Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Friday, November 05, 2010

Astonishing moral courage from President Eisenhower

I recently read Nigel Hamilton's excellent book American Caesars, modelled on The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius and giving short biographies of the twelve U.S. presidents from F. D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. It is the kind of book that makes one revisit assumptions made on the basis of how US politics is reported in Britain. For example, in the UK we have generally lauded Jimmy Carter and pilloried Ronald Reagan. While not changing my opinion of their respective politics in the least, Hamilton's book demonstrates the appalling way in which Carter organised the White House, which significantly contributed to his disappointing record of achievenents in office (though he shone in his many good works after his retirement). Reagan, on the other hand, ran a very disciplined White House staff, and neither vacillated nor micro-managed. It's also hard to be too down on a president whose first words (scrawled on a piece of paper) following surgery to remove a would-be assassin's bullet were "I'd like to retake this scene starting from where I leave the hotel"; or on one who spotted a staffer's child in difficulties in the pool at a White House social and dived in personally - like the ex-lifeguard he was - to haul her out. While not sparing the younger Bush's presidential record, Hamilton judges him to have been an effective and decent Governor of Texas who simply went far beyond his ability in taking on the presidency, resulting in over-reliance on his self-serving advisors.

Yet it is Eisenhower, president when I was born yet the one about whom I knew least, who comes out of the book as the best of the bunch, or at least up there with FDR. In his dealings with the USSR he wasn't unduly belligerent but took no crap, as seen when he ordered the Berlin airlift.He left the world a better place on a whole lot of ways than the one he inherited.

The most astonishing Eisenhower story to me was that of his behaviour at the time of the Suez crisis. In 1956, at a time of heightened tension, with Britain and France preparing for war with Egypt, Israel launched an unprovoked and wholly opportunistic attack on Egypt to seize the Sinai. Britain, France & USA had a tripartite agreement to take military action if either Israel or her Arab neighbours violated frontiers or armistice lines. Britain and France simply ignored their commitment and attacked Egypt instead. Eisenhower, to his eternal credit, stood by his country's agreement even if meant he lost Jewish votes at home. He called for a ceasefire and for a military and trade embargo against Israel until it complied. In fact this display of backbone was as popular with American voters as with the rest of the world (UK & France excepted). Israel made blustery noises then caved in like any other neighbourhood bully. Now if only subsequent US presidents had that kind of moral fibre and had threatened to stop letting US taxpayers fund Israelis' lifestyle unless it complied with the law. It would have been back inside the 1967 border in less time than it took its armies to occupy the OT. After all, if it had to pay its own way without stealing produce and labour from its Palestinian captives and without massive handouts from the USA, Israel would probably only last a few months before slipping to the poverty level you'd expect of a Third World theocracy whose government has never had to learn self-sufficiency. Our own Tony Blair of course, both as PM and as Peace Envoy, has followed the British tradition of ignoring Israeli aggression and instead punishing its victims.

In 1966 Pres. Johnson knew that Israel had been developing nuclear weapons for three years and had now put warheads into missiles. In 1967 he realised that Israel was once again planning an attack on Egypt and that this would be a disaster for the Middle East and Western security, but the USA was militarily so overstretched in Vietnam that he could do nothing to stop it. In the event, of course, the massive Israeli military build-up was used not just against Egypt but against Jordan and Syria as well, neither of which had been expecting an attack (Egypt at least had been sabre-rattling, though it had no reason to expect an invasion). Israel was not "attacked" and "defending itself": exactly as in 1956, it launched a long-planned and unprovoked attack on unsuspecting neighbours. Shortly afterwards Israel made its contempt for the USA clear by attacking the USS Liberty, killing 34 sailors and wounding 171. The Liberty had been in international waters but observing Israeli military operations. A far less deadly attack by North Vietnam on the similarly engaged USS Maddox (in Vietnamese waters) had triggered the bombing of North Vietnam. Just think, if he'd been less bogged down in Vietnam maybe LBJ would have sent a few dozen B-52s to introduce Israel to the idea that crime doesn't pay. Sadly, that's a lesson it has never learned.


At 05 November, 2010 16:33, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

With us in Afganistan ahd Iraq now would be the time for Israel to do it again, with arms we keep supplying and food and money that keeps flowing. (please, don't give them ideas)


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