OxBlog

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

# Posted 11:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH=TRUMAN? That's the question of the moment. It's not a new idea, but it got a big push last week after Bill Safire mentioned the idea in a NYT op-ed and on Meet the Press while David Sanger wrote about the analogy in an article for the Week in Review.

Since there are twenty solid pages about Truman in my doctoral dissertation, I figure that I have a right to put my two cents in on this subect. But rather than taking a fresh cut at the subject, I'm going to respond to a post by John Ikenberry, a very respected scholar of international relations who has written a very well-regarded book that looks at Truman's foreign policy in some detail.

Ikenberry's post consists of 9 reasons why Bush doesn't come close to being Truman. I'll respond to those reasons one by one, but first I want to point out a pair of 800-pound gorillas missing from Ikenberry's post.

The first is Truman's unrelenting commitment to democracy promotion, best embodied by his remarkable commitment to the democratization of Germany and Japan. Frankly, it wouldn't've been hard for Ikenberry just to say that Truman did democracy promotion and did it right, since no Americans were killed by insurgents during the occupation of Germany and Japan.

But if you've read Ikenberry's big book, you'll know that he systematically avoids any identification of American foreign policy with the idea of democracy promotion, instead emphasizing multilateralism, multilateralism and more multilateralism. If Ikenberry recognized just how committed Truman really was to democracy promotion, he might not dismiss the analogy to Bush so lightly.

The second 800-pound gorrilla in the room is Korea. Ikenberry passionately wants to reclaim Truman's mantle for the Democratic party, yet seems unwilling to confront the fact that Truman sent 50,000 American soldiers to their deaths in what was once regarded as a quagmire and a war of choice, just like Iraq. In hindsight, historians have come to appraise the Korean War as a strategic victory in spite of the stalemate on the ground. But Ikenberry doesn't even touch that issue, since it provides a ready explanation for why one shouldn't judge this war to be a failure.

That said, here's the blow-by blow (with abbreviated quotations from Ikenberry's original post):

1. Truman responded to the threats of his era by building an expansive American-centered international order organized around a grand alliance of democracies and an array of global and regional economic, political, and security institutions. That's right. But neither here nor elsewhere does Ikenberry recognize the degree to which Europe's devastation and vulnerability to the Soviet threat made it amenable to American leadership.

2. Truman presided over the greatest expansion of American power in the country’s history – defined in terms of hard military power but also prestige, respect, credibility and the ready support of other countries. I agree. But once again, what about Korea? Fighting to a stalemate and losing 50,000 soldiers to the primitive Chinese armed forces didn't do much for Truman's prestige, respect or credibility, especially among liberals.

3. Truman presided over a massive expansion of pro-Americanism around the world. In Europe and Japan, yes. (But see #1 above.) With regard to the rest of the planet, there isn't much solid evidence about public opinion. And rememeber: both communism and the anti-Western variety of anti-colonialism made tremendous gains in this period.

4. Truman passed the test of leadership. In confronting the grave threat of Soviet communism he brought the "free world" together, bolstering America’s image by championing the establishment of the UN, NATO, and the Marshall Plan. Agreed. But again, see #1 above. NATO and the Marshall Plan are incomprehensible without reference to the Soviet threat. And the UN? Let's consider it's accomplishements during the Cold War...

5. Truman was a great champion of the United Nations. Ditto.

6. Truman tied the building of a liberal international order to a progressive domestic agenda. Well, that's pretty much the definition of being a liberal, so there's not much reason to expect that from Bush.

7. Truman fused realism with liberalism...Bush has fused realism with a nationalist conservativism. This point is somewhat confusing. Does nationalist conservatism favor building democracy in Iraq at the cost of American lives? No, but idealism does. Whether liberalism and idealism are one and the same is a whole 'nother issue...

8. Truman pursued a bipartisan foreign policy – eschewing the ideological extremes of the right or the left. There was a pretty solid bipartisan consensus during Truman's first term. As for avoiding the extremes, scholars spent the first forty years after Truman's presidency denouncing him as a reckless and/or extreme anti-Communist who paved the road to Korea and Vietnam with his good intentions or even provoked an unnecessary conflict with the Soviets. So it's sort of ironic for Ikenberry to lionize Truman now, with the benefit of hindsight.

