Will George Bush Turn Out to Be More Like Reagan or Ike?

9/11 led the United States to embark once again on a global campaign to make the world "safe for democracy." This time the enemy is terror, the military method favored by Islamism, a global ideology seeking to turn counties into Moslem theocracies. Once again America is calling on the world to join its cause. Once again America is uneasy with some of its allies, most specifically Russia and China, and once again an impatient "captive nation" is responding a bit too enthusiastically and prematurely.

"Down with the Taliban in Kabul and Teheran" is the slogan favored by Iranian students. They are demonstrating not only against the death sentence of Hashem Aghajari, but also in support of his demand for a separation of state and religion in Iran. By equating their Shiah leaders with the evicted Sunni Taliban students are not only declaring that they are "with US" but they also pull the rug from under all those Middle Eastern experts who view these two streams of Islam as mortal rivals. After all, Iranians know only too well that the Islamic theocratic movement began in 1965 when the Sunni Saudi King Feisal and the Shiah Iranian Shah founded the Islamic conference.

In advocating the separation of church and state Hashem Aghajari follows the example of another Iranian intellectual, Ali Shariati. The only difference between the response of the Shah to Shariati, and the response of the clerics to Aghajari is that the Shah did not try to kill Shariati, he merely put him in jail for over a decade. President Bush is not yet ready to take on Iran, and the European Union is afraid that the overthrow of the clerical regime would further enhance American power. Still, the stakes are high and the Bush administration's response to the Iranian challenge will determine whether Bush will turn out to be another Eisenhower or another Reagan.

Victory in the war on terrorism, like victory in the Cold War, will be achieved by a combination of external and internal pressure. The external pressure mandates unity in the democratic alliance and support for liberal forces within the Muslim world. The fly in the victory ointment is that it took fifty years to win the Cold War because unity of purpose and principled support for internal dissidents was tepid, most especially during the window of opportunity that was 1956. That would be a tragedy. As Sun Tzu noted thousands of years ago, "no country has ever profited from protracted warfare." Indeed, the entire world pays for it a heavy price in blood and fortune.

In 1956 the president of the United States was Dwight Eisenhower, the architect of the victory against the Nazis and the man who had used nuclear threat to put an end to the Korean War. Western economic prosperity and string of military alliances seemed to have successfully made the West in Sun Tzu's language both "unconquerable" and "enticing." The job of adding ideology to the Western arsenal belonged to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who had called the Soviet satellites "captive nations" and had urged the United States to make clear that it "wants and expects liberation to occur." He used the "private" institutions called Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe to urge "captive nations" to choose liberty.

Eisenhower's rival Nikita Khrushchev understood that to present a credible alternative to the West, Moscow needed to get the Communist economic train moving again and that meant serious reform. Seeking to disarm internal opposition, Khrushchev, shocked the 20th Communist Party Congress with a detailed account of Stalin's crimes. His speech was supposed to remain secret but it quickly got out and unleashed an ideological earthquake in the entire Communist world. In the West the rolls of party faithful and their sympathizers shrunk significantly and a period of "Glassnost" accompanied by deStalinization rattled the Communist establishment. Even Mao "let a hundred flowers bloom." First Poland and then Hungary thought their time to overthrow the Soviet yoke had come. Poland cut a deal with Moscow but Hungary refused and appealed to the West for help. Droves of Hungarians fled the country. Unfortunately, as Henry Kissinger points out in his masterly book Diplomacy, instead of making the suppression of Hungary more difficult for Khrushchev, the Eisenhower administration made it easier. Washington, Eisenhower announced in the midst of the Hungarian revolution, hoped to see an end to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. But, it "could not, of course, carry out this policy by resort to force" as it would be "contrary to the best interests of the Eastern European peoples and to the abiding principles of the United Nations." He did not even suggest that a military repression of the Hungarian uprising would result in a "reevaluation" of East-West relations. Hence, Europeans no longer believed that democratizing Europe was a serious American goal.

Even worse was the Eisenhower administration's failure to prevent Khrushchev from leapfrogging with the help of the nonaligned world the Western ring of alliances. At the time the Hungarians were trying to leave the Warsaw Pact, Egyptian president Nasser was throwing out American NATO allies, Britain and France, by nationalizing the Suez Canal. Washington recommended negotiations and, when Britain and France tired of the futile process and resorted to arms, the United States joined the Soviet Union in forcing their unconditional withdrawal. In the process Khrushchev had threatened to use his nuclear arsenal and Eisenhower made it clear that the U.S. would not protect its allies. The message was unmistakable: To achieve a country's national goal, it was better to be a Soviet client than an American ally and it was best to play the two against each other.

