Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dwight Eisenhower

Presidential Legacies on Race Are Built on Laws, Not Speeches

The recent Bloomberg poll showing that a majority of Americans believe race relations have worsened on President Obama’s watch probably doesn’t have too much to do with Obama himself. No doubt he has contributed his fair share by running two presidential campaigns predicated on the belief that opposition to him was racist, and then writing off policy dissent as racist too. But the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island of the death of black men at the hands of police have resulted in national protests. The public may have been tuning Obama out lately, but they notice riots and traffic-stopping “die-ins,” as well as retaliatory race-based violence.

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The recent Bloomberg poll showing that a majority of Americans believe race relations have worsened on President Obama’s watch probably doesn’t have too much to do with Obama himself. No doubt he has contributed his fair share by running two presidential campaigns predicated on the belief that opposition to him was racist, and then writing off policy dissent as racist too. But the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island of the death of black men at the hands of police have resulted in national protests. The public may have been tuning Obama out lately, but they notice riots and traffic-stopping “die-ins,” as well as retaliatory race-based violence.

Obama has fumbled on race relations in other ways, notably not reining in Eric Holder’s politicization of all things race and by making ill considered comments about cases on which he had very clearly not been fully briefed. And so it’s no surprise that Obama has pulled back recently, treating a sensitive issue with something closer to the careful deliberation it requires. African-American advocates and activists have responded by criticizing him for it, the New York Times reports:

As crowds of people staged “die-ins” across the country last week to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers, young African-American activists were in the Oval Office lodging grievances with President Obama.

He of all people — the first black president of the United States — was in a position to testify to the sense of injustice that African-Americans feel in dealing with the police every day, the activists told him. During the unrest that began with a teenager’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., they hoped for a strong response. Why was he holding back?

But the Times story gets at something of more practical interest to the president. After conveniently whitewashing the Obama administration’s poor record on race relations, the story explains that Obama’s inner circle has begun pressing Obama to, essentially, make this moment about himself and put the current conflicts to work in the service of his own legacy.

“White House advisers say addressing the nation’s racial conflicts is now an imperative for the president’s final years in office,” the Times reports, and then unsurprisingly follows that assertion with a quote from Valerie Jarrett. It’s entirely understandable for presidents to want to shape their legacies, especially on issues that have become inseparably entangled with their careers. Race, for Obama, is one such issue. It’s also an issue that casts a long shadow over American history, and thus anyone responsible for marked improvements regarding race relations is seen as making a special contribution to the character of American life.

And yet, Obama’s advisors are going about this the wrong way. “Mr. Obama has stepped up some of his rhetoric,” the Times reports. For better or worse, however, rhetoric just won’t cut it. The improvement of race relations–specifically the cause of integration and anti-discrimination–in America has been done by laws, not speeches.

And in fact, those laws are often ahead of public opinion on the matter. The country wasn’t convinced to join hands and sing Kumbaya; instead, integration was accomplished by force of law.

A major change in the way race affected American life took place with the Second World War. William Lee Miller, in his joint biography of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, writes:

All-out war unsettles the society that fights it, and makes deep change possible. America’s “civil rights revolution,” although center stage from 1954 to 1965, did not begin with the great Court decision or the Montgomery bus boycott; its roots were in the war. The war changed blacks as well as whites and sharpened ideals. Black Americans sought war work and went north, or joined the army and were sent south. Northern African-Americans, who were drafted and sent to army camps in the South, were forced to the back of the bus, to the last seats in the theater, to the separated tables in the mess hall (southern African-Americans were, too, but the northerners were not accustomed to it). White Americans as well as black Americans were sent to England, to the Continent, to the Pacific. Civilians changed jobs and geography. Millions of blacks and whites moved to the North. Detroit exploded. There were “incidents,” protests, riots. Black activists, including A. Philip Randolph, threatened to march on Washington to protest discrimination, and as a result, Roosevelt signed the Fair Employment Act. The blatant racism of the enemy heightened awareness of national ideals; it also heightened frustration and moral outrage.

After the war, Truman pursued several avenues toward equality in a nation that could no longer ignore the issue. He established a committee on civil rights in 1946. It–and the report it produced–constituted a milestone of sorts, and Truman refused to squander the opportunity. Truman gave important speeches on the issue but only along with legislation he wanted passed. Congress blocked the legislation. So Truman took another route, issuing his executive order to desegregate the military.

Eisenhower, too, furthered the cause, and Congress would relent somewhat, passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Within a decade, under LBJ Congress would pass the far-reaching Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the rest is history. And that brings us to another reason Obama doesn’t have much of a legacy on racial healing: the major civil-rights acts have been law for decades; presidents now are tinkering at the margins.

That doesn’t mean those margins aren’t important. Sentencing reform, sensible changes in the war on drugs, and prison reform–Rick Perry’s Texas has been the model on this–can make a big difference. But there is no Truman-Ike-LBJ accomplishment on the horizon because race relations, equality under the law, and integration may not be perfect but they are far better than where they were. And the president certainly won’t change the world with a speech.

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Rand Paul, the GOP’s Anti-Reagan

In an illuminating essay for National Journal, Michael Gerson writes about the foreign-policy debate roiling the GOP. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft in 1952, Gerson points out that since that moment the GOP has been an internationalist party.

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In an illuminating essay for National Journal, Michael Gerson writes about the foreign-policy debate roiling the GOP. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft in 1952, Gerson points out that since that moment the GOP has been an internationalist party.

There have been differences for sure–most notably Ronald Reagan’s challenge of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente, with Reagan embracing the roll-back of the Soviet empire–but they have all been differences among internationalists. Mr. Gerson argues that the rise of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul represents an effort by non-interventionists to remake the core national-security doctrine of the GOP. Gerson quotes George Mason Professor Colin Deuck, who says of Paul’s approach: “This is not just a rejection of Bush 43. It goes way beyond Reagan versus Nixon. It is an attempt to undo the Eisenhower administration, which locked Republicans into an internationalist stance.”

Mr. Gerson highlights Senator Paul’s positions on various national-security issues:

The talented, ambitious Republican senator, with little background in foreign affairs, has proposed defense cuts, opposed the “perpetual war” against terrorism, questioned American troop deployments in Germany and South Korea, and sought to limit presidential authority over the use of force (urging, for example, the congressional deauthorization of the Iraq and Afghan wars)… Paul has systematically opposed the forward deployment of American influence: drone strikes, military engagement, and foreign assistance (which, he argues, encourages “lethargy” and “insolence”). Paul’s “constitutional foreign policy” denies the legal basis of the war on terrorism, would place severe constraints on the executive, and hints at the existence of an oppressive national security state.

