A little less Jimmy Carter, a little more Dwight Eisenhower

The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart had an interesting piece yesterday on Obama’s foreign policy strategy.

“He’s Like Ike,” the headline declares, drawing from the president’s Wednesday speech at West Point to argue that Obama’s approach to foreign policy is grounded in the ideals of a once misunderstood president who has gained favor with historians in the past couple decades. “Eisenhower,” he wrote, “spent much of his presidency arguing against critics who claimed that the United States needed to spend more on defense, or intervene more militarily.” Just like Obama.

It’s a pretty compelling read. And he does a great job of situating the president’s (perceived) mindset in a time and place that echoes that of Eisenhower.

“For Obama … Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan are not aberrations. They reveal a recurring pattern of American hubris … Eisenhower’s problem was that his foreign policy was not heroic. He was content, in Obama’s words, to ‘hit singles.’ He had, after all, seen more than enough bloodstained heroism on the beaches and meadows of Europe.”

As The New Republic’s David Greenberg wrote in a review of the 2012 Ike Biography, “Eisenhower in War and Peace,” by Jean Edward Smith,“Vietnam put a new glow on Eisenhower’s diplomatic realism, as Iraq would a generation later.”

But what’s interesting about the Ike comparison by Beinart is that it doesn’t seem to be an even-handed “for good or for ill, Obama is like Eisenhower” approach. Beinart doesn’t really seem to engage with any of the possible downsides of an Ike-like foreign policy. It’s basically “Obama’s a dove, like Ike, and that’s great.”

But as Greenberg pointed out in his review,

“It is true that Ike deserves better than the condescension he once endured, but all this cheerleading for his presidency also serves him ill. Worse, the new Ikeophilia reinforces a regrettable popular attitude toward presidential power—an overwrought fear of executive activism, a naïvely roseate view of Eisenhower’s hallmark traits of realism and restraint, and an unwarranted tolerance of high-level deception.”

How much of that “Ikeophilia” spills over into Beinart’s comparison? It seems like his focus is primarily on the hawk vs. dove debate, but the issues of “unwarranted tolerance of high-level deception” are certainly legacies that are worth being part of this discussion.

Read “He’s Like Ike” at The Atlantic. 

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JJ Feinauer

JJ writes stuff occasionally.

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