Magazine article USA TODAY

Fortuitous Historical Paradox

Magazine article USA TODAY

Fortuitous Historical Paradox

Article excerpt

A STRANGE PARADOX HAS infused itself into American politics. With some exceptions, it is easier for a Democratic president to make war and more difficult to make peace and, conversely, it is more difficult for a Republican president to make war and easier to make peace. It began in 1949 when the Truman Administration was blamed for the "loss" of China to the Communists. There were charges from Sen. Joe McCarthy (R.-Wis.) and others that this was a consequence of far-left and Communist influence in the State Department. These advisers, so the charge went, had duped Pres. Harry Truman into withdrawing support for the Nationalist Chinese and allowing for a Communist victory.

Since then, Democratic presidents, fearing any whiff of appeasement, have been careful not to have that charge wrapped around their neck again. In 1950, Truman himself authorized a massive armed U.S. intervention into Korea without any form of congressional authorization. Few raised objections, and it set a precedent for future Democratic presidents who felt free to commit American forces to battle without congressional support.

Concerned with being called an appeaser, Pres. Lyndon Johnson would not consider a political settlement in Vietnam and authorized--with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as his constitutional claim (a flimsy argument)--a military intervention in that country. Pres. Jimmy Carter, who tried early in his term to keep detente with the Soviets alive, took on a hard line once they invaded Afghanistan. Carter increased defense spending, withdrew from the Moscow Olympics, cut off grain sales to the Soviets, and shelved the SALT II Treaty. Pres. Bill Clinton, who presided over a relatively calm era between the end of the Cold War and 9/11, nevertheless authorized a sustained bombing campaign against Serbia without requesting--or receiving--any congressional authorization. This year, Pres. Barack Obama began a bombing campaign in Libya designed to overthrow the Muammar Gaddafi regime. Again, as was the case with Truman and Clinton, no congressional authorization was requested or received. All this despite the fact that it was a Democratic Congress that passed the War Powers Resolution over Pres. Richard Nixon's veto. This law required congressional authority for a president to send forces into combat after a 60-day interval.

On the other hand, Republican presidents have had a much freer hand to make peace. Despite criticism from McCarthy, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower agreed to the Korean Armistice in 1953 that left the North Korean dictatorship intact. The following year, Eisenhower stood aside as the French agreed to an armistice in Indo-China that granted Communist control in North Vietnam. In both cases, there was no sustained cry that he was an appeaser or soft on communism. In 1955, when the Communist Chinese threatened our Formosan ally, Eisenhower was careful to gain Congressional authorization to defend that country, an authority he never had to use. In the 1970s, Nixon opened relations with the Communist Chinese, signed an armistice with the North Vietnamese (allowing them to leave their troops in South Vietnam), and agreed to a SALT I Treaty that did little to reduce the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. There was some grumbling from hard-liners in both parties, but it had no traction. Pres. George H. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.