Obama

Daniel Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers

Long before WikiLeaks released the largest amount of classified documents in American History, Daniel Ellsberg shocked the nation in 1971 by releasing what has become known as “The Pentagon Papers”. There is a huge difference between the two events. I doubt if any change in foreign policy comes from WikiLeaks. The only damaging piece of evidence coming out from WikiLeaks was that the Pakistani troops were aiding the Taliban in Pakistan. The Pentagon Papers on the other hand, brought out the worst in a President, an ultimately, brought down the President and changed the US’s role in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931. He grew in Michigan and went to Harvard, graduating with a B.S. in economics in 1952. In 1954, Ellsberg left to join the Marines. He would stay in the Marines until 1957. After an honorable discharge, Ellsberg resumed graduate studies at Harvard. He also began working for the Rand Corporation and received his Ph.D. in economics in 1962. His dissertation was on a paradox in decision making now known as the Ellsberg paradox.

Between 1964 and 1967, Ellsberg worked for the Defense Department and the State Department and even served one tour in Vietnam. When he returned home, Ellsberg went back to work for the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg was commissioned (along with two other people) by then Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to compile a top-secret history of the War in Vietnam. At the time, Ellsberg had top-secret clearance.

Throughout 1969 and 1970, Ellsberg lived a double, sometimes, triple life. He worked for Rand, he worked on the top-secret history, and he began attending anti-war rallies. In 1970, Ellsberg began to try to get the top-secret history published. He approached newspapers and senators. No one was biting. He began to copy more and more of the report. On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began to publish what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”.

Ellsberg became public enemy number one in the eyes of the Nixon Administration. Even though most of the documents were about Johnson’s attempts to get into war and the mismanagement thereafter, Nixon was still outraged. “Tricky Dick” went into full effect even having his “plumbers” break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The Nixon administration tried to lock up Ellsberg and throw away the key, but by the time the case went to trial, Watergate was the story of the day. Ellsberg was to be tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, and he was, but the Judge threw out most of the evidence of the prosecution because it had been illegally obtained. Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg.

Ellsberg, who was working at the Defense Department on the night of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, said in an interview on NPR:

Years later when I revealed some of those same cables and documents that I had in my safe that night, August 4th, 1964, when I revealed them in the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, Senator Wayne Morse who’s been one of the two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf resolution told me, if you had given me, on the foreign relations committee, those documents which were now out in 1971.

If you’d given me those documents, at the time, in 1964, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution would never have gotten out of committee. And if they had brought it to the floor, it would have lost. And he was telling me that I, by telling the truth to Congress, as was my constitutional responsibility to do, I could have averted that war and 50,000 American lives and several million Vietnamese – so that’s a heavy burden to bear.

The Papers did help to change America’s perceptions about its government in the 1970s. America became more and more apathetic. Nixon would resign, but not before turning over control of the war to South Vietnam. The papers shed light on the role of the Johnson administration and its handling of the press. It changed how America viewed its secrets. “The War Logs” as they are no being called are not rattling anyone’s sabers. The only thing that might change today would be security protocols. That’s a shame.

In 2009, an Oscar nominated documentary was released about the Pentagon Papers. Here is a nice interview with the director of “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”.

Here is a short interview with Ellsberg about what he call Vietnamistan (Afghanistan)

Woodrow Wilson: Lessons for Obama

Woodrow Wilson always fancied himself as a progressive at heart. Prior to his election in 1912, he had been the head of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey. He considered himself an expert in domestic affairs and a novice at foreign affairs. He often noted it would be a shame if he had to strictly deal with foreign affairs. During Wilson’s eight years, a number of financial and social reforms were passed, including four amendments to the constitution, but it was foreign affairs which dominated his presidency, and thus, his legacy. When one begins to look at what lessons once can draw from Wilson’s eight years in office, it is a cautionary tale of avoidance at all costs.

Lesson One – Get Re-elected
Wilson was originally elected on his pledge for “A New Freedom”. This domestic agenda included financial, currency, income taxes, and trust reform as well as tariff reform. Unfortunately for Wilson, what took up most of his time was the Mexican Revolution. Events south of the border required Wilson to act before it spread onto American soil. Up to this point in time, the United States had operated under the auspices of the Monroe Doctrine that this our hemisphere. Teddy Roosevelt had added his Roosevelt Corollary and his successor, William Howard Taft, just threw money at the problem in what became known as Dollar Diplomacy. As 1913 drew on, Wilson followed a policy of what he called “Watchful Waiting”. He knew with all the players in Mexico (Carranza, Huerta, Obregon, Villa, and Zapata), there was no one to trust.

