Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eisenhower, Obama, and the United Nations: Faith or Fear?

OK. It's time to fess-up. I changed my profile to reflect that I have a degree in International Relations from that bastion of liberalism, Brigham Young University. And I'm only being a little facetious because my liberal arts education and my significant but modest political shift from moderate Republican to moderate Democrat did occur there. (Which, of course, makes me a flaming liberal if not an outright communist to many people here in Utah). But, education happens.

This recent Libyan conflict really has my hope soaring along with the recognition, but not fear, of great risk. As I noted before, this could be the first time the United Nations has actually worked as intended. I'll get back to that later.

First, I want to promote a little more the idea that we have a good President who is operating in the style if not all the politics of another good President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Admittedly, that sounds a little weird, but I'm not the only one to have thought of it as evidenced by this recent Atlantic article. And I read the book.

It's a good one by Fred I. Greenstein The Hidden Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (Basic Books, New York 1982). The author explains that contrary to the general perception at the time by many that Eisenhower was an intellectual light-weight, bumbling, yet good-natured and popular, he was a skilled leader and politician working often behind the scenes and even intentionally dissimulating or acting in public to create that image of the nice, if kind of slow, good old guy that everyone "liked." The drawn-out example in the book is how Eisenhower dealt with Senator Joe McCarthy to neutralize his rabid witch-hunting (but that's a story for another blog entry).

Here's something from the book on Eisenhower. As you read it, try substituting Democrat for Republican, liberalism for conservatism, Hillary for Dulles, war on terror for cold war, etc.

Thus, in the interest of building a stable Republican majority, he was prepared to moderate his fundamental conservatism. Voicing political sentiments that were more liberal than his private credo made sense to him in domestic policy. Similarly, in foreign policy he would sometimes modulate Secretary of State Dulles's strident cold war rhetoric (the two men held virtually identical beliefs about the "Soviet threat") in order to underscore the fundamental commitment of his administration to international peace. Id. at 52.

Now I know that there are Obama detractors out here who just won't accept or understand any of this as there are those on the left who will remain convinced that Eisenhower was a bumbling incompetent even if popular with the 50's-blinded public. But I'll forge ahead. I could be completely wrong and we are heading for absolute disaster. But I still have hope and I have faith in a President who does appear to work behind the scenes to get things done. He is obviously not always out there in front. But I seriously doubt filling out his March brackets is as distracting as even Eisenhower's golf game.

Look at the accomplishments. Of course, first, he beat and then co-opted the Clintons and was elected President - no small feat. We did not have Great Depression II and he saved the US banking and auto industries with help (or blame) from W Bush and the Republicans in Congress before the inauguration. And he accomplished Health Care Reform, the dream of every Democratic administration since Truman, when almost everybody thought he had lost it. (I think that is what makes the opposition the angriest. Someday they may actually wake up to realize it's a very moderate plan based on bipartisan, even Republican or Heritage Foundation ideas including the mandate). And what I think is most important, in the face of hostile political opposition he compromised and worked out deals on taxes, repeal of DADT, approval of START, and a few more things. And I hope that continues on some common sense deficit reduction addressing entitlements and military spending, not just the ideological fund-cutting attacks on the government of, by and for the people (all the people - not just the demographics of the Republican party, i.e., their self-defined "real" Americans). And now there is this amazing participation with the UN in stopping Qadafi from massacring his own people.

So back to the main point. As a student of international affairs (certainly no intellectual expert in spite of a BA), I am absolutely astounded at the the turn of events in Libya. I hope and pray for positive outcome, not just for the Libyan people, but for the concept of internationalism and world peace for which the United Nations was actually designed. So many berate and criticize the UN and there are certainly grounds to do so. There are even some who believe it is the harbinger of a one-world government, black helicopters and all, to destroy America (I think they're talking about that same, self-defined "real" America).

Look at the basic history. The idealistic League of Nations after the War to end all Wars failed miserably due principally to the US decision not to join. The United Nations was conceived out of the success of nations united in opposition to German Nazism and Japanese Militarism. That is still reflected in the permanent members of the Security Council (and why they're there). The UN has had some success if only as a sounding board among the nations in the General Assembly allowing some, even the crazies, to vent off steam rather than provoking WWIII. And that is probably the greatest success of the UN that we and our world still exist and aren't a bunch of radioactive particles floating through space.

