If I may add my two cents to Daniel McCarthy’s thoughts on Jonathan Rauch’s Obama-equals-Republican-realism thesis: Dan is right to point out that, in the Obama administration’s conduct of foreign policy, there’s more continuity with than repudiation of Bush II foreign policy. However, we should be careful to note — and I’m sure Dan would agree — that our models of pragmatic realism were at times considerably flawed in their own ways.
In a post at U.S. News about a spate of pro-Eisenhower commentary last spring, I said realist conservatives were running the risk of damning Ike with overpraise:
He was doubtful about American involvement in Indochina — but not dead-set against it. In the late historian David Halberstam’s telling, Ike’s resistance to war in southeast Asia owed in no small part to the counsel of Gen. Matthew Ridgway. After the fall of Dien Bien Phu, Halberstam writes that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles “still talked of going in, and there were even letters from Eisenhower to the British suggesting that common cause be made. The British, more realistic about their resources, wanted no part of it.”
Speaking of the British, there was, of course, Ike’s undermining of Prime Minister Anthony Eden during the 1956 Suez Crisis, in which the United States opposed the British-French-Israeli military response to Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal.
According to the late Christopher Hitchens, Ike’s refusal to back the Anglo-French alliance in Suez was born at least in part from resentment over the failure of the British to support the CIA’s, ahem, intervention in Guatemala. Said Eisenhower, “The British expect us to give them a free ride and side with them on Cyprus. And yet they won’t even support us on Guatemala! Let’s give them a lesson.”
Again, I think these were episodic lapses that didn’t translate into global policy mistakes. Ike’s call on the Suez was the right one — even if it derived in part from personal pique. And, whatever his instincts may or may not have told him, he stayed out of Vietnam. Overall I have great admiration for Eisenhower’s record of (as I put it at the time) peace, stability, and incremental racial progress.
If I have a major difference with Rauch, it’s when he writes that Obama’s accomplishment has been to have “taken from the Republicans the foreign-policy real estate that they used to own.” That’s not so much a tribute to Ike’s foreign-policy legacy as it is to Bill Clinton’s triangulation legacy. It’s clever, but hardly inspirational.