Fifty-five years ago next month, President John Kennedy and his administration faced a crisis like no other after an American spy plane photographed nuclear missile sites under construction by the Soviet Union in Cuba.
In an Oct. 22, 1962, address to the country, Kennedy described the situation. Stark and strong, the president's speech framed America's position on missiles in Cuba in clear, unequivocal fashion.
The Kennedy administration, as we know today, proceeded to avert catastrophe through a naval blockade of Cuba and quiet diplomacy. No needless bellicosity, no daily vows of military action.
Fast forward to today.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pursues a goal of nuclear-armed missiles. In response, President Donald Trump consistently persists in threats (“fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before") and juvenile, schoolyard-like ridicule ("Little Rocket Man") directed at North Korea and Kim.
Is chest-thumping and name-calling helpful to solving what is an intense, delicate challenge impacting millions of lives?
In a word, no.
We see little to no upside, but a potentially calamitous downside in the form of avoidable provocation to boastful, sarcastic rhetoric. Trump's strategy for North Korea should involve more calm resolve, less incendiary tough talk.
Kim is aware of U.S. power, but menaces in spite of it. The fear is too much demonstration of American might will, through words and actions, push him over the edge.
In our view, it's time to ratchet down the back-and-forth war of words between Washington and Pyongyang before it leads to a war of weapons.
We do not suggest turning down the verbal temperature solves the North Korea problem, but it won't make it worse.
Differences exist between the nuclear challenge faced by Kennedy and the nuclear challenge faced by Trump, of course, but perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis of more than a half century ago provides some valuable lessons for today in how to step back from the brink.