The Kennedy-Khrushchev Conference for Dummies

As Charles Krauthammer noted last week, since the Democrats’ CNN/YouTube debate lst summer, Barack Obama has been touting the wisdom of presidential meetings with America’s sworn enemies during his first year in office. In Portland on May 18, Obama portrayed President Kennedy’s summit conference with Khruschev in Vienna as one of the presidential meetings that led to the triumph of the United States in the Cold War (video above, via Hot Air).

By all accounts, however, including Kennedy’s own, the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit in Vienna was a disaster. Historians continue to add to the record, but the record has been clear on this point for a very long time. Historian Robert Dallek provides an updated account of the conference in his 2003 JFK biography An Unfinished Life. Approaching the question from the side of the Soviet Union, Khrushchev biographer William Taubman took a skeptical look at the conventional wisdom regarding the summit and arrived at a conclusion consonant with Kennedy biographers and historians. Nathan Thrall and James Wilkins skimmed the surface of the relevant history regarding the Vienna conference in a New York Times op-ed column last week.

Given the record, what are we to make of Obama’s assertions regarding the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit? It seems to me that there are only two alternatives. Either Obama is familiar with the history and is deliberately exploiting the ignorance of his supporters, or he has no idea what he is talking about. I incline to the latter view, which I set out to establish in detail in “The Kennedy-Khrushchev Conference for Dummies” at the Weekly Standard site this morning.

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