Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

When Foreign Policy Intrudes on Domestic Politics

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

When Foreign Policy Intrudes on Domestic Politics

Article excerpt

So far as I know, no historian has dealt systematically with those frequent intrusions of foreign adventurers - like Iraq's Saddam Hussein today - into presidential campaigns. It is a rich topic.

The most famous instance in my lifetime - though I was too young to notice - was in 1940. With Europe aflame and Hitler rampant, the Republican platform accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of scheming to maneuver the country into a "foreign war." It was a crafty term, since the only wars then open to American participation were "foreign." The term attempted to bridge the gulf between isolationists and interventionists in the Republican Party.

FDR echoed it, with a sarcasm soon lost to most historical accounts, when he told a campaign rally that indeed he would not send American sons into any "foreign war." The Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and Hitler when he then declared war on the United States settled the issue. In both Eisenhower-Stevenson contests, 1952 and 1956, foreign crises lo omed. Pressed by his advisers, a reluctant Dwight Eisenhower declared: "I shall go to Korea." He pledged to use his standing as a famous soldier to end the stalemated war - a promise he kept within the year. Four years later, in 1956, as if on cue from the Republican National Committee, the British, French and Israelis launched their operation to reverse Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. Nikita Khrushchev threatened to rain nuclear rockets on Europe, meanwhile plotting to send his tanks to Budapest to crush the Hungarian revolution. The tension was made to order for Eisenhower. I was overseas, but my father wrote to me that Hungary and Suez "cost Stevenson at least 10 million votes." The conventional wisdom is that any far-off troublemaker who provokes a campaign crisis helps the incumbent president, so long as he doesn't remind the voters of a failure. The sitting president holds all the high cards. He can assume the statesman's role and take military action, while implying that any critic is playing party politics with the national security. Bill Clinton has played his cards against Saddam with a touch that has his partisan foes sputtering. …

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