The political and policy atmosphere of 2013—conflict fatigue, the Arab’s Spring’s frightening turn, public concerns about drone policy, revelations about NSA spying—could hardly have been more favorable to Rand Paul’s rise. It is particularly revealing what a leader says when he is on top of the world. During his 12-hour, 52-minute drone filibuster, Paul felt enough support and permission to make extraordinary claims about the potential misuse of presidential power. “That Americans could be killed in a café in San Francisco,” he said, “or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.”

This was the perfect melding of domestic and foreign policy libertarianism—an assertion that the national security state might not only violate your privacy but also take your life during lunch. It was also a paranoid delusion. Taken as a serious argument, it would mean that the president of the United States can’t be trusted with advanced weaponry.

Senator Paul understands that his libertarian convictions are still out of step with many in the GOP, which is why he’s careful in how much he reveals, careful in the battles he chooses, and why he insists his views are Reaganesque (his latest effort can be found in his op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal).

Having worked in the Reagan administration and having read a great deal about Reagan and his presidency, it is risible for Paul to claim his philosophy mirrors Reagan’s. America’s fortieth president, among other things, was not drawn to bizarre conspiracies, which Paul can be. (For example, Paul accused Vice President Cheney of being in favor of the Iraq war because of his ties to Halliburton and warns that the NSA might soon “start using the GPS feature in your phone to track whether or not you go to gun shows.”) Rand Paul’s philosophy is much closer to his father Ron Paul’s than Reagan’s or, for that matter, Eisenhower’s.

Senator Paul, then, does not represent simply a different point on the GOP’s post-World War II foreign-policy continuum. He is a break from that tradition. Whether that is wise or not is open to debate. But Mr. Paul should at least have the courage of his libertarian convictions. Particularly if he decides to run for president in 2016, Paul should level with us about how radically different his foreign policy as president would be from those of the last six Republican presidents.

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Obama’s Test

There are many tests of a president, but one of the most important is: Can he (or in the future she) abandon cherished programs when they simply do not work in the real world and adopt a policy that does?

Many great presidents have passed this test. Truman abandoned the defense drawdown after the North Korean invasion of South Korea and launched a massive defense buildup. Eisenhower abandoned his campaign policy of “rollback” in favor of continuing Truman’s policy of containment. Carter abandoned his general dovishness after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and launched a defense buildup. Reagan abandoned his outreach to Iran after it became public and his peacekeeping deployment in Lebanon after the bombing of the Marine barracks. George H.W. Bush abandoned his “no new taxes” pledge to get a budget agreement that helped to eliminate the deficit. Bill Clinton abandoned his health-care plan to adopt a more centrist approach to governing. And George W. Bush abandoned his “small footprint” approach in Iraq to order the surge, which saved the country from collapse.

Now President Obama is facing this test in his foreign policy. Can he pivot away from failure?

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There are many tests of a president, but one of the most important is: Can he (or in the future she) abandon cherished programs when they simply do not work in the real world and adopt a policy that does?

Many great presidents have passed this test. Truman abandoned the defense drawdown after the North Korean invasion of South Korea and launched a massive defense buildup. Eisenhower abandoned his campaign policy of “rollback” in favor of continuing Truman’s policy of containment. Carter abandoned his general dovishness after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and launched a defense buildup. Reagan abandoned his outreach to Iran after it became public and his peacekeeping deployment in Lebanon after the bombing of the Marine barracks. George H.W. Bush abandoned his “no new taxes” pledge to get a budget agreement that helped to eliminate the deficit. Bill Clinton abandoned his health-care plan to adopt a more centrist approach to governing. And George W. Bush abandoned his “small footprint” approach in Iraq to order the surge, which saved the country from collapse.

Now President Obama is facing this test in his foreign policy. Can he pivot away from failure?

As Fred Hiatt argues in the Washington Post, the collapse of Iraq invalidates the arguments of administration foreign-policy Minimalists led by Joe Biden who triumphed in internal councils over Engagers such as Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, and David Petraeus who favored a more activist approach, especially in the Middle East. In recent years Obama has consistently taken the advice of the Minimalists in Syria, Iraq, and Libya and arguably Afghanistan too. In Syria the U.S. has avoided involvement in the civil war; in Iraq the U.S. pulled out its troops; in Libya the U.S. did little to aid a new government after Gaddafi’s overthrow; and in Afghanistan the White House announced timetables for American withdrawal.

As Hiatt notes: “Unfortunately, disengagement turns out not to work. A drones-first policy has stoked anti-American fervor from Pakistan to Yemen. Libya is on the brink of civil war. Syria has become ‘the most catastrophic humanitarian crisis any of us have seen in a generation,’ as Mr. Obama’s U.N ambassador said. Now Iraq is disintegrating.”

The question is: Will Obama rethink his approach now that it has backfired? He has offered some hints about doing more to help the Syrian opposition and possibly even launching air strikes in Iraq, but there is no sign of a fundamental recalibration so far. Indeed, when he addressed Iraq last week, pretty much the first words out of the president’s mouth were that we are not going to send ground troops–indicating that he is still more fixated on staying out of conflicts than on defending American interests in a vital region.

Obama is one of our smartest presidents so he must know how badly things are going. But he is also one of our most arrogant presidents so it will be especially hard for him to admit that what he’s done before simply isn’t working. How will this conflict resolve itself? Impossible to say but the answer to that question will determine whether U.S. foreign policy becomes more successful–or at any rate less unsuccessful–in the remaining two and a half years of the Obama presidency.

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Explaining Politics to the Political Scientists

Julia Azari, an assistant political science professor at Marquette, has a column in Politico Magazine that begins with a rather simple premise: President Obama’s conservative critics sometimes call him too weak and sometimes call him too strong. Isn’t this, Professor Azari asks, contradictory? Specifically, the question is centered on the fact that conservatives think Obama’s foreign policy is too timid, but his domestic policy is heavyhanded, overly bureaucratized and centralized, and sometimes unconstitutional and antidemocratic.

Azari wonders why that is. She’ll be cheered to know there is a very easy answer to this, and it’s one nearly anyone could answer: this is precisely how our system of government was designed. That is, the president is the commander in chief, and has far more latitude to conduct foreign policy than domestic policy. Therefore, when he tries to institute liberal experiments on domestic policy, he runs into the United States Congress, a coequal branch of the government. When he doesn’t get his way, he can be tempted to go around Congress.

