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When Mr. Kennedy finally directed a few words last night to the Cuban people, he had reached the second stage of his substance-then-rhetoric pronouncement. Not even the Cuban government figured in his speech.
The President was talking explicitly to Premier Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership. He assumed that the military build-up of the beleaguered island was no longer a matter of Cuban authority. And if he offered any political leeway (even the alternative of a back-down), it was to the Soviet suppliers, not the Cuban consumers.
By starting the blockade prior to a meeting of the United Nations Security Council and the Organization of American States, the President restricted his own policy by precluding real multilateral opposition to the Castro regime.
When the O.A.S. convenes it will find itself midway on the big stick's swing, and forced to take Mr. Kennedy's word for the extent of the build-up and the degree of Soviet control. The government offered no substantive points of negotiation whose rejection would affirm the C.I.A.'s conclusion that Cuba no longer retains diplomatic autonomy vis-a-vis her military establishment.
In assessing the gravity of the threat, the President made an undeniably sound point: a Soviet-controlled military establishment on the island, capable of destroying American cities, is logistically and politically intolerable. This country is not prepared to dismiss Cuba's missile system as part of a "defensive" deterrent network. Deterrence just does not look defensive to those within range.
Nor did the President have to add that a Cuban economy and society, totally dependent on Communist sustenance, is dangerous and unhealthy for every nation in the hemisphere, and necessarily restrictive for the Cubans themselves.
But to fly on wings of war hysteria into an ambiguous "quarantine" was not only undiplomatic; it was self-defeating.
Last night the A.P. reported a Defense Department spokesman announcing "the United States is ready to sink every Communist bloc ship headed for Cuba which refused to stop and be searched." Under these circumstances it is too late to start unravelling the complex pattern of blame and hostility that the United States and Cuban governments helped each other weave.
But it is not too late to offer specific points of negotiation before striding so courageously to the brink of war. Had Kennedy substituted any such points for the cliches he addressed to Cuba, he would have created a situation in which the Cuban Government either had to back down on its militarization, or blatantly expose its inability to do so.
When the President of the United States has an opportunity to prove Fidel Castro a puppet, he needn't merely imitate the cartoonists by calling him one. There seems to be no reason why the President couldn't have announced an intended blockade, conditional on Cuban refusal to come to terms, a la his nuclear testing proviso last March.
But then you have to suggest terms:
Cuba should be offered the chance to start dismantling its offensive apparatus under U.N. inspection within 48 hours. If there are intermediate range missiles on Cuban soil, their presence endangers that country as well as our own; only the Soviet Union gains here. And since the rationale for installing these bases has been defense against an unremittingly hostile U.S., the very step of negotiating for their removal would serve towards obviating them.
Token steps toward rapprochement are in the mutual interest of the two neighbors. Ironically, the President made much last night of the clandestine nature of the Russian build-up. And yet it was the very severing of relations that made secrecy and suspicion the hallmark of U.S. Cuban dealings. Each step in the spiral of hostility has formed a template for its perpetuity. Now, with the introduction of nuclear weapons into the situation, all diplomatic forms and considerations are dropped, and Mr. Kennedy doesn't even try to interrupt the tragedy.
Rapprochement is not as dirty or impolitic a term as it sounds. Castro, given forty-eight hours to start dismantling Cuban missile bases and invite U.N. surveillance of his ports, would, as seen from the North, be forced to discontinue his military policy in the face of a threatened blockade. If he refused to consider the token steps, as evidence suggests he would, the total diplomatic constriction of his country would cease to be a matter of C.I.A. insight. Multilateral action would become feasible.
Mr. Kennedy made something of an error last night in conceding out-of-hand Russian control of the matter, instead of granting the Cuban government any leeway to readjust its disastrous course. Our allies, present and potential, can see in Kennedy's simultaneous speech-and-blockade a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Does the proximity of nuclear missles justify the frenzied rejection of all diplomatic form and substance?
The Cuban government was not even offered an ultimatum. Mr. Kennedy can still issue the "do this," without which his "or else" makes no sense.
(Another editorial, representing a minority opinion of the CRIMSON, will appear tomorrow in support of the blockade.)
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