What would Ike do in the current situation? Probably nothing involving our military

No matter what President Obama does in response to Russia’s troublemaking in Ukraine, his pathological critics will find fault with it. But a question arises: What would the most recent Republican president with truly great military credentials do? THIS HISTORY LESSON from Sam Tanenhaus provides a hint at the answer: In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected on a Republican platform that promised to replace the Communist containment strategy of President Harry S. Truman with a more aggressive “liberation” policy that would seize the initiative from the Soviet Union. Yet throughout his two terms, Eisenhower consistently opted for stability over conflict. Arriving in Geneva for a summit with Nikita S. Khrushchev in July 1955, Eisenhower said he came bearing “the goodwill of America” and “the aspirations of America for peace.” A year later, when Moscow sent two Red Army tank divisions to quell anti-Communist protesters in Budapest, killing as many as 30,000 people, the cry went up for action. “What are the West and the United Nations going to do?” one despairing protester asked an American reporter. The answer: nothing. Counteraction would only provoke Moscow to tighten its noose and perhaps “go back on de-Stalinization,” Eisenhower explained. To some this sounded like retreat. John W. McCormack, a Massachusetts Democrat, accused the Eisenhower administration of appeasement and said it was living in “a dream world” that was emboldening the Soviets. A similar tone was struck recently when Senator John McCain said Mr. Obama was “the most naïve president in American history,” blind to the reality that Mr. Putin “wants to restore the Russian empire.” That second charge was also made (by columnist Walter Lippmann, among others) of Stalin and his successors. Still, it did not stop Eisenhower from inviting Khrushchev to the United States in 1959, again angering conservatives, who mounted protests during the visit. Later presidents followed Eisenhower’s example. Even the most celebrated war of nerves, the Cuban misssile crisis, was resolved by a secret bargain: The Soviets agreed not to place missiles in Cuba, and the Kennedy administration agreed to remove missiles it had placed in Turkey. Another cold warrior, Richard M. Nixon, got the country out of the Vietnam War and also cut deals with the Soviets, including an accord that reduced both nations’ stockpile of nuclear missiles. Or consider the most hallowed of Republican Cold War presidents, Ronald Reagan. Early in his first term, he too faced a Ukraine-like emergency when the Solidarity movement was crushed in Poland. Many expected a powerful response. Instead he showed restraint. He voiced sympathy for the movement, but the assistance he provided came quietly — and covertly, in part — through money and communications equipment funneled to anti-Communists. Eventually, Poland and other Soviet satellites were freed, but the change was partly made possible after Reagan realized he could negotiate with Mr. Gorbachev. Calculations like these are the true prologue to the approach that Mr. Obama seems to have adopted in trouble spots from Syria to Ukraine. Like Nixon, he wound down a war he inherited, this time in Iraq, just as his reliance on drones and cyberwarfare parallels Eisenhower’s avoidance of military operations. And his ambition to eliminate nuclear arsenals builds on the efforts of both Nixon and Reagan. Perhaps it’s time the chessboard metaphor was retired. The truth is...

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Rand Paul preposterously likens himself to Dwight Eisenhower

Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, has never distinguished himself as a keen student of American history. Not long ago, for example, he tried to sell a group of black college kids a distorted account of the Democratic and Republican parties’ respective records on civil rights (see HERE). And then, just this week, Paul flatteringly compared himself with the 34th president of the United States. Glenn Kessler, the fact-checker for the Washington Post, has awarded Paul four Pinocchios for peddling such bunkum, as we see HERE: It is important to learn the lessons of history. But what if the history you know is not really the history that happened? We wondered about this as we read Sen. Rand Paul’s speech this week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars…Paul repeatedly referenced Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president, as a model for Paul’s argument for a foreign policy that drastically cuts foreign aid and minimalizes overseas entanglements… Eisenhower, who was president from 1953 to 1961, was of course no stranger to military conflict. He served as supreme Allied commander for the invasion of Normandy during World War II. As a military man, Eisenhower had no particular political leanings, but he ultimately declared himself as a Republican before the 1952 election. His main rival — up until the GOP convention — was Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, known as “Mr. Republican.” Taft, in fact, in many ways would appear to be more of a model for Paul. Taft was a strict non-interventionist who opposed any involvement in World War II until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was a skeptic of NATO and opposed sending U.S. soldiers to conflicts in Asia. Some historians believe Eisenhower was motivated to become a Republican partly to thwart Taft’s foreign policy views from dominating the GOP; certainly Republicans who disliked Taft’s foreign policy views worked hard for Eisenhower. A sympathetic review of Taft’s foreign policy, “The Republican Road Not Taken,” by Colgate University Professor Michael T. Hayes, argues that “Eisenhower embraced and continued these internationalist Democratic policies [of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman] during his two terms in office.” (Snip) Okay, but what about foreign aid? Here again, Rand has it totally backwards. In a study of Eisenhower’s foreign aid policies, American University Professor Jordan Tama wrote: “Foreign aid was central to Eisenhower’s grand strategy, and he considered it to be a top presidential priority.” As Tama documents, Eisenhower, while a fiscal conservative who sought to cut overall government spending, battled Congress repeatedly to boost foreign aid because he believed it was less expensive in the long run. Initially, Eisenhower focused on military and budgetary support for other nations, but in his second term, he pushed for large increases in economic development aid. “Eisenhower believed that the United States could get more bang for its buck in the effort to contain communism by helping to boost the capacity of other countries than by using the money for any other purpose,” Tama wrote… We asked Tama what Eisenhower would think of Paul’s foreign policy views, and here’s how he responded: Eisenhower would disagree vehemently with Paul on foreign aid. As president, Eisenhower often told members of Congress that if budget cuts needed to be made, cuts in any other category of spending would be...

