This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A copy of the text of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library.
I speak of a strong America – strong in economy and resources and the dedication of our citizens – because I am concerned about the future of our country. I am concerned about the future of freedom around the world. I am concerned about our declining prestige, our sensitive alliances, the delicate balance of power. I think you share my concern. I think you recognize the need for leadership in this period that is thoughtful but courageous, prudent but firm, well-informed but imaginative. And I think you share my concern that Mr. Nixon’s record and experience in foreign affairs do not demonstrate that he possesses these qualities for the critical sixties.
I ask you to ask yourselves three questions about his experience:
First, does his record demonstrate that he is a man to whom this Nation can entrust awesome responsibilities affecting our peace, our security, our very survival? Here are the facts. Mr. Nixon in 1952 and 1956 joined in reckless political promises, never to be kept, in support of the so-called liberation policy that was going to aid revolutions behind the Iron Curtain through air drops, coordination and other direct assistance. In 1954 he tried to get us involved in a hopeless colonial war by recommending the dispatch of American troops to fight in Indo-China. In 1958 his goodwill tour of Latin America ended by endangering the prestige of the United States – when he disregarded the advice of our diplomats and allies, and permitted his presence to provoke arguments and disorders of such violence that the Marines had to be called out to safe-guard his homecoming.
Secondly, does Mr. Nixon’s record demonstrate that he is a man whose judgment of world events and future crises is sufficiently far-sighted to lead this nation in the sixties? Here are the facts. On the basis of his visit with Khrushchev, he predicted that the U-2 incident would not affect the Summit Conference. He was wrong. On the basis of his visit to Cuba, he praised the competence and stability of the Batista dictatorship, and said Communism could never take over in that island. He was wrong. On the basis of his trip to Russia, he predicted that the exchange of visits with Khrushchev would develop deeper respect between the two governments. He was wrong, again.
He tells us now that he’s the man to debate with Khrushchev – but the best he could do in that Moscow kitchen was to wag his finger in Mr. Khrushchev’s face and say: “You may be ahead of us in rocket thrust, but we’re ahead of you in color television.” He tells us now that economic aid to Cuba and Latin America five years ago would have prevented the rise of Castro – but he neglects to say that he was there five years ago and didn’t do anything about it. He tells us now that his trips abroad were a valuable experience – but the facts are that every key area he has visited is less friendly to western views now that it was at the time of his visit: Ghana, Laos, Cuba, Panama, and at least ten others.
The great tragedy of American foreign policy in all of these areas was our failure to recognize the situation before the crisis developed. Mr. Nixon was there – presumably he saw what was going on – presumably he made recommendations. But it is apparently an unfortunate fact that for all these years a trip by Mr. Khrushchev or Mr. Mikoyan has had a far greater effect on our foreign policy than a trip by Mr. Nixon. Mr. Nixon would like us to forget the fact that he did not foresee these crises, or recommend new policies, or secure their adoption. But the American people will not forget. For they know that experience counts.
Third and finally, has Mr. Nixon been willing to keep sufficiently well-informed – or keep the American people accurately informed – about the state of the world and American foreign policy? Here are the facts. He asserted in our fourth debate that official surveys of our falling prestige abroad related to the 1957 post-Sputnik era – and we now know that statement to be incorrect. He asserted that the Communist-oriented regime in Guatemala was replaced as the result of our quarantine – and the information available to every diplomat and reporter proves that this is incorrect. He asserted that the Administration had never attempted to persuade Chiang Kai-Shek to move troops away from the off-shore islands – and Administration statements before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prove this to be incorrect.
A man who indicated on May 15 that the U-2 flights should be continued, apparently unaware that they had been cancelled on May 12 – a man who did not know the difference between the detection of Communist spies and their arrest, or whether it happened in Springfield, Massachusetts or Springfield, Illinois – a man who does not know to which issues in the United Nations the veto may be applied – cannot be expected, perhaps, to be informed on all these major issues. But neither can he expect the American people to elevate him to the White House on the basis of this experience.
I think we need leadership that is better informed – leadership that is less complacent about the future – leadership that is more sound in its judgments. And we need leadership willing to face the facts.
In 1939, I saw in Europe what happened to those lulled into a complacent sleep by leaders who talked of peace instead of building for it. And when France fell to the Nazis, one of its most illustrious leaders declared: “Our spirit of enjoyment was greater than our spirit of sacrifice. We wanted to have . . . more than we wanted to give. We spared effort, and we met disaster.”
I run for the Presidency in 1960 in the conviction that the people of this country are willing to sacrifice – to give – to spare no effort. And it is in that conviction that I ask your help tonight.