9. Truman suffered assaults from right wing Republicans who questioned his toughness and patriotism. Yup. No question the McCarthy era was a low point for the dignity of the GOP. But perhaps Prof. Ikenberry should remind himself of what Henry Wallace and the rest of Howard Dean's ancestors were up to in the late 1940s.

So, Truman and Bush? We may have to wait forty years for an answer, the same way we did the first time around.
(17) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Don't you mean 800-pound gorilla?
 
Yes, I did mean "gorilla". The typos are now fixed. I must have insurgents on the brain. Or in my brain.
 
"7. Truman fused realism with liberalism...Bush has fused realism with a nationalist conservativism. This point is somewhat confusing."

Ikenberry means *domestic* liberalism with a realist foreign policy, and Truman was very successful with this.

Bush is cleary the opposite of this: domestic conservativism with an 'idealistic' foreign policy.

Further, Truman built an international coalition and Bush tore one down.

I can't think of two more different presidents than the Plain Talker from Missouri and the tangled tongue from New Haven.
 
cs, i'm pretty sure that in point #7 ikenberry was referring to liberalism abroad, not domestic liberalism. reread the full text of #7 in his original post on tpm and tell me what you think.
 
No Americans were killed by insurgents in the occupations of Germany and Japan? Are you sure about this? How about the so-called "werewolves"? And of course the utter devastation of large parts of both countries had something to do with the ability of any indigenous terrorists to mount attacks on American troops. Doubtless if Baghdad resembled Hiroshima or Berlin in 1945 we wouldn't have as many casualties. Or were you being sarcastic?
 
cs, I would hardly call Truman's foreign policy "realist" as you do. Actively standing up against the spread of an ideology with both military action and foreign aid, as the Truman Doctrine mandated, hardly seems to me to be a "realist" foreign policy. The Kissingerian stand you attribute to Truman does not belong at all; if the man from rural Missouri had such a foreign policy we would have sought rapproachment with the Soviets as they developed the hydrogen bomb, rather than challenging their expansion when possible.
 
David, on a second reading, I think you're right about the Ikenberry paragraph. Still, Truman was a domestic liberal.

Charlie, it is good that you bring up Kissinger. His thesis (A World Restored) was on Metternich, essentially the bible for a cold war. The reality that Truman subscribed to (and that Bush doesn't) is that his enemy could only be defeated by a protracted seige, very Metternichian, very unidealistic. And it did work. Worked with Libya too.

Neocons present this idealistic picture of the future Iraq as Dairy Queens and PTA meetings. The reality will be closer to Gaza.
 
Bush is cleary the opposite of this: domestic conservativism with an 'idealistic' foreign policy

That is not correct -- Bush, like Truman, has substantially expanded the welfare state. Bush is conservative only on social issues such as gay rights, civil rights, abortion, et al -- but Truman was just as conservative on those issues as Bush is. His big claim to fame, in terms of liberal social policy, was civil rights, but Bush favors the same civil rights policies that Truman did. The truth is that Truman could never get nominated as a Democrat today -- he was far too right-wing for the modern party.

On a side note, it seems strange to me to complain that Iraq has insurgents and Japan/Germany didn't without considering the wars that preceeded them. If Bush had treated Iraq the way Truman did Germany and Japan -- i.e., if he had killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and made it perfectly clear he'd kill all the rest if they didn't play nice -- there wouldn't be insurgency problems in Iraq either. But who, today, would sign on to that kind of mass killing of civilians?

Further, Truman built an international coalition and Bush tore one down.

The international coalition Truman built was an alliance against expansionist Communism. It did with the fall of the USSR.

Bush didn't "tear down" any international coalition -- there wasn't one to tear down. What he has done is build a new coalition against Islamic terrorism -- a smaller coalition, to be sure, but then terrorism is a much smaller and more localized threat than the USSR was.
 
As a liberal, Truman integrated the armed forces. His civil rights agenda predated Johnson's Voting Rights Act. That he didn't support gays in the military then reflects more the era than the man.

Truman became president after Roosevelt's death. I doubt that he would have been elected even then but he was reelected.

As for liberalism, I certainly don't define it as the expansion of the welfare state. That's absurd.

From the Oxford American Dictionary:

open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values
favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms
(in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform

For an example, see Truman.

As for Bush, No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate. Utah (!) is ignoring it. Does Bush have anything to show domestically for five years other than tax cuts and debt? If (when) Iraq fails will America have anything to show for eight years?

