Why, then, didn't the Soviets leak it? It's quite possible, even likely, that Khrushchev and his Politburo never considered leaking because they had no idea how the crisis would be portrayed -- how weak they would look. On the day the crisis was reaching a crescendo, before he knew that Kennedy would offer up the Jupiters, Khrushchev was ready to back down. He told his colleagues that the Soviet Union was "face to face with the danger of war and of nuclear catastrophe, with the possible result of destroying the human race." He wasn't thinking about the Jupiters; he just wanted out and was determined to convince his colleagues that a U.S. pledge not to invade would be enough to protect Soviet power and pride.
To check this view, I contacted the three living people most likely to know: Sergei Khrushchev (son of Nikita), Anatoly Gromyko (son of Andrei, the Soviet foreign minister during the missile crisis), and Alexander "Sasha" Bessmertnykh (a Foreign Ministry official at the time of the crisis and later foreign minister). All backed this theory, though they acknowledged not knowing the details of Khrushchev's thinking. Soviet leaders, they said, genuinely feared a U.S. invasion of Cuba. None was moved by my argument that by the time of the crisis, there was no likelihood of such an invasion. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, this idea was laughable in U.S. policy circles. None would grant that Moscow's leaking of the swap was necessary to preserve Soviet honor. Yet as we spoke further, all eventually conceded that the image of Soviet power indeed would have fared far better had the swap become known.
In Moscow at a retrospective on the crisis in 1989, JFK speechwriter and confidant Ted Sorensen touted Bobby Kennedy's Thirteen Days as the definitive account. Dobrynin interrupted to say that the book omitted the Jupiters, to which Sorensen replied that Dobrynin was correct, but at the time, the deal was still "secret." "So I took it upon myself to edit that out," he said.
Reporters covering the meeting took it upon themselves not to chronicle this exchange. Nor has foreign-policy chatter over the years made much reference to the Jupiters. Indeed, the compromise is mentioned so infrequently that journalist Fred Kaplan had to nail it to the wall at considerable length in a recent Slate review of Robert Caro's latest volume on President Lyndon B. Johnson. Careful as he is, Caro relied on sources that extolled Kennedy's resolve, and he ignored the Jupiters.
COMPROMISE IS NOT a word that generally makes political hearts flutter, and it is even less loved when it comes to the politics of U.S. foreign policy. The myth of the missile crisis strengthened the scorn. The myth, not the reality, became the measure for how to bargain with adversaries. Everyone feared becoming the next Adlai Stevenson, whom the Kennedys, their aides, and their foes discredited for proposing the Jupiter deal publicly.
It's not that Washingtonians scurried about proclaiming their desire to emulate the missile-crisis myth, but it was very much a part of the city's ether in columns and conversations with friends from the early 1960s to the 1990s. Few wanted to expose themselves by proposing even mild compromises with enemies. In the famous "A to Z" review of U.S. policy toward Vietnam, ordered by LBJ after the 1968 Tet Offensive, we (I was in the Pentagon at that time) weren't even permitted to study possible compromises with Hanoi. And there's no doubt that only a dyed-in-the-wool Cold Warrior like Richard Nixon finally could have withdrawn from Vietnam.
It took extraordinary courage to propose compromises in arms control talks with Moscow. Even treaties for trivial reductions in nuclear forces on both sides faced furious battles in Congress. Today, it is near political suicide to publicly suggest letting Iran enrich uranium up to an inconsequential 5 percent with strong inspections, though the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty permits it. And while Barack Obama's team is talking to the Taliban, its demands are so absolute -- the Taliban must lay down their arms and accept the Kabul constitution -- that any serious give-and-take is impossible. Were it at all serious, the White House would have to at least dangle the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban.
For too long, U.S. foreign-policy debates have lionized threats and confrontation and minimized realistic compromise. And yes, to be sure, compromise is not always the answer, and sometimes it's precisely the wrong answer. But policymakers and politicians have to be able to examine it openly and without fear, and measure it against alternatives. Compromises do fail, and presidents can then ratchet up threats or even use force. But they need to remember that the ever steely-eyed JFK found a compromise solution to the Cuban missile crisis -- and the compromise worked.