Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Imagining Obama as a Republican via Ike nostalgia

I have a love-hate relationship with Michael Lind's writing. And I wonder even with this article that it may be more contrarianism for the sake of being contrary than anything else: Why the GOP should nominate Barack Obama in 2012 06/21/2011. But whatever the reasons, he manages to make an important point. He imagines Barack Obama crossing over to the Republican Party, winning their nomination and giving an acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention:

"I have fought against the failed tradition of New Deal liberalism from the strongest possible position -- the presidency. When the liberals wanted to nationalize the banks, I bailed them out and let their executives reap huge bonuses, thanks to the taxpayers. When the liberals wanted an expansion of Lyndon Johnson’s big government Medicare, I said no and pushed for a version of the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare coverage plan and what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts. When the liberals wanted a bigger stimulus, I drew the line in the sand. When the liberals criticized the Bowles-Simpson plan to gut Social Security and Medicare, I praised it. When the liberals demanded tougher action against Chinese mercantilist policies that hurt our manufacturing industries, I said no and sided with the U.S. multinationals that want to appease the Chinese government. When the liberals wanted America to withdraw from Afghanistan, I sided with the neoconservatives and ordered the surge. When the voices of the old, failed liberalism said that Congress has a part to play in authorizing foreign wars, I ignored that radical liberal assault on unchecked, arbitrary presidential power and ordered the U.S. to war in Libya on my own authority."
And, sadly enough, Lind has a point.

The problem I have with this approach, though, is that it makes use of a trick that can be misleading. Both Democrats and Republicans like to point back to Presidents of the other party from 20 years or more ago to say, look, the other party used to stand for what I stand for now. It's stock political rhetoric. But it generally depends on making fairly superficial readings of the positions of those Presidents. And it often leaves the real context out of the picture.

And I'm am just weary of Eisenhower nostalgia, which Lind indulges, uh, liberally, in his piece:

Of course, there are limits to Obama’s moderate Republicanism. While his economic policy is moderately conservative, Obama’s foreign policy is expansive -- and expensive -- Neoconservatism Lite, not a rebirth of Eisenhower’s cautious, budget-conscious "New Look" strategy of the 1950s.

In spite of an economic boom, Eisenhower worried about the effects of military spending on the civilian economy. In spite of a near-Depression, Obama exempted defense spending from the government spending freeze.

Eisenhower wound down the Korean War that he inherited from Harry Truman. Obama expanded the Afghan War that he inherited from George W. Bush. In Afghanistan Obama pursued the "surge," a strategy backed by neoconservatives that will have led to the unnecessary death and crippling of even more Americans before the inevitable U.S. withdrawal.

Eisenhower refused to take part in the British, French and Israeli attack on Egypt, during the Suez crisis in 1956. Obama, in contrast, agreed that the U.S. would provide most of the muscle in the Franco-British-American attack on Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.
Yes, Ike kept military budgets down. But he did so by relying heavily on a high-risk nuclear weapons policy  known as "tripwire, massive retaliation."

Yes, he was willing to lean on Israel, Britain and France to withdraw from Suez in 1956. But it's only been within the last 20 years that American Presidents adopted a position of never exerting meaningful pressure on Israel in foreign policy. Eisenhower's position on the Suez crisis was sensible. And it put the US on that issue in the role of restraining the former colonial powers Britain and France over a military aggression in the Arab world.

But Anglo-American cooperation was very much the order of the day three years earlier, when Ike had the CIA get involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran under Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. It wasn't exactly a model James Bond operation. As John Prados explains in Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (2006), its success owed at least as much to dumb luck as to black-ops competency. And given that it has become part of the national mythology in Iran, it's probably reasonable to say we're still dealing with the negative repercussions of that "success."

And when it came to French colonialism, Ike was happy to fund the French war effort in French Indochina up until the battle of Dien Bien Phu put an end to that enterprise. Then the US stepped directly into the role of South Vietnam's main Western patron and encouraged them to block the implementation of the Geneva Accords that formally ended the French colonial role in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Ike's Administration didn't even formally recognize those accords as binding. There were a few problems later growing out of American policy in Vietnam. Ike's clandestine operations in Vietnam under Col. Edward Lansdale failed to achieve anything like the (blundering) successes of the the Iranian coup of 1953 or the Guatemalan coup of 1954, the latter also blessed with considerable blind luck.

Ike did manage to end combat operations in Korea, thanks in part to a very reckless threat that he would use an atomic bomb there and also benefiting from the change in leadership in the Soviet Union after Stalin's death. The Korean War has never formally been terminated, though hostilities were ended by an armistice in 1954. US troops are still in South Korea. Leaving troops behind permanently after a "small war" has become the standard assumption for Pentagon planning, it seems. Remember the bold Maverick McCain's rambling about staying in Iraq for 100 years, or maybe 1,000 or 10,000? He cited Korea as an example of why that's a wonderful idea.

So let's give the Eisenhower Administration credit for the constructive things it did. But Ike nostalgia by Democrats? That, we should forget.

Once again, Lind manages to make a useful polemical point in this piece. But this approach has its limits. And the Republicans are going to keep calling Obama a Marxist Kenyan socialist Islamunist anyway.

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