Azari suspects this is the answer–that the Constitution has something to do with it, and several paragraphs in answers her own question:

Being seen as simultaneously too strong and too weak is a structural condition for presidents. The framers of the Constitution debated about how to design an executive strong enough to protect the country, but still constrained by the rule of law. Writing from the vantage point of the mid-twentieth century, the political scientist Richard Neustadt argued that when presidents resort to unilateral “command,” it means their efforts to persuade others have failed. In this sense, it would certainly be possible for the president to both lack the necessary strength to govern and to have the capacity to use the powers of the office in excessive and even constitutionally questionable ways– in both foreign and domestic policy.

But with regard to Obama, Azari quickly rejects the obviously correct answer because it would make Obama’s opponents sound so reasonable. So Azari must venture bravely forth, beyond the safe compound of political science and into the fire swamp of irrational, malicious gibberish:

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Julia Azari, an assistant political science professor at Marquette, has a column in Politico Magazine that begins with a rather simple premise: President Obama’s conservative critics sometimes call him too weak and sometimes call him too strong. Isn’t this, Professor Azari asks, contradictory? Specifically, the question is centered on the fact that conservatives think Obama’s foreign policy is too timid, but his domestic policy is heavyhanded, overly bureaucratized and centralized, and sometimes unconstitutional and antidemocratic.

Azari wonders why that is. She’ll be cheered to know there is a very easy answer to this, and it’s one nearly anyone could answer: this is precisely how our system of government was designed. That is, the president is the commander in chief, and has far more latitude to conduct foreign policy than domestic policy. Therefore, when he tries to institute liberal experiments on domestic policy, he runs into the United States Congress, a coequal branch of the government. When he doesn’t get his way, he can be tempted to go around Congress.

Azari suspects this is the answer–that the Constitution has something to do with it, and several paragraphs in answers her own question:

Being seen as simultaneously too strong and too weak is a structural condition for presidents. The framers of the Constitution debated about how to design an executive strong enough to protect the country, but still constrained by the rule of law. Writing from the vantage point of the mid-twentieth century, the political scientist Richard Neustadt argued that when presidents resort to unilateral “command,” it means their efforts to persuade others have failed. In this sense, it would certainly be possible for the president to both lack the necessary strength to govern and to have the capacity to use the powers of the office in excessive and even constitutionally questionable ways– in both foreign and domestic policy.

But with regard to Obama, Azari quickly rejects the obviously correct answer because it would make Obama’s opponents sound so reasonable. So Azari must venture bravely forth, beyond the safe compound of political science and into the fire swamp of irrational, malicious gibberish:

Instead, there’s a case to be made that this dual narrative is specific to the Obama presidency. Subliminal and not-so-subliminal messages about Obama’s nationality and masculinity are rife in these critiques. Comparing Putin and Obama, Sarah Palin famously commented that Obama wears “mom jeans.” On matters abroad, the implication—as with the Bergdahl case—is often that Obama demonstrates excessive sympathy for foreigners at the expense of American interests. Dictatorship narratives often include either Soviet or Nazi imagery. The factor tying the two narratives together is the idea that Obama’s very loyalties are suspect. In other words, dictatorship and weakness are both logical extensions of the claim, prevalent in some conservative circles, that Obama is not quite one of us and not an appropriate symbol of American identity.

Now, you might be tempted to steer Azari back to the land of the lucid. Republicans have accused other Democratic presidents in the past of being weak on national security, and Barack Obama himself ran–twice–on a platform that consisted, essentially, of accusing his Republican opponent of being too chicken to invade nuclear-armed Islamist countries in Central Asia. So, no, I don’t think it’s the “mom jeans” thing.

Nor is this new. Was Truman–a Democrat, by the way–accusing Eisenhower of being a feminine foreigner when he mocked Ike’s attitude toward the Soviet Union as all talk? One thinks not. (Ike was president at the time, too; Truman had already left office.) The supposed contradiction of weak on foreign affairs and statist at home is not only not mutually exclusive, as Azari seems to realize, but not unique to Obama either. Just as Azari names conservative pundits who make both accusations of Obama, she can easily dig up liberal pundits accusing George W. Bush of–in the same monologue–being a fascist and being stupid and un-American and guided by the political doctrines of our enemies.

There’s been something of a cottage industry for liberal institutions to believe–against all evidence and history–that there’s something unprecedented (as the president might say) about the partisan rancor aimed at Barack Obama. What is actually unique is the aggressiveness of the defensive posture the media and academy have taken when it comes to criticism of this president.

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Our Parade of Commanders in Afghanistan

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established in January 2002 as the headquarters to oversee U.S. and allied troop deployments in Afghanistan. That was about 12 1/2 years ago. In that period there have been 15 commanders of ISAF. Just since 2007 there have been six ISAF commanders (McNeill, McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen, Dunford). And now we are about to get another with the announcement that General Joe Dunford, who has led ISAF since February 2013, is about to leave to become the next commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

Dunford has done a great job in Afghanistan under very trying circumstances and he certainly deserves to become commandant. But what does it say about military priorities that he is being pulled out as commander of a theater in wartime—the only such in the entire U.S. military—to assume a job back in the Pentagon? What it says to me is that the problem that Bob Gates so often complained about still isn’t fixed—namely that while portions of the military are at war, a large part of the military establishment remains on a peacetime footing.

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The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established in January 2002 as the headquarters to oversee U.S. and allied troop deployments in Afghanistan. That was about 12 1/2 years ago. In that period there have been 15 commanders of ISAF. Just since 2007 there have been six ISAF commanders (McNeill, McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen, Dunford). And now we are about to get another with the announcement that General Joe Dunford, who has led ISAF since February 2013, is about to leave to become the next commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. 

Dunford has done a great job in Afghanistan under very trying circumstances and he certainly deserves to become commandant. But what does it say about military priorities that he is being pulled out as commander of a theater in wartime—the only such in the entire U.S. military—to assume a job back in the Pentagon? What it says to me is that the problem that Bob Gates so often complained about still isn’t fixed—namely that while portions of the military are at war, a large part of the military establishment remains on a peacetime footing.

Dwight Eisenhower did not return home to become army chief of staff until November 1945—until, that is, World War II was finished. It would have been unthinkable to bring him home while combat was still going on. And yet it is considered normal practice to bring home commanders from Afghanistan while the war continues to rage.

Granted the conflict in Afghanistan is a long-term struggle that, unlike World War II, will not have a definite endpoint anytime soon. But there is still a need for command continuity, all the more so because so much of what gets done in Afghanistan gets done via personal relationships. Every commander coming in has to build a new set of relationships with Afghans. The learning curve is steep and there is a price to be paid for shaking up the top tier so often. The willingness of the government to play musical chairs with our commanders bespeaks a fundamental lack of seriousness about winning this conflict.

