David Stokes

As President Bush continues to receive criticism about his recent remarks in a speech to the Knesset in Jerusalem, many are taking a fresh look at the personalities and politics of previous generations.

Mr. Bush, speaking on a visit to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, told the Israeli parliament that, “some seem to believe we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before.” Then he evoked images of Nazi tanks cascading into Poland in 1939 decrying “the false comfort of appeasement has been increasingly discredited by history.”

Would-be Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, has continually reiterated his views on meeting with the bad guys. He insists that what he wants to do is very much in the spirit of his hero and the man he wants to be when he grows up - John F. Kennedy. In his January 20, 1961 inaugural address JFK said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

But as Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins pointed out in their recent op-ed piece appearing in the New York Times, when Kennedy tried to put this into practice very early in his administration, it only served to convince his Soviet counterpart, Chairman Nikita Krushchev, that the youthful and “charismatic” U.S. president was a diplomatic light-weight.

There is a great argument to be made that the 1960s would not have been as tense as they were if the June 1961 summit meeting had never taken place. The Berlin Wall challenge a couple of months later and Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 seemed to flow from how Nikita sized-up Jack in Vienna.

Barack Obama apparently has little understanding of history – particularly the issues that confronted JFK’s generation (“tempered by war”). Or maybe it’s just that he’s not interested in letting the past, with its clear patterns, inform the present – or future.

Eleven minutes after David Ben Gurion announced the birth of the modern State of Israel, President Harry S. Truman signed a document officially recognizing the new nation. The single typewritten page, on display these days at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, shows the President’s cursive corrections - including a wording change from “new Jewish state” to “State of Israel” - and the directive “Approved May 14, 1948.”

This was a bold step for the American president, one opposed by powerful members of his own administration. His Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, was so strongly opposed to this that he told his boss that he might not vote for him that November.


David Stokes

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, pastor, columnist, and broadcaster. His latest book is a novel: CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Based on a true story, it's about a unique moment in 1947, when Kennedy and Nixon shared