September 19, 2006


Bush Fails to Recapture the Nation's Post-9/11 Unity (Ronald Brownstein, September 17, 2006, LA Times)

In his various remarks last week remembering the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush — as he has before — invoked Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. But Bush still shows no indication of having learned from their approach to building domestic support for foreign policy.

As America moved into World War II, Roosevelt named Republican Henry Stimson, President Hoover's secretary of State, as his secretary of war. He also tapped Frank Knox, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1936, as his secretary of the Navy. And FDR sent Wendell Willkie, his GOP opponent in 1940, on a global goodwill mission.

After the war, Truman built bipartisan support in Congress by consulting exhaustively, and compromising regularly, with Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan over every aspect of America's emerging strategy for the Cold War. They built a consensus broad enough to endure: Truman's strategy of containment guided American policy for more than 40 years.

Truman and FDR were, of course, lucky enough to have the GOP in opposition, rather than the Democrats. Whereas Republicans tend to place patriotism above partisanship, as LBJ discovered, even a Democratic president can't count on having his own party on our side in wartime.

A pluperfect illustration of where the partisanship in the WoT is coming from was Nancy Pelosi's attack today on the President's pro-democracy address to the UN. She'll be followed shortly by Assad, Ahmedinejad, etc....

Think it might have been a better moment to just say: "despite any difdferences we may have with the president, we couldn't agree more about liberalizing the Middle East"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2006 1:04 PM

Would Brownstein applaud if Joe Lieberman was named Secy. of Defense? Or if Ed Koch were named Ambassador to the UN?

Probably not. And the rest of the Democratic party would yelp and squawk and quiver just the same.

The Democrats' foreign policy highlight of the past few years is typified by Sandy Berger's document retrievals from the National Archives. And that is about it. Wait - I almost forgot Baghdad Jim McDermott and David Bonior going to Iraq in 2002.

John Kerry and Tom Harkin need to visit Tehran and share some dugh with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in order to keep up with their record of the 1980s. They're slipping.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 20, 2006 8:29 AM

This is not a function of parties in power. Instead, it is a test of whether a person makes a good war time President. FDR was par excellence. However, both LBJ and Bush made major mistakes which hurt homefront unity and damaged morale.

1) Make sure your casus belli holds up. Gulf Of Tonkin and WMDs ended up being weak reeds though. Better to go with a reason less attractive, but more apt to withstand scrutiny.

2) Don't declare victory until we've won. Both LBJ and Bush declared victory in Vietnam and Iraq was around the corner, and the war just kept going. Bush was particularly bad in this case with the whole carrier / mission accomplished stunt.

3) Have a Secretary of Defense that is a warrior, not a technocrat. Robert McNamara would have been a great peacetime SecDef, but he was terrible at war. Body counts are not a substitute for breaking the enemy's will. Likewise Rumsfeld is engaged in other activities than simply winning the war.

4) Maintain diplomatic support for the war. Having your allies criticize your efforts erodes morale on the homefront. Bush simply lacks the diplomatic skills.

5) Call the nation to communal sacrifice. Presidents are reluctant to do this, but nothing shores up support for a war faster than being able to contribute to victory, even if you are a civilian. If it's important enough for some mother's son to die, then it's important enough for a gas tax, war bonds, or some other means. We must break the peacetime mentality when we're fighting. The only President to have effectively done this since WWII was Bush pere.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 20, 2006 12:32 PM

No, it's just about the difference between the parties. The Democrats will always bail on a GOP president and sometimes on their own. The Republicans will keep fighting the war even after the Democrat is driven from power by his own.

The notion though of the Christian Right and neocons insisting that Presiudent Gore or Kerry back off of terrorist captives and Saddam is particularly hilarious.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2006 2:21 PM