As events in Mexico began to play themselves out, events in Europe quickly boiled over and a regional conflict in the Balkans blew up like a powder keg and most of Europe was involved in less than a month. Wilson knew the United States could not get involved. He declared the US Neutral. Over the next two and half years, the economic interests of the US collided with the military interests of German U-boats in the North Atlantic. US ships began to be sunk, followed by a pledge, followed by another ship, and followed by a pledge, etc.

When Wilson campaigned for President in 1916, he campaigned and was re-elected on the fact he kept us out of the Great War. However, before he could be sworn in for his second term, Germany ratcheted up war fervor when the Zimmerman Telegram was published. The Telegram warned Mexico that the Germans would unleash unrestricted submarine warfare on the Atlantic . The note also pleaded with the new Mexican government to join Germany in a war against the Americans and in return they would get the Mexican cession back. To most Americans, they were outraged. However, Mexico was having a hard time fighting its own revolution let alone a war overseas. In April of 1917, war fever had spread across the US and the Congress would declare war on Germany.

Regardless of what any first term Presidents wants to do, their first priority is to get re-elected. Wilson proved that. However, once re-elected, all bets and promises are off.

Lesson Two – World Organizations are Bad…Maybe
Americans don’t want anyone telling them what to do. When the Great War was over in 1918, Woodrow Wilson left to go to Paris as part of the Peace Conference. His 14 Points had captured the imagination of the populace and turned him into a rock star President. However, soon after the peace process began, rather than follow his 14 Points, Britain and France wanted revenge for the war. The resulting treaty was brutal towards Germany and helped set up World War II with its reparations and mandates, but it was never passed. The US was never going to give up its autonomy on foreign affairs to some European group. Led by Senator Lodge, the US Senate never approved the treaty and would sign a separate treaty later. The unwillingness of the US to sign the treaty would make the League powerless to stop Hitler some 17 years later.

While Wilson’s 14 Points could have averted another war, we will never know. What we do know is the Versailles Peace Treaty “screwed the pooch”. Whether it was Britain’s and France’s incessant need for revenge or the Lodge reservations need for autonomy, we were no longer living in a world where the Monroe Doctrine would apply. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, America would go in an isolationist frenzy. No matter what we might think, America could no longer stick its head in the sand and ignore what is taking place in the world. The long-term consequences of doing so are too dangerous. After World War II, Wilson’s 14 Points would become a reality in a new United Nations.

Lesson Three – Don’t Tell the People What They Can and Can Not Do
Wilson often fancied himself an expert when it came to his domestic agenda. Only two Presidents passed more legislation in US History, FDR and LBJ. From anti-trust regulation to child labor laws to women’s right to vote to prohibition, Wilson was at the forefront of an idealist time in America. His 14 Points were part of the idealism, but Prohibition was one of America’s biggest mistakes. The amendment that made the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol illegal would be repealed in the early 1930s. However in the years in between, organized crime gained control of the industry and a crime wave unlike any America has ever seen took place.

To legislate morality, or anything for that matter, is to try to control the masses. By stipulating that the citizenry can do this or can not do that is promote tyranny on our shores. Americans have never liked being told what to do and what not to do as far back as the 1760s and the events leading up to the Revolution. Maybe the health care plan will work itself out next year, maybe it won’t. Who knows what will happen. But if you want a clue, look at the reaction of the public during prohibition. It could be that reform and regulation of the Industry might have been the more historically accurate choice rather legislating that every American have health care. We will have to wait and see how it plays out. Otherwise, lesson number one will be for naught.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

Party Politics

During Wednesday night’s address to Congress,President Obama was interrupted by the shout of “You lie” by Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Sadly, the outburst was condemned by both parties and was seen by those in the chamber as a matter of principle to not shout out at the President. But for 222 years of American History, a shout is the least of problems between political parties in American history.

