Jeffery Sachs is a professor of economics at Columbia University. He is a Ph. D. graduate of Harvard. At the age of 28, he became a tenured, full professor of economics at Harvard. Sachs spent about two decades there before switching to Columbia in 2002. He is the author of three bestselling books: The End of Poverty, Economics for a Crowded Planet, and The Price of Civilization. He is quite controversial in his third career: as an advisor to many different countries on shifting over from a collectivist to a free enterprise system. This includes the nations of Poland, Slovenia, Estonia and the USSR. He has been named, by both Time and Vanity Fair, as one of the hundred most influential people on the contemporary American scene. Today, he is very much concerned with creating what he calls sustainable environments. That is economies, which grow, benefit all citizens, are non-polluting, and use energy that is not solely hydrocarbon based. He is clearly one of the most influential economists in America. Perhaps in the world.
Last year, he authored a book called To Move the World: JFK's Quest for Peace. In the Preface to his book, he writes that he based part of a series of 2007 lectures for the BBC on Kennedy's famous 1963 American University speech. (Sachs calls it the Peace Speech) This, of course, is the speech that so influenced Jim Douglass' JFK and the Unspeakable and which he included as an appendix to the book. (Sachs includes it as one of the four speeches he appends to the end of this book.) He also adds that he met Ted Sorenson at Columbia and the two became friends. Sorenson told him that the American University speech was his favorite. The two were then going to cooperate on a book, but Sorenson passed away. So Sachs completed the work on his own.
The result is an uneven work. Sachs is a first-rate economist. In my view, he is not a first-rate historian. For instance, in his Preface, he calls Kennedy a Cold Warrior when he entered office. As this reviewer has stated previously, this is simply not the case. In relation to Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon, Kennedy was not a Cold Warrior in 1961. Using a multiplicity of sources, this issue has been dealt with by this reviewer in the second edition of Destiny Betrayed. (See pages 17-33) When Kennedy entered office in 1961 he was already a complex and sophisticated thinker on foreign policy. And he did not see the world's problems through the lens of anti-communism. And he criticized those who did, e.g. Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. This is why JFK reversed the Eisenhower/Dulles policy in more than one place in 1961, for example, in Congo and Laos. If he had really been a Cold Warrior, he would have kept those policies in place.
In Chapter 1, Sachs tries to briefly sketch in the problems Kennedy had in office in 1961. Therefore, he naturally discusses the Bay of Pigs invasion. And here, this reviewer has another disagreement with the author. In writing on the Bay of Pigs, he calls the operation naive, and incompetently designed and managed. The most recent scholarship and declassified records on this issue would seem to paint a different picture. As Jim Douglass wrote in his book, using an important essay from the academic journal Diplomatic History, CIA Director Allen Dulles never really expected the operation to succeed. What he was banking on was that Kennedy really was a Cold Warrior and he would send in the Navy when he saw the operation was going to fail. (Douglass, p. 14)
Sachs also writes in Chapter 1 that Kennedy denied the Cuban exiles air support during the first day of the invasion. As the declassified record now makes clear, this is a myth. It was created by Dulles and Howard Hunt during the White House Taylor Commission hearings on the Bay of Pigs. Hunt ghostwrote an article for reporter Charles Murphy of Fortune Magazine. That article tried to switch the blame for the failure of the Bay of Pigs from the CIA to Kennedy. Hunt and Dulles therefore created this story about the canceled D-Day air strikes. The problem is that Kennedy never approved these D-Day strikes to be launched until a sufficient beachhead bad been secured on Cuba. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 46) Since no such beachhead was ever achieved, the strikes did not go forward. But, as Lyman Kirkpatrick wrote in the CIA's Inspector General Report, these would not have made any difference anyway. Because Castro had brought too much heavy artillery, tanks and troops to the front within 10 hours. The exiles were greatly outnumbered and outgunned before the first day was over. (pgs. 40-41)
Further, Sachs notes an exchange between Kennedy and Eisenhower on whether or not this capitulation should have happened. He quotes Eisenhower as saying that Kennedy's attempt to keep American forces out was wrong headed because the world was going to know that the Cubans could not have launched such an amphibious assault on their own anyway. So America had to be involved. This shows a lack of understanding of Kennedy's version of the Truman Doctrine. Kennedy differentiated between aiding and abetting forces resisting communism, and the United States actually directly involving itself in a conflict through the insertion of American combat troops. This is something Kennedy resisted for his entire term of office. On the other hand, Eisenhower committed troops into Lebanon, Johnson into the Dominican Republican and Vietnam, and Nixon into Cambodia. Therefore, Kennedy was not a classic Cold Warrior.