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Is the Culture of the Senate to Blame?

The Obama administration is foundering, with its principals stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. Long after then-Senator John Kerry was famously for it before he was against it, Secretary of State Kerry’s rhetoric repeatedly serves to nurture extremism rather than achieve peace, as he convinces rejectionists that time is on their side and rejectionism works. Now Kerry, apparently speaking from the cuff, bashes religiosity. Vice President Joe Biden, of course, makes Kerry appear taciturn. After a disastrous confirmation hearing and ill-chosen words suggesting bigotry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently learned that silence is golden because whenever he does open his mouth, he tends to get in trouble. Obama himself has mouthed off in ways that undercut both diplomacy and America’s strategic position. Indeed, USA Today asked whether Obama had actually made foreign policy by gaffe.

Senators are a funny bunch. They take several hundred votes per year, most on ordinary business—for example, confirmations and cloture votes—but some for more substantive bills. Whether they vote for or against, each is but one of 100 voices. Success is easy to claim, and responsibility easy to shirk. They must be masters of everything, and so are often skin deep on any particular issue. Rhetoric comes easy: Anyone who has ever testified at a hearing understands that he or she is merely a prop as senators make speeches geared more for their local papers before leaving the room. Over time, posturing becomes both second-nature and the key to success.

Being a leader, however, is different. The buck stops at the executive’s desk, whether for good or for bad. There’s a whole literature out there about why governors make better presidents, although some suggest the reality behind such conventional wisdom is uncertain. George Washington, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman were all great presidents, but none served as governor. Washington and Eisenhower, however, were generals and so did rise from a position of leadership. Adams was a lifelong politician and diplomat, and Kennedy and Truman both served time in the Congress.

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The Obama administration is foundering, with its principals stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. Long after then-Senator John Kerry was famously for it before he was against it, Secretary of State Kerry’s rhetoric repeatedly serves to nurture extremism rather than achieve peace, as he convinces rejectionists that time is on their side and rejectionism works. Now Kerry, apparently speaking from the cuff, bashes religiosity. Vice President Joe Biden, of course, makes Kerry appear taciturn. After a disastrous confirmation hearing and ill-chosen words suggesting bigotry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently learned that silence is golden because whenever he does open his mouth, he tends to get in trouble. Obama himself has mouthed off in ways that undercut both diplomacy and America’s strategic position. Indeed, USA Today asked whether Obama had actually made foreign policy by gaffe.

Senators are a funny bunch. They take several hundred votes per year, most on ordinary business—for example, confirmations and cloture votes—but some for more substantive bills. Whether they vote for or against, each is but one of 100 voices. Success is easy to claim, and responsibility easy to shirk. They must be masters of everything, and so are often skin deep on any particular issue. Rhetoric comes easy: Anyone who has ever testified at a hearing understands that he or she is merely a prop as senators make speeches geared more for their local papers before leaving the room. Over time, posturing becomes both second-nature and the key to success.

Being a leader, however, is different. The buck stops at the executive’s desk, whether for good or for bad. There’s a whole literature out there about why governors make better presidents, although some suggest the reality behind such conventional wisdom is uncertain. George Washington, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman were all great presidents, but none served as governor. Washington and Eisenhower, however, were generals and so did rise from a position of leadership. Adams was a lifelong politician and diplomat, and Kennedy and Truman both served time in the Congress.

The problem, however, might simply be treating the president in isolation. Even if a president has emerged from the Congress, often he surrounds himself with a diverse cabinet whose experience does not mirror his own. Kennedy might have appointed a career politician to be his vice president, but he chose former military officer and lifelong diplomat Dean Rusk to be his secretary of state, and Robert McNamara, his secretary of defense, had been president of the Ford Motor Company. Johnson, for his part, kept Rusk and McNamara in State and Defense, until he replaced McNamara with lawyer Clark Clifford toward the end. Gerald Ford nominated businessman Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president and kept Kissinger in place, even if he appointed politicians and bureaucrats to the defense portfolio. Truman might have chosen fellow politician Alben Barkley as his vice president, but surrounded himself with a host of secretaries of state, war, and later defense whose backgrounds were more varied.

Barack Obama seems to be the first president who has, at least in his second term, awarded all of his key foreign-policy posts to former senators, amplifying the unique personality of that position onto his administration. Poor policy and ill-thought out strategy are one-thing, but the number of own-goals Obama’s team has so far inflicted on American national security, as well as a superficial understanding of world affairs, seems to have at least some roots in Obama choosing to fish from a very narrow pool of like-minded politicians, all of whom tend to duplicate rather than correct the president’s own flaws.

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The Folly of Sequestration and the Legacy of Andrew Jackson Higgins

On May 25, 1942, the waters off Norfolk, Virginia played host to a dramatic competition between military landing boats designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins and those used by the Navy. Army Major Howard Quinn, after observing the contest, wrote to his commanding officer that “there was no comparison”–the Higgins boat was the better craft. Quinn was on hand to watch the competition along with a member of the Truman Committee, led by then-Senator Harry S. Truman to investigate waste in the U.S. military’s war production. The contest had come at the behest of Truman, whom Higgins had convinced of the superiority of his boat.

The switch was made; the boats were mass-produced, and were integral to the success of the landing at Normandy. Had the military not had the Higgins boats, Dwight Eisenhower later said, “The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” And it wasn’t just the boats. As William Lee Miller writes in his book about the intersection of the lives of Truman and Eisenhower, Truman claimed to have saved $15 billion with his committee’s recommendations, by tackling “the prodigious waste in constructing camps, the shortage of essential commodities like rubber, magnesium, and aluminum; the protection of the consumer economy and the expansion of the labor pool. The committee also exposed corruption in war production.”

The reason the committee was considered such a success is because it enabled the military to cut wasteful spending while improving military readiness, equipment, and combat capability. Six decades later, then-Senator Hillary Clinton sought to take advantage of the negative reporting and unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by invoking Truman’s name in a Wall Street Journal column full of righteous anger at perceived corruption and incompetence in war management during the Bush administration. The following year she was serving as the public face of the foreign policy of an Obama White House proposing to make cuts to the military decried by his own secretary of defense and whose devastating effect on military readiness has already begun to encroach on the line separating theory from reality.

