Foreign Policy of John F. Kennedy

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Sarah Stone
Professor Ferrari
10 April 2012

John F. Kennedy
Even before John Fitzgerald Kennedy began his presidency in 1961, he viewed foreign policy as one of the most important aspects of our lives. In one speech he said, “Foreign policy today, irrespective of what we might wish, in its impact on our daily lives, overshadows everything else. Expenditures, taxation, domestic prosperity, the extent of social sciences — all hinge on the basic issue of war or peace” (JFK Library). As the first president born in the 20th century, the youngest president to be elected to office, and the youngest president to die in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s time in office was brief, but full of difficult challenges in foreign affairs. I feel that he was a president whose defining moments in his presidency were also some of the biggest crises in American history, and fifty years later, his foreign policy is still studied, especially in the current situations with the nuclear crises America is facing with nations such as North Korea and Iran. In my opinion, he not only handled his crises correctly, but he also moved America forward internationally in many ways such as creating the Peace Corps, advocating civil rights, fighting the war on communism, and the success of the space program. One aspect of Kennedy that I greatly admire was his success in both protecting the United States during conflicts with the Soviets and others, and at the same time maintaining the core values of America. Kennedy’s youth and foreign policy style promised something different from the stiff, strict foreign policy of the Eisenhower administration. While he did have a few failures during his time in office such as the Bay of Pigs defeat, overall, in my opinion his successes outweighed his failures.

Kennedy was one of the best presidents in terms of how he handled America’s famous conflicts. Holding office in the time of the Cold War with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and dealing with the tension with the U.S.S.R and the conflict in Vietnam was no easy feat, but Kennedy managed to almost always make the right decisions. Following the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy wanted to make a lot of changes in America’s foreign policy. While Eisenhower had been slow, and had had his “massive retaliation policy”, Kennedy’s “flexible answer” was a more informal strategy of foreign policy. His administration was strong, and Kennedy was famous for hearing all ideas and opinions from his advisers before making any important decisions. The Kennedy administrations top priorities during his presidency was preventing a nuclear war, and improving relations with countries.

In the early stages of Kennedy’s presidency, he wanted to make major changes in U.S. foreign policy by working with the Soviet Union instead of containing communism, however he changed his mind after the Soviet Union was aggressive in Cuba and Berlin. Kennedy was different from Truman and Eisenhower in the sense that he thought it was possible to compromise with the Soviet Union, since Nikita Khrushchev had abandoned Stalin’s ideas, and had been freeing Soviet society (Calvocoressi 30).

In order to stop the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, he thought it was necessary to compromise. Instead of building more weapons to compete with Russia, he wanted to stop the arms race, and he proposed meeting with Khrushchev to propose the destruction of nuclear weapons, but of course that did not happen. While I greatly respect Kennedy’s optimism, I do feel that this theory was a little naïve since it was obvious that Russia did not have a history of working well with America. Maybe in an ideal world, it could have worked, but as long as countries have weapons, I think that there is no point in being optimistic since it is human nature to be violent.

The Soviet Union saw Kennedy’s offer to compromise as being weak, and instead of working with the U. S., they started to act aggressively in Berlin and Cuba. After...
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