But to further try and portray Kennedy as something he was not in 1961, Sachs also notes that Jupiter missiles were inserted into Turkey at that time. This is accurate. But this deployment had been agreed upon in 1959 under Eisenhower. Kennedy was only implementing a predetermined agreement. And Kennedy had actually wanted the Jupiters removed almost immediately and replaced with Polaris undersea missiles which would not be so open to a first strike. (Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, p. 807)
In Chapter 2, Sachs shifts to the Vienna summit and the dispute over West Berlin. He notes that Kennedy had decided in advance not to give atomic weapons to Konrad Adenauer and West Germany. He traces the subsequent Berlin Crisis and the construction of the Berlin Wall in August of 1961. Sachs adds that the stemming of the flow of refugees from East Berlin to West Berlin by the construction of the wall did much to lessen the tension over the refugee issue. So, in an ironic way, the construction of the wall actually helped solve a practical problem as it created a large, dark symbol of the Cold War.
Afterwards, Kennedy told O'Donnell that he thought the whole crisis was overblown. To risk so many lives over access rights on the autobahn was simply ridiculous.
As a result of the crisis, Russia now announced it was resuming nuclear testing. And on October 30, 1961, the Tsar Bomba test explosion took place at the Novaya Zemyla archipelago. This hydrogen bomb device had a yield of 55 megatons. To this day, it is the largest nuclear explosion ever recorded. It had ten times the power of all the bombs ever dropped during World War II. Sachs writes that, to Kennedy, this resumption of testing was the greatest disappointment in his first year in office. As a reaction, the president had Asst. Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric spell out America's distinct advantage in nuclear weaponry. Sachs now says that this was a precipitating cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Again, this reviewer cannot recall interpretation noted elsewhere. In The Kennedy Tapes, which is probably the best volume on the subject, this is never even mentioned as a cause of the crisis.
From here, Sachs begins to chronicle the Missile Crisis. Again, he says something questionable. He writes that Kennedy favored an air strike at the beginning of the Ex Comm meetings. In the strictest sense, this may be true. But by questioning what would happen as a result of stray bombs during an air strike, Kennedy then searched for another option. He was not willing to risk thousands of dead civilians over a superpower conflict. One in which these civilians would be innocent bystanders.
Sachs then proceeds to the conclusion of the crisis. The exchange included the Russians removing their atomic weapons on the island for a public pledge by Kennedy not to invade Cuba, combined with a secret agreement to remove the obsolete Jupiters in Turkey.
The author sees this conclusion to the Missile Crisis as the prelude to both Kennedy and Khrushchev now seeking a way to deter the threat of nuclear Armageddon in the future. For instance, in an exchange of letters, the Russian leader told the American president that he appreciated the restraint he had shown during the crisis.
And this is how the author essentially sums up the first two years of Kennedy's foreign policy forays. When I read this summary I wrote in my notes, "Sachs leaves out Congo, Indonesia, India, Ghana, all of Africa, Nasser, Sadat, Iran and several others." And it is this lack which allows him to write that JFK was now a changed man in 1962. If, for instance, Sachs had reviewed the Congo policy, he would have seen that Kennedy was really not a changed man at the end of 1962. He entered office with revolutionary ideas about American foreign policy and the Cold War, especially in the Third World. And he enacted those ideas almost immediately. What delayed any rapprochement with the USSR was the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Which many felt impacted the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev was determined not to lose his outpost in the Caribbean, which the Russian could use as leverage in Germany. Therefore, he misjudged Kennedy's restraint during the Bay of Pigs and moved the nuclear triad into Cuba. If Kennedy had not been mislead about the Bay of Pigs, it is an open question that he would have gotten off to such a slow start with his rapprochement to Russia.
