Outside View: Strategic lessons -- Part 3

By DOUGLAS MACGREGOR, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  Aug. 18, 2008 at 4:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Like his predecessors Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, President Dwight David Eisenhower in the 1950s was not bashful about asserting American influence and power, but his wartime experience led him to resist interventions that involved the open-ended commitment of U.S. ground forces to altruistic missions.

In Eisenhower's view, war did not necessarily bring about democracy.

In the 1950-53 Korean War, Eisenhower saw the futility of expanding the conflict to secure a Pyrrhic victory over China, and he ended it on the best terms he could get. Eisenhower was acutely sensitive to the fact that America's postwar rise to superpower status was not the result of a surplus of American power, energy or cultural superiority, but of a deficiency of European and Asian competition owing to catastrophic world wars. To Eisenhower, it made no sense to repeat Europe's mistakes.

Like FDR and Truman, Eisenhower believed that the United States' mission was to be the world's engine of prosperity, an engine so compelling in its beauty and strength that it would invite emulation, not attack.

Like his predecessors, Eisenhower exploited U.S. strategic pre-eminence to build the international institutions that would bring about a more prosperous and humane world order -- Bretton Woods, the United Nations and the World Bank along with a host of alliances designed to keep the peace.

Eisenhower also knew something Americans were never told in public: It was not the short-duration campaigns in the West where U.S. and British forces faced a fraction of Germany's combat power that secured victory in World War II. It was the sacrifice of 40 million Soviet dead on Germany's Eastern Front -- twice what the leaders of the Soviet Union had ever admitted -- where between 1941 and 1944 the Soviet Red Army inflicted 93 percent of German combat losses that destroyed German military power.

Eisenhower remembered with great clarity that by January 1945, U.S. manpower reserves were used up. After the shock of Germany's surprise counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45, Americans were in no mood for the heavy casualties that pushing Soviet dictator Josef Stalin out of Central Europe would demand.

The war's strategic result was not total victory. If anything, it was at best a partial victory that left communism in control of half of Europe, China, Manchuria and the northern half of the Korean Peninsula.

The point is that however imperfect FDR, Truman and Eisenhower were, their combined leadership created unmatched economic prosperity at home and a condition of unchallenged U.S. military supremacy abroad.

All three presidents understood that U.S. forces won World War II as part of a victorious alliance and made the avoidance of war a guiding imperative in American foreign and defense policy.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration set out to achieve a transformation of world power through the use of the American military that even President Woodrow Wilson never imagined after World War I. It has been a failure. Therefore, Democratic putative presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois should treat the bellicose rhetoric of his opponent, Republican standard-bearer Sen. John McCain of Arizona, along with his determination to reinforce failure, with the polite disinterest it deserves.

In his quest for realistic policymaking, Obama can find no better role models for his presidency than FDR, Truman and Eisenhower. All three men sought to avoid war and intervention in favor of building prosperity and peace.


(Douglas Macgregor is a former Army colonel and a decorated Gulf War combat veteran. He has authored three books on modern warfare and military reform. His latest is "Transformation under Fire: Revolutionizing the Way America Fights." He writes here for the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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