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On May 25, 1942, the waters off Norfolk, Virginia played host to a dramatic competition between military landing boats designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins and those used by the Navy. Army Major Howard Quinn, after observing the contest, wrote to his commanding officer that “there was no comparison”–the Higgins boat was the better craft. Quinn was on hand to watch the competition along with a member of the Truman Committee, led by then-Senator Harry S. Truman to investigate waste in the U.S. military’s war production. The contest had come at the behest of Truman, whom Higgins had convinced of the superiority of his boat.

The switch was made; the boats were mass-produced, and were integral to the success of the landing at Normandy. Had the military not had the Higgins boats, Dwight Eisenhower later said, “The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” And it wasn’t just the boats. As William Lee Miller writes in his book about the intersection of the lives of Truman and Eisenhower, Truman claimed to have saved $15 billion with his committee’s recommendations, by tackling “the prodigious waste in constructing camps, the shortage of essential commodities like rubber, magnesium, and aluminum; the protection of the consumer economy and the expansion of the labor pool. The committee also exposed corruption in war production.”

The reason the committee was considered such a success is because it enabled the military to cut wasteful spending while improving military readiness, equipment, and combat capability. Six decades later, then-Senator Hillary Clinton sought to take advantage of the negative reporting and unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by invoking Truman’s name in a Wall Street Journal column full of righteous anger at perceived corruption and incompetence in war management during the Bush administration. The following year she was serving as the public face of the foreign policy of an Obama White House proposing to make cuts to the military decried by his own secretary of defense and whose devastating effect on military readiness has already begun to encroach on the line separating theory from reality.

“Of course, we need far more than a Truman Committee,” Clinton declared back in 2008. “We need the Truman spirit in the White House, where the buck finally stops.” Clinton is strangely silent on her former boss’s proposal to slash the military unless he gets more tax increases (the president’s supporters in the media and blogosphere like to refer to this tactic as “hostage taking”–when Republicans do it). But perhaps she should speak up, unless back in 2008 she was merely playing partisan politics with the armed forces and grandstanding from her Senate perch instead of expressing genuine concern about the American military.

These cuts to the military are part of sequestration, intended to make a dent in deficit spending. Will risking “hollowing out” the military at least get our budget issues under control? No, it won’t. As Philip Klein writes over at the Washington Examiner, the Congressional Budget Office’s newest 10-year spending forecast expects federal annual tax receipts to increase by 65 percent, revenue as a share of the overall economy to increase, spending on social security to go up by 67 percent, spending on federal health programs to balloon by 94 percent, and defense spending to increase 20 percent over that time period, bringing overall defense spending as a share of the federal budget below the historical average. Klein concludes:

These numbers, taken together, make it abundantly clear that the only reason for additional tax hikes at this point would be to chase skyrocketing spending on entitlements. Paying for this spending wouldn’t be a matter of asking the very rich to pay a little more — it would necessitate large tax hikes on the middle class that far exceed historical levels.

Sequestration is not about cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” or improving the efficiency of the U.S. military. It is about raiding a piggy bank to pay (unsuccessfully) for an ever-expanding welfare state, to which the president’s health-care reform legislation will only add as costs continue to rise, premiums increase, Medicaid rolls are expanded, and insurance consumers are shoved off of employer health plans and into government-subsidized exchanges. The result will be a nation even more deeply in debt but now also, thanks to the president’s bright idea, far less able to defend itself from threats and less able to do its part on behalf of global stability and security.

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Will Hagel Learn from Eisenhower’s Mistakes?

Many of Senator Chuck Hagel’s most vocal advocates like to compare Hagel to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like Eisenhower, Hagel views Israel through a realist prism and believes it would be in America’s interest to cultivate much closer ties to Arab states and the broader Muslim Middle East. There are 22 states in the Arab League (including Palestine and Syria, even if the latter is suspended), and that doesn’t include Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the many non-Arab Muslim states who dislike Israel’s existence.

When Eisenhower entered office, he sought to rectify the damage—at least as he saw it—caused by President Harry S. Truman’s recognition of Israel. He immediately moved to cast his lot with Israel’s Arab opponents. In 1956, when France, the United Kingdom, and Israel responded militarily to Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdul Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, Eisenhower sided with Nasser and forced France, the United Kingdom, and Israel to terminate hostility and withdraw. Nasser’s “victory” in the Suez Crisis—the successful consolidation of Egyptian control over the Suez Canal—was the greatest victory Arab nationalists won. Nasser became a household name throughout the region. Arab nationalists got a burst of adrenalin, which they used to bring down the Iraqi monarchy, the Yemeni imamate, and the Libyan monarchy, replacing each with radical states. That might be all well and good to realists, so long as these Arab nationalist states paid heed to U.S. national security interests. Alas, that was not to be. Even though Eisenhower courted Nasser and gave him the greatest gift of his career, Nasser and his fellow-travelers turned their backs almost immediately on the United States. As David Verbeteen, then a doctoral candidate at King’s College, London, explains:

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Many of Senator Chuck Hagel’s most vocal advocates like to compare Hagel to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like Eisenhower, Hagel views Israel through a realist prism and believes it would be in America’s interest to cultivate much closer ties to Arab states and the broader Muslim Middle East. There are 22 states in the Arab League (including Palestine and Syria, even if the latter is suspended), and that doesn’t include Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the many non-Arab Muslim states who dislike Israel’s existence.

When Eisenhower entered office, he sought to rectify the damage—at least as he saw it—caused by President Harry S. Truman’s recognition of Israel. He immediately moved to cast his lot with Israel’s Arab opponents. In 1956, when France, the United Kingdom, and Israel responded militarily to Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdul Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, Eisenhower sided with Nasser and forced France, the United Kingdom, and Israel to terminate hostility and withdraw. Nasser’s “victory” in the Suez Crisis—the successful consolidation of Egyptian control over the Suez Canal—was the greatest victory Arab nationalists won. Nasser became a household name throughout the region. Arab nationalists got a burst of adrenalin, which they used to bring down the Iraqi monarchy, the Yemeni imamate, and the Libyan monarchy, replacing each with radical states. That might be all well and good to realists, so long as these Arab nationalist states paid heed to U.S. national security interests. Alas, that was not to be. Even though Eisenhower courted Nasser and gave him the greatest gift of his career, Nasser and his fellow-travelers turned their backs almost immediately on the United States. As David Verbeteen, then a doctoral candidate at King’s College, London, explains:

