Back to the New Frontier: A Short History of Change

Back to the New Frontier: A Short History of Change

Back to the New Frontier: A Short History of Change

Change may be the mantra, but continuity is the undertow.


I’ll forgive Obama a couple of his hot-air speeches just for wiping out the Clintons in South Carolina, though I guess we really have Bill and the black voters to thank for that. I’m sure the pleasure will be short-lived, since realistic assessment of the campaign suggests that Hillary Clinton will be facing John McCain in the fall, about as favorable a conjunction as she could ever have dreamed of.

But in the meantime we are being wafted on a brief detour, back to the New Frontier, as Ted and Caroline Kennedy anoint Obama as JFK’s heir. It won’t be long before Ted Sorensen is writing his speeches. Substitute Bush for Eisenhower, a mountain bike for a golf cart, Iraq for Vietnam, leave Castro in place to give a sense of continuity and voilà! It’s the 1960 campaign all over again. Oliver Stone should junk his movie about Bush and start hammering out the script for JFK: The Sequel, in which the CIA knocks off Obama for trying to pull the United States out of Iraq.

Change may be the mantra, but continuity is the undertow. In rhetorical invitation, though not in concrete matters such as prison sentencing, Americans believe in the possibility of turning to a new script and throwing the old one away. But of course the ball and chain of history is clamped to every ankle. A notorious scandal of the Kennedy years was Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s overruling all expert review and procurement recommendations and insisting that General Dynamics rather than Boeing make the disastrous F-111, at that time one of the largest procurement contracts in the Pentagon’s history. As I wrote here in 2004, the suspicion was that Henry Crown of Chicago was calling in some chits for his role in fixing the 1960 JFK vote in Cook County, Illinois, to the impotent fury of the teenage Hillary Clinton, who volunteered to check voter lists for Nixon. Crown, of Chicago Sand and Gravel, had $300 million of the mob’s money in General Dynamics debentures, and after the disaster of the Convair, General Dynamics needed the F-111 to avoid going belly up, taking the mob’s $300 million with it.

Henry Crown has passed on to the great pork barrel in the sky, but his descendants are devoted contributors to Obama, giving him tens of thousands of dollars, as a glance at the website of the Center for Responsive Politics swiftly attests. The Crown family is still deeply involved in the affairs of General Dynamics. Lester and James Crown have both had seats on the company’s board in recent years. General Dynamics has ties to Israeli military contractors. A 2003 General Dynamics corporate handout cited by Chicago Indymedia proclaimed “a strategic alliance with Aeronautics Defense Systems, Ltd.,” an Israeli firm based in Yavne. According to Indymedia, Aeronautics Defense Systems is the firm that developed the Unmanned Multi-Application System, an aerial surveillance tool the Israeli military uses to “provide a real-time ‘bird’s eye view’ of the surveillance area to combatant commanders and airborne command posts.” The Indymedia story quoted then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying the agreement between General Dynamics and Aeronautics Defense Systems to bring together “both companies’ state-of-the-art technologies in defense and homeland security” was “additional proof of the technological and commercial benefits that alliances between industries from the U.S. and Israel can produce.” An eye in the sky over Gaza ends up as a dollar in Obama’s war chest.

On January 11 of this year, hot on the heels of an editorial praising Obama as a Friend of Israel in the rabidly Zionist New York Sun, Lester Crown circulated a testimonial through the Jewish community, expressing his eagerness “to share with you my confidence that Senator Barack Obama’s stellar record on Israel gives me great comfort that, as President, he will be the friend to Israel that we all want to see in the White House–stalwart in his defense of Israel’s security, and committed to helping Israel achieve peace with its neighbors…. Few public figures inspire as much hope and optimism as Barack Obama…. Please pass on this message to all who are interested.”

The New Frontier gave us the escalation in Vietnam, and Saddam too. On JFK’s watch James Critchfield, head of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia division, backed a coup in 1963 against Gen. Abdul Karim Qasim, left in political complexion and the last Iraqi leader who tried to unite Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. Qasim and many communists were murdered and the Baath Party took over, paving the way for Saddam’s seizing of power five years later.

There was an optimistic left in the Camelot years. As Michael Neumann remarked to me this week, the big difference from today was that for young people of all classes, getting ahead was hard but getting a job was and always would be trivial. “They felt economically secure, so they got into recreation–that is, into politics. The big scares were theoretical. No American had actually got nuked or had their freedom crushed by the commies. So people weren’t cowardly; they were ambitious about what they could achieve.”

Now, Neumann went on, “people feel that foreigners will come to kill them. They’re paralyzed. The left feels, Darn it, America does need to be protected. They’re not into burning it down anymore–which means they want America to end the wars it can’t win but not to be defeated. This absurdity explains why they do nothing.” In the 1960s, leftists were very happy to contemplate the prospect of American defeat, so they didn’t have to hate the war and love the troops. This was a lot less confusing. Even the left just can’t imagine leaving those crazy A-rabs to their own devices. Ho Chi Minh projected competence and control because he was something recognizable in the West: a dirty commie. As Neumann concluded, “The Americans, having excised the secular left-wing rulers from Afghanistan and Iraq, now have to deal with…foreign ways. As true Americans, left and right, they just can’t hack that.”

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