Now the thing is, the Security Council hasn't exactly worked as intended to resolve or avoid conflicts among nations even if we've fortunately avoided the big one. This was in large part due to the Cold War stalemate (not to mention Mutually Armed Destruction or MAD) between West and East and the unfortunate situation that the USSR and eventually Communist China (even if modifying into consumer capitalism) had vetoes. Of course we have one too. We have had a lot of UN peacekeeping missions or interventions but rarely in the form of an international wrong to be addressed like we see in Libya with a crazed dictator violating every principle of human rights established in International Law by the UN and the International Court of Justice - confirmed by numerous treaties among most of the nations of the earth. And all nations in the world currently are UN member states ratifying the UN Charter. (And as a provocative aside to many on the right, I note that international treaties constitute a part of "the supreme law of the land" under the US Constitution, Art. VI, clause 2. Yet, I maintain that conflicts between international law and the US Constitution would be resolved by us in favor of our own sovereignty which is also recognized by the UN as it has no sovereignty itself, but is to respect and promote the sovereignty of each member state.)

The main problem has been that when the Security Council has acted, it has usually been led to do so by the United States. There was the ironic situation in the Truman Administration when the USSR missed a chance to exercise a veto because it was boycotting the Council for some silly reason and there was a resolution passed  for UN forces to counter the northern communists who had invaded South Korea. The Soviets didn't make that mistake again. And there weren't a lot of UN interventions during the height of the Cold War. Even in the thawing days or post-cold-war era, the Security Council resolutions have seemed to be some kind of formality for US intervention - often with the best of intentions in spite of frequent failure. The US has been the world's policemen leading the Security Council as other members were willing to allow the US to take the responsibility to bear most of those burdens.

I'm not sure that President Obama initially wanted to use US force to intervene in Libya. It seems rather unlikely and if true, we have to get him out of there for violations of his principled political position against the invasion of Iraq (although, heaven forbid the choices from the opposing party in 2012!) What I am pretty sure of is that while very pleased with regime change or challenge in numerous African/Middle Eastern dictatorial nations, he saw the opportunity here and likely convinced Hillary that we had a rare opportunity to influence heavily, but not ultimately to lead, the Security Council or a UN sanctioned coalition of forces to prevent Qadafi from committing crimes against humanity on his own people. Europe and even the Arab League promoted the intervention. France proposed the Security Council Resolution. The War Powers Act gives our President the authority to act without a Congressional declaration of war because it is not a war of conquest, but the use of force under UN mandate in the interests of the US to promote international law. This is the big difference between what Obama is doing here and what W Bush so incompetently did with regard to Iraq. The Libyan action is not to invade or even to "nation build" but to stop international crimes and allow the people of Libya to exercise their own self-determination rather than the inherently conflicted imposition of "democracy" by an outside force. Let's hope and pray that is in reality all that it is and that it actually works.

Going to the religious side of things to counter some of the idealogical opposition to the UN, I would like to present an idea I have long held. And it does seem that the fear of one-world government imposed by an evil UN conspiracy has a direct connection to extreme conservative or fundamentalist Christianity including some forms of Mormonism. Even worse are those like Sarah Palin who hint at welcoming worldwide conflagration to issue in the millennial reign of peace promised by the Lord Jesus Christ. I have a sincere belief and hope in the Lord's Second Coming and that thousand years of peace when the devil (that is, our warlike impulses) are bound. However, I don't think that it will be the fearful, self-righteous, trusting in the arms of flesh and fire, who will be the ones to welcome Christ and deserve to live in his millennial peace. I think it will be the good-willed people of whatever race, creed or national origin who will live in that millennial age because instead of fear for fear's sake, they lived with hope in and worked for the establishment of international law respecting human rights and world peace through organizations such as the United Nations.

After all, "Blessed are the Peacemakers."

1 comment:

  1. As always a very well thought out, informative and yes, passionate, posting. I always enjoy your thoughts on the subjects at hand. i have long held that the President is very similar in style to IKE but also to FDR and Lincoln. The latter was not a conservative, and the Republicans of 1860 would be the progressives of 2011, just as the Democrats of 1860 would be the Palinites of today.


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