The Eisenhower administration bent over backwards to avoid any policy that might vindicate the Arabs’ almost paranoid perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel. Washington denied Israel arms and threatened the Jewish state with economic sanctions in 1953 because of its water crisis with Syria and its military reprisals in Sinai against Egyptian raids. The State Department expected Israel to make sweeping border adjustments in the framework of the Alpha and Gamma plans, which called for Israel to cede Negev territory in order to enable a land bridge between Egypt and Jordan. Further, the White House condemned Israel in 1956 for participating in the Anglo-French Suez campaign and forced it to retreat from the Sinai in 1957. Kenen’s objections to Eisenhower administration policies fell on deaf ears…

Why, then, did an exclusive U.S.-Arab alliance not solidify into a permanent fixture of U.S. policy? Simply put, reality intervened. Arab priorities were not those of Washington. While U.S. officials saw resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a precondition for a U.S.-Arab alliance against the Soviet Union, such a grouping was not to be. Arab leaders were unreliable and did not share the U.S. vision of international, let alone regional, security. Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad grew closer to Moscow. These Arab nationalist and revolutionary regimes sought to undermine pro-Western governments in Lebanon and Jordan. The Middle East operated—and continues to operate—according to internal dynamics that are not easily channeled by external forces. Inter-Arab rivalries surfaced.

By the end of Eisenhower’s term, even Eisenhower realists understood that the reason why Washington needed Jerusalem was simply because Israel was a much better ally. As would be demonstrated repeatedly through the remainder of the Cold War, the United States got as much if not more from its relationship with Israel as Israel got from its relationship with the United States.

Perhaps in his confirmation hearings, Hagel can explain why he thinks Eisenhower’s assumptions about the Middle East fell flat. Let us hope he is aware of the history. Nasser’s expansionism with radio propaganda and conventional arms posed a formidable challenge and, indeed, led to destabilizing wars in the region. More than half a century later, it is a potentially nuclear-capable Islamic Republic of Iran that Hagel seeks to appease. The question is whether U.S. national security can now afford to re-learn Eisenhower’s mistakes.

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Ike: Good Man, But Not a Great Leader

In his New Republic review of Jean Edward Smith’s new Eisenhower biography, Rutgers historian David Greenberg rightly take legions of Ike-worshippers to task for sugar-coating Ike’s mixed performance as both a general and a president. As Greenberg notes, Dwight Eisenhower was not the amiable dunce of contemporary caricatures but nor is he the genius and giant he is now made out to be.

Not even his greatest admirers make any great claims for his tactical prowess, while many of his specific decisions during the liberation of North Africa and Western Europe were deeply flawed. (One decision that he got right–and that Greenberg needlessly criticizes him for–was sticking by George S. Patton after the latter slapped a couple of soldiers for alleged cowardice. Ike realized what Greenberg does not: that this was a small price to pay for Patton’s tactical genius.)

His presidency was even more problematic. While one can make the case, as Smith does, that Ike presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, the same might be said for other presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton or, in the case of two who did not serve a full eight years, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. Ike’s achievement was not as unprecedented as Smith makes it out to be, nor did he have the kind of accomplishments that FDR (got the nation through the Great Depression, helped win World War II), Truman (the containment policy) or Reagan (helped end the Cold War) had.

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In his New Republic review of Jean Edward Smith’s new Eisenhower biography, Rutgers historian David Greenberg rightly take legions of Ike-worshippers to task for sugar-coating Ike’s mixed performance as both a general and a president. As Greenberg notes, Dwight Eisenhower was not the amiable dunce of contemporary caricatures but nor is he the genius and giant he is now made out to be.

Not even his greatest admirers make any great claims for his tactical prowess, while many of his specific decisions during the liberation of North Africa and Western Europe were deeply flawed. (One decision that he got right–and that Greenberg needlessly criticizes him for–was sticking by George S. Patton after the latter slapped a couple of soldiers for alleged cowardice. Ike realized what Greenberg does not: that this was a small price to pay for Patton’s tactical genius.)

His presidency was even more problematic. While one can make the case, as Smith does, that Ike presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, the same might be said for other presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton or, in the case of two who did not serve a full eight years, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge. Ike’s achievement was not as unprecedented as Smith makes it out to be, nor did he have the kind of accomplishments that FDR (got the nation through the Great Depression, helped win World War II), Truman (the containment policy) or Reagan (helped end the Cold War) had.

President Eisenhower did deserve credit for ending the Korean War, building the interstate highway system, putting a bipartisan imprimatur on the New Deal, and moving the Republican Party away from isolationism but, as Greenberg argues, he also deserves demerits for not being more out front in confronting Joe McCarthy or Southern segregationists.

My biggest beef with Eisenhower, however, goes unmentioned by Greenberg: His handling of the Suez crisis when he sold out our allies (Britain, France and Israel) to curry favor with a Middle Eastern demagogue (Nasser). That misstep was to have baleful longterm consequences for American policy in the Middle East. Yet the consequences of this and other Eisenhower missteps are ignored or waved away by the legion of revisionists who want to elevate him into the top of the presidential pantheon. In reality, he was a good man, a good general and a good president–but not a truly great man or great leader.

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Ordered Liberty and Controlled Chaos

The National Civic Art Society has done yeoman’s work in highlighting the historical, cultural, and aesthetic follies of Frank Gehry’s proposed memorial to Dwight Eisenhower. Andrew Ferguson notes in the most recent Weekly Standard, the design is both “grandiose and pointless,” but as Jonathan has commented, the monument does in fact have a point: to revise and diminish Eisenhower. Its so-called tapestries remind the Society of a “rat’s nest of tangled steel,” though to my eye, they look more like metallic shoelaces fashioned into a post-modern memorial of mourning for Holocaust victims. There’s nothing heroic or triumphant about them, and that’s why they’re there. Entirely out of keeping with the rest of the Mall, and loathed by the Eisenhower family, they will–if constructed–soon go the way of most modern architecture: rain-stained, rusted, and broken, an enduring statement of our contempt for great men, our loss of the heroic vocabulary, and our refusal to stand up to the self-promoting cleverness of an artistic culture that exists to tell us we are not worthy of their genius.

Gehry’s philosophy of design reminds me of my encounters with deconstructionist theory in graduate school: disorienting, until you realize the point of the enterprise is not to convey meaning but to smash it, all the while assuming a pose of ironic, superior, unsmashed detachment in order to win immunity from criticism. Gehry’s leitmotif is that “life is chaotic, dangerous, and surprising,” democracy is either chaos or at best “controlled chaos,” and so buildings should be chaotic as well. This is the kind of thing that sounds good until you think about it for five seconds. Modern democracies are in fact the most unchaotic, predictable, secure societies in the history of the world – the only way they look chaotic is next to the Garden of Eden, or the paradise of the planner.

