our terms right. This isn’t a war between two countries, it’s a war between a man – an autocrat – and a notion: democracy. That Putin kid is a demented control freak. But this time he went too far. We know it and he knows it. This definitely won’t end well for anyone.
Me: Well, can we talk about that? How will it end?
JFK: Hey, I’m just a dead ex-president, not some soothsayer. I don’t do card tricks or predict the future. But I can tell you, based on my experience dealing with Khrushchev and what became the Cuban missile crisis, that the Russians are different cats with a very different value system. Hundreds of years of serfdom under a tsar gave them a giant inferiority complex.
Me: So what does that mean for this particular, um .. conflict?
JFK: In your Blog, you often quote that line from Hunt for Red October: “The average Russkie, son, don’t take a dump without a plan.” Well, that’s true of Putin and his military. But his greatest strength is really his greatest weakness. But Joe Biden, bless his heart, doesn’t get that. Because Putin has a plan, Biden the politician thinks Putin knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t. This is pure ego at work now. If Biden was smart – which he is not – he’d call Putin’s bluff and bring the full force of NATO down on his sorry ass. This thing would be over with in a month.
Me: You read my blog?
JFK: Hey, can we stick to the topic at hand, please? I’m on a roll here. Listen, just like with the missile thing, something unpredictable is going to make or break this conflict – some hero – or villain – will ultimately decide the outcome. If that little guy – Zelensky? – gets kidnapped or killed, that’s the end for Ukraine. Hell, he could just be sitting on the crapper when an errant missile comes through the window and blows him up. But Putin has to worry that some little guy guarding the door gets mad ’cause his brother got blown up in a tank and fires one into Putin’s left eye. See what I mean?
Me: Are you talking about the Soviet submarines and Vasili Arkhipov stopping World War III?
JFK: You know that’s what I mean. Nikita and I thought Castro was the problem. But he forgot about the subs and I didn’t even know they were there – so much for the CIA and their intelligence reports. They were wrong then and not much has changed since. So ultimately, the best thing to do is sit back and wait for that random event to occur. But you probably won’t even know about it until well after the fact. Nobody knew about the subs ’til 2005 after Arkhipov was here with us.
Me: So everything is just random? There’s no ‘invisible hand’ guiding us toward victory?
JFK: That’s for me to know and you to find out. But victory – what does that look like? No matter what, forty percent of Ukraine will be destroyed, along with a large chunk of her population killed or badly wounded. That’s always the unfortunate side of conflict. But I think you can have confidence that the Ukrainians will still have a country when this is over. And they’ll have lots of support to rebuild, unlike Syria and Libya. Doesn’t anybody care about the Middle East anymore?
Me: No, not really.
JFK: Hmm..That’ll come back to bite ya.
Me: Thank you for this conversation. I appreciate your taking the time to talk.
JFK: Sure. Time I got a lot of. Take care and love your children unconditionally.
Me: I’ve heard that before from somebody else with you. Thanks for reminding me.