In Chapter 3, Sachs gets to the heart of his volume. And this is the section of the book that is the most valuable. Here the author begins to outline what he thinks were Kennedy's goals in office concerning the Soviet Union in 1963 and how he thought they could be achieved.
Number one on this list is arms control. After the fearsome explosion of Tsar Bomba, Kennedy was determined that the arms race be brought back under control. But Sachs notes that he was also worried about how atomic warfare could be kicked off by mistake. Kennedy was always reading. And one of his favorite books was Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August. This was a microstudy of the military decisions that led up to the start of World War I. It was published in 1962 and became an immediate bestseller through most of 1963. In it, Tuchman pointed out all the miscalculations made by leaders on both sides that resulted in the tragedy of trench warfare and the astronomical casualties consumed on the Western Front. Kennedy was so impressed by the book he gave copies to his cabinet and military advisors.
Sachs also says that by 1963 Kennedy understood that peace with the USSR was going to be a process, a series of understandings taken step by step. He also knew that it had to be achieved by recognizing what the interests of the other side were, and where there was a mutuality of interests to share and cooperate upon. Therefore, another value was that the president knew he had to be a good listener. And that he should also utilize go-betweens, which he did with Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins. Cousins served as a courier of messages between Kennedy, Krushchev and Pope John XXIII. (This extraordinary circle is captured by Cousins in his book, The Improbable Triumvirate.)
As Sachs notes, Kennedy told Cousins that both he and Khrushchev were partly imprisoned by the militant right-wingers within their governments. And these two groups, whether they realized it or not, aided each other. Kennedy tried to assure Khrushchev, who was worried about atomic war over Germany, by not giving nuclear weapons to West Germany. And according to Sachs, this decision hurt the militant Adenauer and led to the ascension of the more reasonable Ludwig Erhard in late 1963.
Finally, Sachs writes that Kennedy understood that only strong and vigorous leadership could work toward peace. Or as he puts it, "only active presidential leadership would overcome the doubts, fears, and provocations of the military and hardliners and the public." Sachs then continues with, "Both Kennedy and Khrushchev gave ground to each other to enable his counterpart to force down his own domestic skeptics and critics." (He could have added here, that Castro offered to do the same with Lyndon Johnson in order to keep up Kennedy's attempt at détente.)
In Chapter 4, Sachs talks about speeches that he thinks may have influenced Kennedy in his American University address. I almost fell off my chair when he mentioned Winston Churchill's 1946 Iron Curtain speech. This was made at the invitation of President Truman in Fulton, Missouri. Sachs tries to disguise this declaration by calling it the "Sinews of Peace" speech. But clearly, when read as a whole, Churchill was calling out the Russians for their domination of Eastern Europe, even though, this had been largely been arranged in advance by the infamous Percentages Agreement between Stalin and Churchill in 1944. A call for a new Cold War is clearly how Stalin viewed the speech.
Sachs is on a bit stronger ground when he mentions two speeches by President Eisenhower. These were both delivered in 1953. One was called the "Chance for Peace" speech and the other was the "Atoms for Peace" speech. The first was made in April of 1953 to the American Society of Newspaper Editors and broadcast on TV and radio. It was made in the wake of Stalin's death and called for a winding down of the Cold War, saying that the money spent of weapons, could help each side to build things like schools and power plants. The second speech was made before the UN at the end of 1953. In it Eisenhower called for peaceful uses for atomic energy and a non-proliferation of warheads. There has been a debate about the reasons for the speech. Some have said that Eisenhower was really just trying to soften the image of nuclear energy being only a destructive force.