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The National Civic Art Society has done yeoman’s work in highlighting the historical, cultural, and aesthetic follies of Frank Gehry’s proposed memorial to Dwight Eisenhower. Andrew Ferguson notes in the most recent Weekly Standard, the design is both “grandiose and pointless,” but as Jonathan has commented, the monument does in fact have a point: to revise and diminish Eisenhower. Its so-called tapestries remind the Society of a “rat’s nest of tangled steel,” though to my eye, they look more like metallic shoelaces fashioned into a post-modern memorial of mourning for Holocaust victims. There’s nothing heroic or triumphant about them, and that’s why they’re there. Entirely out of keeping with the rest of the Mall, and loathed by the Eisenhower family, they will–if constructed–soon go the way of most modern architecture: rain-stained, rusted, and broken, an enduring statement of our contempt for great men, our loss of the heroic vocabulary, and our refusal to stand up to the self-promoting cleverness of an artistic culture that exists to tell us we are not worthy of their genius.

Gehry’s philosophy of design reminds me of my encounters with deconstructionist theory in graduate school: disorienting, until you realize the point of the enterprise is not to convey meaning but to smash it, all the while assuming a pose of ironic, superior, unsmashed detachment in order to win immunity from criticism. Gehry’s leitmotif is that “life is chaotic, dangerous, and surprising,” democracy is either chaos or at best “controlled chaos,” and so buildings should be chaotic as well. This is the kind of thing that sounds good until you think about it for five seconds. Modern democracies are in fact the most unchaotic, predictable, secure societies in the history of the world – the only way they look chaotic is next to the Garden of Eden, or the paradise of the planner.

Gehry’s vast metallic boils could hardly be built in societies lacking the exquisite organization and predictability of modern engineering and finance. It’s a waste of time to expect modern architects to recognize how lucky they are to live in a society that can afford to take their pretensions seriously, or to show any gratitude for their good fortune. But I would love to dispatch believers in democratic chaos to live in Sudan or Somalia for a few weeks, so they could get a sense of just how nasty, brutish, and short life is for lots of people outside the advanced democracies. The U.S. is not controlled chaos, which implies that the job of the government is to exercise control and the job of the people to be chaotic. It is an experiment in ordered liberty, where government and society rest on the popular moral sense that modern architecture seeks to debase by identifying it as the unwanted residue of the past. There are always going to be unexpected events in life – that’s the nature of it – but the purpose of memorial architecture in a democracy is to remember heroes who helped to stem for a while the tide of chaos, not to embody disorder and decay. The former is a human achievement; the latter is the normal state of affairs.

The proposed memorial has nothing to do with America’s ordered liberty, or Ike’s dedication to defending it. It’s heartening that Congressmen Dan Lungren (R-CA) and Aaron Schock (R-IL) have come out against this monstrosity, and today’s news that a House subcommittee will hold a hearing on the memorial – coupled with a letter from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) that hints at further hearings –  is even better. But where are Kansas’s representatives – in the House, Senate, and on the state level – on the question? It is one of their most famous native sons whom this memorial proposes to trivialize, and, on the political level, I doubt there are any votes to be lost in Kansas (or in Pennsylvania, around Eisenhower’s Gettysburg farm, for that matter) by stating that a hero of the Second World War and a two-term president deserves better than a stack of rusty steel shoelaces.

Anything sympathetic political leaders can do to draw broader attention to this travesty would do a world of good.

 

 

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Why Don’t They Like Ike?

During his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower suffered the disdain of American intellectuals who looked down their noses at the war hero. Secure in the adulation of the American public, Eisenhower never took much notice of these detractors. But unless the National Capitol Planning Commission acts to reject the plans already approved by the United States Commission on Fine Arts and the National Parks Service for a new Eisenhower Memorial scheduled to open in 2015, those who would wish to diminish the legacy of the 34th president will have their way.

George Will added his voice to the growing chorus of critics of the proposed design of the memorial on Friday when he rightly noted, “The proposal is an exhibitionistic triumph of theory over function — more a monument to its creator, Frank Gehry, practitioner of architectural flamboyance, than to the most underrated president.” The simmering controversy was ignited by the decision last month of the Eisenhower family to make public their dismay at a memorial that will portray the architect of the victory over the Nazis as a naive farm boy rather than as a leader of armies and nations. President’s Day is an apt moment to consider why in a city full of grandiose tributes to the past Eisenhower is being treated in this way.

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During his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower suffered the disdain of American intellectuals who looked down their noses at the war hero. Secure in the adulation of the American public, Eisenhower never took much notice of these detractors. But unless the National Capitol Planning Commission acts to reject the plans already approved by the United States Commission on Fine Arts and the National Parks Service for a new Eisenhower Memorial scheduled to open in 2015, those who would wish to diminish the legacy of the 34th president will have their way.

George Will added his voice to the growing chorus of critics of the proposed design of the memorial on Friday when he rightly noted, “The proposal is an exhibitionistic triumph of theory over function — more a monument to its creator, Frank Gehry, practitioner of architectural flamboyance, than to the most underrated president.” The simmering controversy was ignited by the decision last month of the Eisenhower family to make public their dismay at a memorial that will portray the architect of the victory over the Nazis as a naive farm boy rather than as a leader of armies and nations. President’s Day is an apt moment to consider why in a city full of grandiose tributes to the past Eisenhower is being treated in this way.

Gehry’s design seems to be a revolt against classical Washington architecture with its most prominent feature being a series of large stainless steel woven tapestries depicting events in Eisenhower’s life being gazed at by a statue of the president as a barefoot boy. The president’s family is aghast at a decision to depict one of the country’s great heroes in this condescending manner. But as Will notes, Phillip Kennicott, the Washington Posts’ cultural critic, provided the key to understanding this wrongheaded choice.

Kennicott praised the design as innovative because Gehry “has “re-gendered” the vocabulary of memorialization, giving it new life and vitality just at the moment when the old, exhausted “masculine” memorial threatened to make the entire project of remembering great people in the public square seem obsolete.” The critic goes on to say the Eisenhower family’s objections are due to Gehry’s “feminization” of the memorial. Kennicott likes the design specifically because it neuters the man it is supposedly commissioned to honor by cutting a “man of action” down to size into a “more contemplative figure” who will be depicted in the “traditionally feminine passivity of reading.”