In the beginning of American history, political parties seemed unavoidable. From the writing of the constitution, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, and Patrick Henry lined up against the passage of the constitution and they became known as the anti-federalists. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and the principal author of the constitution, James Madison, wrote a series of essays in newspapers which became known as the Federalist Papers. The contentiousness of the dialogue initially was low compared to what it would be ten years later. By the mid 1790s, the Federalist and anti-Federalist views had morphed into the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. One viewed an America built upon commerce and a strong federal government and the other on Agriculture and strong states. The elections of 1796 and 1800 were far more brutal than anything we could conceive today.

John Adams of the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson of the Democratic-Republicans were best friends. That did not stop them from dragging each other and their party through the mud. At the center of the debate was the issue of whether the US should favor France or Great Britain in the coming conflict. The original President, George Washington, had hoped to remain neutral. For Adams and Jefferson, they could not. The resulting conflict would tear apart the country politically and economically until the War of 1812.

It saddened George Washington to see parties form to fill the vacuum as he left office. I too see the wisdom of George’s wisdom. He states:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”

Sadly, few listened. Jefferson’s Vice-President, Aaron Burr, would shoot and kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel over comments from the 1800 election.

After the War of 1812, the Federalist Party died out and the vacuum of dissent would not be be successfully filled against what would become the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson. The Whig Party tried and failed but could not sustain any momentum. By the middle of the 1850s, the brand new Republican Party and the abolition movement coalesced into a movement that would result in the Civil War. In one instance on the Senate Floor, Senator Preston Brooks attacked Senator Charles Sumner with a cane nearly bludgeoning Sumner to Death.

Over the last 100 years, the parties have shifted regions and locals. Initially, the Republicans ruled the North while the Democrats ruled the South. For one hundred years after the civil war, that was the way it was. The Civil Rights movement changed all that. With it, the Republican base shifted to the South and the Democrat base moved to the more urban North during the 1960s through the 1990s. The parties will continue to change. This is not the end nor is it in sight.

The New Supreme Court Justice: How Bad Can the Process Be?

With the announcement of David Souter leaving the court, President Obama has the duty to appoint a new member to one of the most exclusive clubs in the country. As speculation swirls, history could be made. With only Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only female on the bench, odds are it will be another female candidate. The leading name is Sonia Sotomayor – a Federal District Court Judge appointed by Clinton. Other names bandied about include: Ellen Kagan and Kathleen Sullivan. With the Democrats controlling the Senate, Obama’s appointee will most likely sail through. In years past, Supreme Court Confirmation hearings have at times been the modern version of Bread and Circuses. One such hearing was that of Robert Bork.

The Bork hearings were so bad, so divisive, that a verb was created: Borked. Reagan had said of Bork, ” Judge Bork is recognized by his colleagues and peers as a brilliant legal scholar and a fair-minded jurist who believes his role is to interpret the law, not make it.” While that may have been true, Bork’s own opinions on a number of issues torpedoed any hope he had of being on the court. In what has been called “Originalism”, Bork is pretty close to a strict constructionist. If it is not in the Constitution, then it is not within the purview of a judge to be an “activist” judge. Bork felt that a judge should remain neutral at all times.

Among the decisions that Bork has blasted as groundless and unconstitutional: a seminal 1948 decision, Shelley v. Kraemer, that denied state courts the authority to enforce racially restrictive agreements between sellers and buyers; Griswold v. Connecticut, which in 1965 struck down a state law forbidding the use of contraceptives even by married couples; the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that extended the right of privacy to protect abortion; and the 1978 Bakke v. University of California decision that permitted affirmative action, though it disallowed strict racial quotas. Those rulings have reshaped American life — which is precisely Bork’s complaint. He accuses the recent court of liberal “judicial activism,” using its power to accomplish social goals that have eluded — or been opposed by — legislatures. His own philosophy, he claims, is based on fealty to “neutral principles,” the notion that judges should not formulate their legal principles based on the outcome they will produce in the particular case being heard. 1

Judiciary Chair Joe Biden, along with Ted Kennedy, lead the Senate in bringing down Bork by painting a picture of segregation being reinstated along with back alley abortions.

The end of Bork’s hearing was not the end of Bork however. He has written many books which have had an influence on the conservative thought of Scalia, Roberts, and even Clarence Thomas. While, Bork may not have had his nomination approved by the Senate, his influence on the modern court is ever present but it could be waning. And yes, he is still alive.