The last speech Sachs names is the famous Eisenhower Farewell Address. Most of us are familiar with this speech because Oliver Stone used it as the prelude to his film JFK. It is indeed quite a memorable speech. Yet Sachs does not make the irony as clear as he should: If Eisenhower was really serious about the first two speeches, then why did he have to make the ominous warning about the Military-Industrial Complex in the last speech?
In point of fact, none of these speeches goes as far as Kennedy's did in forging a new vision of understanding based on mutual interests as the America University speech. That speech, excerpted by Sachs here and Jim Douglass in JFK and the Unspeakable, was probably the first by an American president to actually try and recognize the USSR as something less than a permanent opponent, as something like a necessary partner, and as such, a nation that the USA needed to understand in order to cooperate with. As Sachs says in Chapter 5, Kennedy really tried to humanize the Soviet Union and its citizenry. And as Douglass noted, the reaction to the speech in the USSR was more congratulatory than the one in the USA.
From here, Sachs goes on to trace the push by Kennedy for the Limited Test Ban Treaty. As Thurston Clarke had noted, the president made this a very high priority. And he literally covered all the bases in advance to make sure the treaty would pass. Which it did in a resounding vote of 80-19. And about 90 other countries signed onto the treaty. But Kennedy could not get a comprehensive ban through. For the reason that he and the USSR could not agree on the number of on-site inspections per year. Evidently, the Russians thought that too many inspections would allow for American spying. Therefore, underground testing was allowed to proceed.
But as Sachs notes, Kennedy's technical advisers on the treaty, like Adrian Fisher, said that they felt that Kennedy saw this as just a beginning. It was just a first step in a disarmament program. Sachs also notes that after the treaty passed, Kennedy continued in his attempt at détente with the USSR. The author mentions things like cultural exchanges, the installation of the hotline for crisis management, the large sale of wheat to Russia and Kennedy's proposal for cooperation with Russia on a project to get to the moon.
When Kennedy was murdered, Nikita Khrushchev was overwhelmed with grief. He wrote President Johnson a moving letter saying that Kennedy's death not just a blow to America by a loss for the whole world, including the Soviet Union. And as Sachs notes, after Kennedy's death, Khrushchev was deposed the following year.
Sachs closes the book with the insight that, if Kennedy lived, the nuclear arsenals would not have grown to the astronomical heights they later did. And it would not have taken as long to draw them down to a more reasonable number. He also notes that Kennedy was very interested in non-proliferation, that is that other countries not gain nuclear arsenals either. Kennedy's vision did not come to pass in any way near the form he wanted. The USSR went on a nuclear building binge that eventually passed the size of the American arsenal. At one time, the Soviets had over 40,000 warheads. In fact, in 1974, Henry Kissinger observed, "One of the questions we have to ask ...is what is the name of God is strategic superiority? What is the significance of it politically, militarily, operationally at these levels of numbers? What do you do with it?"
It was probably that comment that got Kissinger neutralized by the hawks in the Ford administration, namely Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. Which was the true beginning of the neoconservative movement. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted the USA to maintain whatever "superiority" they could. Thus began the whole Committee on the Present Danger campaign led by people like Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Paul Nitze, to drum up support for the growing mythology of Soviet military superiority. (That whole aspect, which Sachs ignores, is well described by Jerry Sanders in Peddlers of Crisis.) Therefore, it was not really until 1991 and START I that a serious step toward arms control and the lowering of numbers was actually taken. But yet, by the nineties, Kennedy's other goal, non-proliferation, was violated since 6 other countries now had nuclear weapons. Including Israel, which Kennedy was very much opposed to.
This is a middling book in this author's view. As noted above, it does have some distinction. But what it really shows is that, even with a very bright man, which Sachs is, the subject of John F. Kennedy's foreign policy is just too complex. For any scholar to digest all the information available, it takes much more time and study than a man as busy as Sachs is to truly address it all in a comprehensive and in-depth manner. We still await someone to take that task on in a balanced, incisive, and complete way. The Limited Test Ban Treaty and the American University speech were important hallmarks for JFK. But they were not, as Sachs insinuates, the only ones worth addressing and exploring at length.