Sun Tzu writes: "The highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy's plans: next is to attack their alliance." If so, Khrushchev had successfully practiced the highest form of warfare. A year which began with the Communist world on the brink of collapse ended with the democratic alliance seriously damaged. Dulles even disavowed containment. He announced that Washington had "no desire to surround the Soviet Union with a band of hostile states." Note the eerie pertinence of the observation Adam Ulam made in his 1971 book, The Rivals: "Though this was not apparent for some years, the Suez crisis dealt a crippling blow to NATO. The alliance remained in effect . . . but much of the underlying spirit of cooperation, of the Europeans' readiness to shoulder a proportionate part of the burden, was bound to evaporate." If Washington opposed the use of European power to secure European national interest, "what logic could impel French, British, and West German citizens, not to speak of Italians, Belgians, etc., to sanction large defense expenditures and sizable armed forces which could be employed only in the case of unimaginable holocaust?"

The obvious answer was none. Indeed, as West German Chancellor Adenauer told French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau on November 6, 1956, there remains only one way for Britain, France and Germany to play "a decisive role in the world: that is to make Europe. . . . Europe will be your revenge."

Consequently, when America became mired in Vietnam, its European allies were not there. "If only the British would have agreed to help," Dean Rusk bemoaned when I interviewed him in 1991, "things might have turned out differently." By then France had built its own force de frappe and even felt free to withdraw from the military command of NATO and Britain had decided to disengage from its positions East of Suez. In 1968 Rusk had written to his British counterpart: The United States was "facing a difficult period in world affairs and Britain was saying it would not be there." The lesson the nonaligned countries learned in 1956 made that period even more difficult. As Henry Kissinger points out, they learned from the Suez crisis that "applying pressure on the United States generally serves to elicit protestations of good faith and efforts to alleviate the stated grievances, whereas applying pressure on the Soviet Union could be risky." Even more significantly, that pressure could include strong condemnation of the U.S. and its allies. Indeed, the "victorious" Egyptian president Nasser used virulent anti-American speeches to unite behind him the Egyptian, Arab and Moslem worlds. If any of this seems familiar, it is because he blazed the trail so much of the Middle Eastern leadership still follows.

Be that as it may, when Ronald Reagan faced similar challenges in 1981 and 1982, he did not repeat Eisenhower's mistakes. When the rise of Solidarity in Poland raised fears of Soviet tanks rolling in yet another East European city, the White House threatened the Soviet Union with sever consequences. "They have answered the stirrings of liberty with brute force, killings, mass arrests, and the setting up of concentration camps" Ronald Reagan announced on December 23, 1981, the day General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared Solidarity illegal and arrested its leaders. Nor was he satisfied with mere condemnation. He imposed economic sanctions on the Soviets for their role in the crackdown, and cooperated with Pope John Paul II to insure Solidarity's underground survival. In short, Reagan not only talked about evil, he supported those willing to fight it. Similarly, when Argentina abruptly ended its negotiations with Britain over the fate of the Falklands and American efforts at mediation failed, Reagan stood by his British ally. This support cemented the famous Thatcher-Reagan friendship and played a central role in the peaceful end of the Cold War. As events now unfold in Iran, Chechnia and Sinjiang, Kashmir, the West Bank and Gaza, the whole world is watching and wondering, which path will George W. Bush follow?

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William H. Leckie, Jr. - 12/7/2002

As a Missourian familiar with the Ashcroft mentality, let me assure you, Big John and his boss would impose order any way they could if they could get away with it.

Bill Sherman - 12/7/2002

America would not be the power and the inspiration it is today without the dedicated sacrifice of many soldiers. On the other hand, it was surely farsighted of the founding fathers to place military and war-making authority under democratic, civilian control.

Of course, W. Bush has nowhere near the experience and wisdom of an Ike, nor anything comparable to the grandfatherly charm of a Reagan. Like Clinton, he is young enough to learn on the job, although, by all acccounts, his college and immediate post-college years involved more brain cell wastage than merely failing to inhale.

Jerry West - 12/7/2002

For Bill Heuisler:

Want to continue Marine to Marine you can reach me through my web site at http://www.island.net/~record

Bill Heuisler - 12/6/2002

Mr. West,
Semper Fi. Thank you for your service to our country.
My service: Seagoing, Fleet Marine Force, B122 Lejeune and EI Battalion Quantico. Service in country was Post-Quantico civilian Special Ops. The latter took me many places and formed my hard-core political views from ground level.
You got it wrong, you're supposed to go to Canada BEFORE you enlist or get drafted.
Best, Bill Heuisler

Jerry West - 12/6/2002

Bill Heuisler wrote:

Mr. Moriarty and Mr. West exhibit a willful malignance normally seen....