In the coming years, many of the Justices on the Supreme Court are approaching the end of their life terms. Roberts, whilst only in his 50s, has health issues. If given a chance, Obama’s greatest legacy could be the remaking of the Supreme Court. If somehow, Obama is re-elected in 2012, the chances double and the days of the conservative court will slowly fade for another 20 years.

Notes
1- Lacayo, Richard. “The Law According to Bork”. Time Magazine: September 21, 1987.

America’s Longest War: Vietnam or Afghanistan

Revolutionary War 1775-1781
War of 1812 1812-1815
Mexican- American War 1845-1848
Civil War 1861-1865
Spanish American War 1898
World War One 1917-1918
World War Two 1941-1945
Korea 1950-1953
Vietnam 1965-1973
Gulf War I 1991
Gulf War II 2003-2010
Afghanistan 2001- No end in sight

This fall will mark the eight year anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan by American Forces. That is a long time to be in a country and not to have accomplished the mission. The mission being the capture of Osama Bin Laden and the destruction of Al Qaeda. As one looks at the length of time spent in a single conflict, American Operations in Afghanistan are approaching Vietnam proportions with Vietnam like results. There are many similarities between the two conflicts and there are even more differences. But what matters in this comparison is will America get the job done in Afghanistan?

The Enemy

Vietnam: The enemies in Vietnam for the US were the Communists of North Vietnam. But that really is a simplified answer that doesn’t begin to explain who the enemy really was. The enemy in Vietnam really was a lack of education. For to understand the Vietnamese, you have to understand a thousand years of history. The Vietnamese were always an oppressed people. First the Chinese, then the French, throw in the Japanese during World War II, and then add the French back. All they wanted was a chance to run their own country. They even had tried during the Versailles Peace Treaty to gain their independence through peaceful means. The Big Four shot them down. After World War II, the French were once again placed in control of the region until a little battle at a place called Dien Bien Phu. It was after Dien Bien Phu that the Vietnamese thought they had won their independence fair and square just as the Americans had done at Yorktown. Lo and behold, in steps the UN and they split the country in two – a communist north and a democratic south. The north tried to take over the south and to aid the South, the US sent advisers, first under Eisenhower, and then up to 16,000 under Kennedy. But to understand who the enemy was, you could not tell walking down the streets of Saigon in 1962 or in 1968 for the enemy was all around. The so called Viet Cong wore no uniforms and they were everywhere. In the countryside, it was filled with peasant farmers by day, freedom fighters by night. Once again, no uniforms needed. This lack of knowing who the enemy was caused great consternation amongst the forces of the US.

Afghanistan: In Afghanistan, we know who the enemy is. We know where they are. We know where they are hiding. We know who is aiding them. Yet, we still cannot get the job done. Was Iraq a distraction in the real war on terror as Obama claimed? The answer is yes. For the last eight years, a small US contingent has been trying to prop and rebuild a country that really never recovered from its last invasion. Troops, supplies, and the attention of the US public has been diverted by Iraq from an enemy we know too much about. Unlike Vietnam, the Taliban are easily recognizable. They are not one thing then another. They are always the Taliban. They will always carry the weapon be it an AK-47 or a RPG. It is not that hard to identify them. However, when you look at the history of these people, they too have been a doormat for other cultures, armies, and civilizations. From Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to the British to the USSR, Afghanistan has always been in the way either going from Asia to Europe or from Europe going to Asia.

The Cause

Vietnam: The US claimed that its ships were fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. President Lyndon Johnson used this incident to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed enabling him to send combat forces to Vietnam without a declaration of war. Whether or not the US forces were actually fired upon remains up for debate (and maybe another post).

Afghanistan: Al Qaeda planned and carried out an attack against 4 targets in the United States on September 11, 2001. 3 of the targets were hit resulting in the loss of 2000+ American lives in Washington and New York City. Being that Al Qaeda’s base of operations were Afghanistan, President George W. Bush asked for the Taliban to give up Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. If they refused, the US would take them down as well. They refused and in October of 2001, the US began its conflict in Afghanistan.

The Terrain

Vietnam: Jungle, rice paddies, mountains, monsoon season. Caves litter the country side from years of fighting the Chinese Japanese and French.

Afghanistan: Mountains, mountains, mountains, and more mountains. Caves also are dug into the mountains from years of fighting invaders.

