Monday, December 28, 2015

what Eisenhower, Nixon, and Obama have in common

Longtime Russia scholar and diplomat Steve Sestanovich have a provocative article in the new Atlantic magazine. Ostensibly it's a review of several new books about Richard Nixon and/or Henry Kissinger. Regarding them, he tiptoes between what he calls the "humanizers" and "vilifiers." The former are more sympathetic to Dick and Henry and accomplishments like the opening to China; the latter can't forget the lies and the killing mainly in the Vietnam war. In fact, I've read the several books he reviews and agree that the books say little new and are individually one-sided.

What's really provocative about his article, however, is his comparisons to the Eisenhower and Obama administrations. Those two, along with Nixon, had difficult first terms trying to end unpopular wars started by their predecessors. Sestanovich argues that each had a long-term strategic vision but suffered second-term criticisms when new crises left the pundits and public critical of their earlier retrenchment.
America’s retrenchment presidents teach an ironic lesson. Coming in to manage a disaster, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama all hoped to devise a foreign policy for the United States that would avoid big swings between over- and undercommitment. What they came up with, however, turned out to command support only as an interim measure. Once it became clear that the world was still a confusing and tumultuous place, the acclaim they had enjoyed was soon forgotten. The resurgence of heated policy debate didn’t just disappoint them—it infuriated them. They found their second terms a bumpy ride, full of criticisms they felt were unfair and unconstructive. They got angry at American politics, and at the American people.
I'm not sure I agree, but I think the argument deserves further consideration.

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