Wow, nothing like a little rabidity in the response.


Did either complain about Clinton's long series of wars?


Didn't have much use for Bill Clinton either. Actually not much difference between him and GWB in the long run except to rabid supporters of either. Slick Willy is probably a bit more intelligent, not that he used it very well.


Draft dodger? W served, he flew a fighter.


Really, In Vietnam? In combat? In which unit? Tell me he did not duck out in the Texas National Guard and then not bother to show up for at least a year as I have read. Maybe Colin Powell should be President, at least he served honorably, unlike GW, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft and a whole host of others now playing war games with other peoples lives.


Did either West or Moriarty serve?


Don't know about Moriarty, but me, USMC, two hitches, RVN 19 months with 3d Mar Div in the field with 12th and 9th Marines. Wore out 6 pair of boots. Not good enough for you? Still serving too, in Canadian Army Reserve Forces.


W has a Masters in Business at Harvard; W was....


Amazing what money can buy. Even the Presidency, eh? :)


Serving political agendas is a bitch....


You probably know more about that than I. I just run a newspaper and read a lot and get in a little salmon fishing whenever I can.

Bill Heuisler - 12/5/2002

Mr. Moriarty and Mr. West exhibit a willful malignance normally seen in childhood bullies or forensic psychiatry. Their meanness replaces knowledge the way flashy costume jewelry apes status and covers insecurity.
Comparing W to Hitler and Nero is merely pompous exhibition of faux-scholarship. What police state? Perpetual Wars? Did either complain about Clinton's long series of wars? Draft dodger? W served, he flew a fighter. Did either West or Moriarty serve?Those of us who did serve often wonder at the resurgence of rugged patriotism in the weak-kneed Left when there's an opportunity for safe, long-distance cheap-shots.
Bet you wouldn't say it to his face.
Mr. West, W has a Masters in Business at Harvard; W was Governor of a state; W actually flew a fighter plane and W won election as President. You, on the other hand, can't resist mentioning Alzheimers Disease in your pathetic struggle for relevance.
In fact, all these mean-spirited assaults are nearly identical to those used against President Reagan.
Serving political agendas is a bitch, isn't it, Mr. West?
Who's the puppet after all?
Bill Heuisler

Bob Greene - 12/5/2002

When someone makes an idiotic statement that Bush is implementing
a police state and compares him to Hitler or Nero he is displaying a crimminal lack of history or is living in La La land. Which is it?

Jerry West - 12/5/2002

** Consequently, when America became mired in Vietnam, its European allies were not there. "If only the British would have agreed to help," Dean Rusk bemoaned when I interviewed him in 1991, "things might have turned out differently." **

Dean was either drinking his own bathwater or smoking an illegal substance. :)

Jerry West - 12/5/2002

GW Bush compared to Ike: Ike was a soldier, GWB a draft dodger, Ike warned about the military-industrial complex, the Bush leaguers are part of it. Like Reagan, however, GWB is a puppet on a string, probably a closer comparison there. Are they covering up GW's alzheimers too, or is he really as fuzzy minded as he acts?

J. Unruh - 12/3/2002

Despite her patent ignorance of history, Klinghoffer has accidentally stumbled on a valid analogy in comparing Bush Jr to Ronald Reagan. Both were profoundly unqualified as international leaders, having coming to national office through purely domestic experience. Both used simplistic rhetoric to cover up the lack of a coherent or far-sighted foreign policy. And both helped promote actions which squandered vast quantities of public tax dollars, while fostering the erosion of civil liberties and rule of law.

There are differences, of course: Being a bit more willing to admit his own limitations, Reagan relied to a somewhat greater extent on qualified subordinates (rather than cronies of his father), and he was better at ACTING statesmanlike.

Matthew Moriarty - 12/3/2002

Will George Bush Turn Out to Be More Like Reagan or Ike? The disconnect in this question is so disturbing one wonders whether the author is living on the same planet we are. Mr. Bush is implementing a police state revolving around an imperial presidency whose singular contribution to foreign policy is perpetual war. The question everyone is asking is whether Mr. Bush will be more like Hitler or Nero. Sometimes academia deserves the disrespect it gets from the public.

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