What Went Wrong

Vietnam: Pure and simple, the US leadership was not prepared to fight this war to win it. Maybe it was the philosophy of containing communism rather than defeating it, but more likely, it is the manner in which the war was strategically planned. What did in the US forces were four things.

1. The Ho Chi Minh Trail – traversing through Cambodia and Laos, this footpath was never destroyed as supplies and weapons poured into the Vietcong in the south. By constantly using large scale bombing run with airplanes, the North adapted the trail to avoid not only detection, but also to avoid being attacked.

2. History: The US State Department grossly underestimated the will of the enemy to fight as well as the history of the region.

3. Strategy: General Westmoreland has over 500,000 US forces in Vietnam. In fact, this should have been more than enough to secure the country. But due to tactical mistakes and blunders by the first two reasons on this list, American forces were basically fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. I don’t really know if there ever was a clear cut goal or strategy to actually defeat the North or whether the goal was just to defend the South. Either way, it does not matter as the powers that be messed this conflict up from the start.

4. Public Opinion: The US public, myself included, saw this war every night in the living room at 5:30. The leaders of the US said one thing, the images on TV and in Life magazine said another. After the images of Tet in 1968 poured into our consciousness, the war was over and un-winnable in the minds of many Americans. From photographers Eddie Adams and Don McCullin, the images of what was being said and what was happening on the ground did not fit.

Afghanistan: For the Bush administration, Afghanistan was never the high value target that Iraq was. Maybe it was unfinished business from 1991 in the minds of Bush, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, but the fact of the matter is this: They screwed the pooch. Money, manpower and resources in Afghanistan have never been the top billing or priority that Iraq was. Add in the factor that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have sympathetic allies in the villages of Pakistan, the eerie similarity of an Afghani Bin Laden Trail is evident. Whether or not Obama’s different strategy and priority towards Afghanistan will pay off can only be seen from the future.

As the eight year anniversary approaches this October, there is definitely no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, or an insurgency in its last throes. Afghanistan is most likely going to be America’s longest war and its most silent. Unlike Vietnam or Iraq, the press, the public, nor the past president have given it much attention. There are a lot of unknowns about Afghanistan but for me, it all hinges on Pakistan. For the first six years of the troubles, Pervez Musharraf was somewhat of an ally. Now, instability has creeped into northwest Pakistan as the Taliban have made inroads into the region. Could this conflict spread even further? Will the American public be willing to provide the money, resources, and soldiers willing to take out Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and will we have any allies to help us? These are some tough questions. I do not see any answers coming soon.

Shades of Pancho Villa

America’s greatest asset has always been what I call “The Big Pond Differential”; two oceans separate us from most of the world. For 233 years, the United States of America has existed with only one invasion of a foreign army upon our shores and that was in 1812. Since that time there have been the attacks on Pearl Harbor, September 11, 2001, and the one that time forget – Pancho Villa.

Today:

President Barack Obama Tuesday announced extra agents for the southern US border and vowed to staunch narcotics demand, as officials pledged full support for Mexico’s battle against drug cartels.

The White House vowed to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mexican President Felipe Calderon as his government confronts narcotics-linked violence that has claimed more than 1,000 lives so far this year.

“The president (Obama) is concerned by the increased level of violence … and the impact it is having on both sides of the border,” the White House said in a memo unveiling the new strategy.

“He believes that the United States must continue to monitor the situation and guard against spillover into the United States.”

Last year saw more than 5,300 killed in Mexico in drug-related bloodshed that experts say is fed by easy access to guns and drug profits in the United States.

It has been almost a 100 years since Porfirio Diaz was overthrown as the dictator in Mexico. From 1910-1920, the Mexican Government had more Presidents and assassinations than the French Revolution. From Madero to Huerta to Carranza to Obregon and other players like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, the Mexican Revolution tested aa_pershing_mexico_3_eWoodrow Wilson’s patience on many occasions. The US even took over the port of Vera Cruz and sent a “Punitive Expedition” after Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico. The expedition was a failure.

So, why did Pancho cross the border? To make a long story short, Pancho was upset at President Wilson. Wilson never took sides in the early years of the Revolution. He employed a policy called “Watchful Waiting”. This including seizing Vera Cruz to protect American oil interests in the region. But aside from that, Wilson did two other things as the Mexican Revolution/Mexican Civil War went on. First, he placed an arms embargo against selling arms to Mexico. He did not want to add more fuel to the fire. When 1916 came along, Carranza, with General Alvaro Obregon leading the way, had established control over the central portion of the country and over Villa in the north. Wilson had even acknowledged Carranza as the rightful President in October of 1915. Villa was not happy, nor was Zapata, with the methods, policies, and tactics of Carranza.