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Would Ronald Reagan be welcome at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference?

(NOTE: THIS IS THE LONGEST POST IN THE FIVE-YEAR HISTORY OF THIS BLOG.) The great irony of the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington later this week is two-fold: First, the most popular Republican politician in the nation, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has not been invited, mainly because he’s perceived as too liberal (see HERE). Second, and even more to the point, it’s doubtful that Ronald Reagan would be invited either, if he suddenly came back to life. Reagan, as I’ve pointed out here on numerous occasions, would be considered a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by current GOP standards. For you readers who have missed my many accounts of the real Reagan record, let’s review a few of the highlights: Snarky pundit Slade Sohmer put it succinctly when he said Reagan’s tenure in the White House  “would have to be considered by current conservative standards the worst presidency in American history.” This president is a president every conservative Republican and Tea Party member should loathe. This president nearly tripled the national debt. This president signed an immigration reform bill that granted blanket amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. This president talked with our enemies. This president raised taxes 11 times. This president, in fact, raised payroll taxes in order to pay for government-run health care. This president presided over double-digit unemployment. This president expanded the size of government and created new federal departments. This president cut and ran, withdrawing troops from hostile regions. This president put two justices on the Supreme Court that voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. This president closed tax loopholes to ensure “every corporation pay their fair share.” This president even advocated gun control on the op-ed pages of the, gasp, New York Times. (Snip) [C]ompared to the Palins, Limbaughs, Bachmanns, Tea Party leaders and Fox News commentators that make up the current ideological head of the conservative mega-beast, Reagan is at best a centrist. At worst — strictly looking at governance, not ideology — he governed far more liberally than the job-killing, tax-raising, enemy-appeasing, immigrant-loving Barack Obama. Can you imagine the vitriol from Fox News if President Obama granted amnesty to illegal immigrants? Can you imagine the venom on Tea Party signs if President Obama raised taxes 11 times, called out corporations for tax loopholes and nearly tripled the national debt? Can you imagine the uproar from talk radio if President Obama actually wrote an op-ed advocating any restrictions on the sale of handguns? The right-wing echo chamber might implode upon itself in a fit of blind rage. ——————- A less snarky, but no less accurate, account of the real Reagan record was offered eight years ago in an essay by Joshua Green in the Washington Monthly. Here’s an excerpt: It’s conservative lore that Reagan the icon cut taxes, while George H.W. Bush the renegade raised them. As Stockman [Reagan’s first budget director, David Stockman] recalls, “No one was authorized to talk about tax increases on Ronald Reagan’s watch, no matter what kind of tax, no matter how justified it was.” Yet raising taxes is exactly what Reagan did. He did not always instigate those hikes or agree to them willingly–but he signed off on them. One year after his massive tax cut, Reagan agreed to a tax increase to reduce the deficit...

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Remember when Republican presidents were FOR things, not just AGAINST them?

A tribute of sorts to Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — none of whom would likely be comfortable, or even accepted, in today’s Republican Party: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4dwx0PNZWY[/youtube]  

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Rachel says it well

The message above is in keeping with the many arguments I’ve made (HERE, for example) that Dwight Eisenhower and even Ronald Reagan would be out of place in today’s Republican...

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