This goes beyond an effort to transcend a “heroic” depiction of the man. It is also, as Kennicott helpfully points out, an effort to diminish the memorial’s subject and even to highlight his flaws:

Few great men are absolutely great, without flaws and failings. Although Eisenhower is remembered more fondly now than he was in the 1960s and ’70s, there are still debates about his strategy in the Second World War (was he too cautious, thus prolonging the war?), his role during the McCarthy witch hunts (why didn’t he more publicly confront the congressional Torquemadas?) and his role in foreign adventures (bloody CIA interventions and the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion). The young Eisenhower is both innocent of and yet pregnant with whatever failings history ultimately attributes to his career.

Leaving aside the fact that the Bay of Pigs took place during the Kennedy administration, not that of Eisenhower, this tells us all we need to know about what it wrong about the design and its defenders. While Eisenhower was not perfect as either a general or a president, the same comment can be made of any other great man, including those whose memorials are scattered around Washington. But, unlike the Eisenhower plan, the two most recent additions to the D.C. pantheon — the memorials to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. — were not treated as an invitation for critics or historical revisionists to rethink their subject’s legacies. Nor should they have been. Instead, that disdainful treatment was reserved for the modest Republican who would deserve his country’s highest honors even if he had not been a successful two-term president.

Eisenhower was, after all, not just a flawed politician who made some good decisions and some bad ones, like many other presidents. His place in history is secured as much if not more so by his key role in the great struggle to save Western civilization during World War Two than his presidency. Eisenhower’s talents were exactly what both our republic and the world needed at a moment when everything hung in the balance. If there is anyone who deserves a heroic statue/memorial on the Mall, it is the low-key man who led the Allied armies on D-Day and ended the Nazi reign of terror.

Given the poor treatment Eisenhower is getting from those in charge of this project, his family must be thinking they would have been better off having no memorial at all. The National Capitol Planning Commission should not only scrap Gehry’s ideas but should also re-think the closed process by which the celebrity artist was chosen and open it up to more competition.

The argument that Gehry’s design should be rushed into production so the dwindling band of World War Two veterans will be alive to see it is a poor one. Subsequent generations need to be given an Eisenhower memorial that will depict his achievements and soldierly virtues without reinterpretation via the bizarre intellectual fashions of our day that demand he be “feminized.”

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Despite the Dithering, We Mustn’t Quit the Fight in Afghanistan

Tony Blankley, in a column headlined “If We’re Not in to Win, Bring Our Troops Home,” gives voice to what I suspect will be an increasingly common viewpoint on the Right. He begins by expressing frustration with President Obama’s doubts and hesitations over Afghanistan — as exemplified by leaks from the White House, according to which it would be too expensive to send enough troops. This, at a time when Democrats are avidly pushing multi-trillion-dollar health-care bills. He concludes:

This president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn’t try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let’s not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in.

I sympathize with his viewpoint and share his frustration, but I have to dissent from his conclusion. As discouraging as the White House deliberations have become, Barack Obama is the commander in chief and will be so at least until 2013. We don’t have the luxury of giving up the war effort now and hope for the best in the future. A more hawkish successor, if there is one, will have, to put it mildly, a difficult time dealing with a situation in which the Taliban have taken over most of Afghanistan — which is what would happen if we pulled our troops out. That result would be a catastrophe on many levels. It would not only be a betrayal of our commitment to the people of Afghanistan; it would also create terrorist safe havens in that country and give fresh impetus to Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

We as conservatives don’t have the luxury of saying that if Obama won’t fight the war as vigorously as we want, we shouldn’t fight at all. Even a reduced level of commitment can help to stave off a catastrophe. But it would be far, far better for the president to make the necessary commitment to win — an objective within our power to achieve, but only if the White House provides the resources and commitment necessary.

The danger here is that we may wind up re-enacting the final stages of the Korean War — the period from 1951 to 1953, which followed the initial push by American-led forces to the Yalu River and then the devastating counterattack by Chinese troops, which was just barely halted north of Seoul. Thereafter, U.S. and other United Nations troops slogged it out for two years in a miserable deadlock that resulted in copious casualties but did not change the results on the ground.

Would it have been better for President Truman or his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, to have said that, since we aren’t seeking total victory over North Korea and China, we should just pull out? Clearly not, because even a deadlock was better than a Communist triumph. But the final two years of the war were still a miserable experience that killed and maimed far too many people. We should do whatever we can to avoid such a scenario in Afghanistan, short of actually conceding defeat.

Tony Blankley, in a column headlined “If We’re Not in to Win, Bring Our Troops Home,” gives voice to what I suspect will be an increasingly common viewpoint on the Right. He begins by expressing frustration with President Obama’s doubts and hesitations over Afghanistan — as exemplified by leaks from the White House, according to which it would be too expensive to send enough troops. This, at a time when Democrats are avidly pushing multi-trillion-dollar health-care bills. He concludes:

This president and this White House do not have it in them to lead our troops to victory in Afghanistan. So they shouldn’t try. The price will be high for whatever foreign policy failures we will endure in the next three years. Let’s not add to that price the pointless murder of our finest young troops in a war their leader does not believe in.

I sympathize with his viewpoint and share his frustration, but I have to dissent from his conclusion. As discouraging as the White House deliberations have become, Barack Obama is the commander in chief and will be so at least until 2013. We don’t have the luxury of giving up the war effort now and hope for the best in the future. A more hawkish successor, if there is one, will have, to put it mildly, a difficult time dealing with a situation in which the Taliban have taken over most of Afghanistan — which is what would happen if we pulled our troops out. That result would be a catastrophe on many levels. It would not only be a betrayal of our commitment to the people of Afghanistan; it would also create terrorist safe havens in that country and give fresh impetus to Islamist militants seeking to overthrow the government of Pakistan.

We as conservatives don’t have the luxury of saying that if Obama won’t fight the war as vigorously as we want, we shouldn’t fight at all. Even a reduced level of commitment can help to stave off a catastrophe. But it would be far, far better for the president to make the necessary commitment to win — an objective within our power to achieve, but only if the White House provides the resources and commitment necessary.

The danger here is that we may wind up re-enacting the final stages of the Korean War — the period from 1951 to 1953, which followed the initial push by American-led forces to the Yalu River and then the devastating counterattack by Chinese troops, which was just barely halted north of Seoul. Thereafter, U.S. and other United Nations troops slogged it out for two years in a miserable deadlock that resulted in copious casualties but did not change the results on the ground.

Would it have been better for President Truman or his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, to have said that, since we aren’t seeking total victory over North Korea and China, we should just pull out? Clearly not, because even a deadlock was better than a Communist triumph. But the final two years of the war were still a miserable experience that killed and maimed far too many people. We should do whatever we can to avoid such a scenario in Afghanistan, short of actually conceding defeat.

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