One troubling aspect of our near-war with Syria is the apparent zeal both political parties have for military action abroad. In fact, no sooner had we dodged the proverbial bullet in Damascus then America’s bipartisan saber-rattlers recalibrated their sites on the big prize, Tehran.
Historically speaking, it’s really no surprise that Wilsonian internationalists like John Kerry gravitate toward government intervention. After all, that’s exactly what liberals do at home. What’s harder to explain is why conservative policy has become so hawkish given Republican Party tradition throughout the 20th century.
While it remains understandably popular in GOP circles to ask “What Would Reagan Do?” it might behoove Republicans to ask what Dwight D. Eisenhower would do — especially since the Gipper took his cue from Ike. So let us, for a moment, channel the ghost of a fellow who knew a little bit about war as the commanding general of allied forces in Europe during World War II. Taken from his memoirs, public papers and biographical record, here, in his own words, is how the 34th president might view things today:
Don’t countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea represent existential threats that the U.S. should counter with “preemptive” strikes?
“I would say a preventive war, if the words mean anything, is to wage some sort of quick police action in order that you might avoid a terrific cataclysm of destruction later. … I do not quarrel with the idea that there is justification for such fears, but I have insisted long and earnestly that you cannot resort to force in international relationships because of your fear of what might happen in the future. … That isn’t preventative war; that is war. I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”
Yes, but conflicts in the Mideast are surely different than, say, a Cold War. Can we really afford not to militarily engage the enemy there?
“I believed that it would be undesirable and impracticable ... to retain sizable forces permanently in the territory of a jealous and resentful government amid an openly hostile population. … In all the recent troubles in the Middle East, there have indeed been injustices suffered by all nations involved. But I do not believe that another instrument of injustice — war — is the remedy for these wrongs ...
“Of course, nothing in the region would be so difficult to solve except for the underlying cause of the unrest that exists there — that is the Arab-Israeli quarrel. This quarrel seems to have no limit. Everybody in the Muslim and Jewish worlds are affected by it.”
Isn’t that all the more reason to try to control the Muslim world?
“It might well be to array the world from Dakar to the Philippine Islands against us.”
Well, if the United States is reluctant to take military action in Syria or elsewhere, what is U.S. policy should our allies in the region decide on unilateral strikes?
“We cannot and will not condone armed aggression — no matter who the attacker, and no matter who the victim. We cannot — in the world, any more than in our own nation — subscribe to one law for the weak, another for the strong; one law for those opposing us, another for those allied with us.”
Some Republicans, such as Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, have called for increasing the Pentagon budget by undoing across-the-board cuts contained in the recent budget sequestration. How do you feel?
“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. … We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions … the total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications … in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. … In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. … The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present.”
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In the midst of a Cold War, Eisenhower kept the peace, warned of crony capitalism, balanced the budget and refused to let America be drawn into military action — whether on behalf of the French at Dien Bien Phu or the British and Israelis at the Suez Canal — where her interests were not directly at stake.
Not surprisingly, his monthly approval rating, according to biographer Jean Edward Smith, “averaged 64 percent — a figure not equaled by any president since World War II.”
I like Ike.
Jason Lewis is a nationally syndicated talk-show host based in Minneapolis-St. Paul and is the author of “Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights,” from Bascom Hill Publishing. He can be heard locally from 5 to 8 p.m. on NewsTalk Radio, 1130-AM, and at jasonlewisshow.com.