As for his coalition, W tore down Senior's coalition. He replaced multilateralism with unilateralism. Did we attack Iraq with the aid of Mongolia? Yes. Did Senior get Germany and Japan to pay for the Persian Gulf War? Check this out: the Persian Gulf War didn't cost us anything. Contrast this with W.
 
Most of the big international good deeds imputed to Truman here were actually the work of Dean Acheson, George C. Marshall, and Jimmy Burns. And Forrestal helped. I remember Truman. He was a crude, stupid little man, a low type, who like to play poker. He was probably the least educated president in history. He was very slow to appreciate the intentions of the USSR, and probably didn't really get their number until the aid to Greece and Turkey (1947). Meanwhile, he was covering up the extensive Russian spy ring which stole all our atomic secrets by infiltrating the New Deal and Fair Deal. His wife Bess, on the other hand, was said to be a fine woman. He married over his head. Most biographies of Truman should be publicly burned. He should have called the Russians' bluff instead of launching the Berlin airlift. Etc., etc.
 
Truman liked to play poker? I like him even more.

As for his recognition of the vileness of Stalin: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. Neither of them thinks anything of their pledged word." New York Times, June 24, 1941.

This is from well before he was even vice president. It is even before Pearl Harbor.

It also smacks of realism.
 
"As for his coalition, W tore down Senior's coalition. He replaced multilateralism with unilateralism. Did we attack Iraq with the aid of Mongolia? Yes. Did Senior get Germany and Japan to pay for the Persian Gulf War? Check this out: the Persian Gulf War didn't cost us anything. Contrast this with W."

There is no difference between the First Gulf War and the Second Gulf War in terms of the "coalition." America, Britain, and Australia did like 98% of the work both times, the rest is just window dressing. As for the cost; anyone who whines over a war that costs a little more than 1% of GDP a year is simply not serious. And the "coalition" of the First Gulf War only held together because we didn't go to Bagdhad and knock Saddam out which led to a chain of events which were not good.
 
Non US forces in the Persian Gulf war was about 24% (CNN). Non US forces for the Iraq War is about 14.6% and declining.

Notable countries avoided the coalition altogether: Turkey, France, Germany, .... Financially, we went from having Germany and Japan pay for to footing the growing bill entirely ourselves.

"As for the cost; anyone who whines over a war that costs a little more than 1% of GDP a year is simply not serious."

Iraq will cost roughly $80B for 2005. Our tax revenues were about $1.862T so this is about 2.68% of the *revenues* year after year after year. The Gulf War cost a total of $61B.
 
"Bush is conservative only on social issues such as gay rights, civil rights, abortion, et al -- but Truman was just as conservative on those issues as Bush is. His big claim to fame, in terms of liberal social policy, was civil rights, but Bush favors the same civil rights policies that Truman did."

You're saying Bush holds the exact same attitudes on race in the mid 2000s that Truman did in the late 1940s and that somehow makes them the same in terms of their social attitudes and willingness to try new approaches? That's an absolutely ridiculous argument.

When Truman launched the PCCR and backed the idea of antidiscrimination in employment, that was a radical idea. That Bush accepts the same concept -- enshrined in law for 40 years -- is the bare minimum we should expect.

If Bush were on par with Truman in his social attitudes, Bush would call for the open admission of gays to the military much as Truman called for the integration of the armed services. The opposition to the two was the same -- claims that the military shouldn't be used for "social experimentation," and arguments that it would cripple morale -- and the political will to overcome the two are the same as well. Truman had the guts to break his era's barrier; Bush certainly won't do the same with his era's.
 
At first blush I find Ikenberry's #7 a facile rendering rather than probative or insightful. Comparisions, not exact parallels, are what need to be articulated; yet Ikenberry typically uses a partisan hatchet or bludgeon instead of a rapier.
 
Henry Wallace as Howard Dean's ancestor? Huh? You're comparing a social-democrat to a pretty straight-line DLC liberal-democrat.
 
If you're going to bring up ancestors, then Prescott Bush, W's grandfather and a Republican Senator from Connecticut, was known as Hitler's Banker. The assets of several of his companies were seized in 1942 under the Trading With The Enemy Act.

http://www.nhgazette.com/cgi-bin/NHGstore.cgi?user_action=detail&catalogno=NN_Bush_Nazi_2

In fact, there is a German lawsuit by two Holocaust survivors against the Bush family based on recently declassified records.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1312540,00.html
 
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