October 23, 2004

First 2004 Presidential Debate Transcript

"I mean, we can remember when President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with DeGaulle. And in the middle of the discussion, to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, he said, 'Here, let me show you the photos.' And DeGaulle waved them off and said, 'No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me.'" - John Kerry

Not exactly correct on two points, wildly misleading on a third.

1) He didn't send the Secretary of State, he sent Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State. That's a simple enough mistake, but it in fact changes the story. Acheson was a well-respected elder statesman, served as Secretary of State for Truman, had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was widely held in esteem in western leadership circles. Taking a guy like that off the bench is very different from sending a political appointee to do your work. It would be a different thing to ask an Acheson to go lie to De Gaulle than to ask a current SecState to power-tag some facts. It's an understandable error, but it affects the story.

2) De Gaulle said that, but then [b]he looked at the photos anyway[/b]. He was being courteous, De Gaulle was big into pomp, circumstance, honor, all that old-France kind of stuff. He said it as a matter of courtesy, like asking if anybody else wants the last bread roll when really you just want it yourself. He looked at the photos and Acheson went over them.

3) The misleading point: while Bush and Blair were trying to sway people to support a cause and join a coalition, JFK was not. He had already gotten the OAS to back him up with unanimous vote (1 abstention) after much cajolery. He didn't need allies or a coalition. The decision was already made, Acheson was not asking for De Gaulle's help, his permission or his approval. It was a friendly notification, not a request.

It's somewhat misleading to let people make the obvious assumption that JFK asked for help and got it with a snap of the fingers. JFK had made the decision and he wasn't asking for help.

Anyway, I doubt anybody votes on this issue at all, but it's aggravating because it's incorrect. I don't even know that Kerry was lying about it, it's easy to be mistaken. It's important to be clear, though: De Gaulle apparently did need to look at the evidence and the US was acting unilaterally without allies or UN approval. The US did have the support of a group of nations that no doubt Kerry would've mocked if he were running in 1964.

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