The problems of Mexico of 1910-1920 are still the problems of Mexico today. When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, an economic system called the “ecomienda” were set up. The land was divided up amongst the Spanish settlers and really hasn’t changed hands much in the last 500 years. Now it is known as the Hacienda system. The problem is consistent throughout Latin America.

Along come the cartels…
Just as in Columbia, the lure of easy money through drug trafficking has lead to violence throughout Mexico in recent months. Cartels are now running the show in several areas of Mexico. As the Mexican government tries to clean up the cartels and the drug trade, corruption, inside information/informants, and downright abhorrent violence are making it extremely hard. Hence, Obama has decided to beef up our presence along the border.

But questions remain: Can Mexico clean up its own mess? Will the US have to step in and help? Will it spill on to American soil? Or has the invasion already begun and we don’t know it yet? When we think of the world we are living in now, we are lucky to have never seen war on our soil in our lives. I would hate to see that. For Obama’s sake, and more importantly, for Mexico, I hope this gets cleaned up and soon or we could be facing a threat to our country which was not included on in the war on terror.

Harry S. Truman: Lessons for Obama

Not that my father has given me any grief, but Harry S. Truman is his favorite President. The former haberdasher is not my favorite executive, but he is not my least favorite either. For me, Truman is in my top ten…most likely at seven or eight (these things fluctuate you know). He is the perfect example of a president whose approval ratings have risen over the course of fifty-six years since he left office. They were the lowest of the lows until a certain chief executive just left office. But when you look at Truman, there a lot of similarities to look at between President Truman and President Obama. And I do mean A lot.

When FDR passed in April of 1945, Truman was a little known Vice-President, and before that he was a little known Senator from Missouri. He had served his country in World War I and had led the Truman Committee in the Senate which saved the government $15 billion. But aside from those two instances in the limelight, the world, or for that matter, FDR, hardly knew anything about him. The same can be said for Obama.

Other Similarities
1. Two Wars to Win – When Truman ascended to the Presidency, he was more shocked than anyone else. He inherited a 2 conflicts – one on it’s last legs; the other could take years. The War in Europe was just about over and American and Soviet troops has pushed into Germany and were knocking on Hitler’s bunker door. Within a month, Hitler would be dead and the US and Soviets would be dividing up the continent into free and communist states. The war against the Empire of Japan was not so easy. An invasion of the home islands could result in anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million American lives, and not to mention, the cost in Japanese lives. The only use of nuclear weapons in history occurred in August of 1945 when Truman saw an option to bring a quick end to the war. Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki consecutively did result in the surrender of the Japanese aboard the USS Missouri. For Obama, nuclear weapons are not an option. The War in Iraq is at an iffy stage. While the surge of 2008 proved to help matters in the region, the real help came in money paid to insurgents not to kill us. According to Thomas Ricks, that is the gamble that General Petraeus is counting on. After we  leave, who is to say the Iraqis don’t start killing each other again. As for Afghanistan, the Taliban have been digging in the mountains since the days of the Mujaheddin and the Soviet occupation – much like the Japanese were preparing to do before the bombs. I don’t know how you are gonna smoke them out. It didn’t work in Vietnam and it is doubtful to work in Afghanistan. The conflict in Afghanistan is something we may not see the end of for a long time. Part of me says, turn it over to the Pakistanis and Afghans but neither government is stable enough right now and may not be for a long time.

2. The Economy – Coming out of World War II, the biggest fear the American Public had was that they thought the country was going into another depression. Inflation took hold and Truman had to bite the bullet and attack things head on. Truman threatened to take over the railways if a strike by workers took place. He also told the workers they would be drafted if they went on strike.  Obama’s problems are a little different and probably a little worse. In 1946, there were no shortage of manufacturing jobs but the prices of post war goods and services that had been rationed for four years skyrocketed. In 2009, we are not dealing with inflated prices, but deflated homes. Obama could have the Treasury Department buy up $350 billion in home loans and renegotiate with each and every lender and lendee, but that could be an immense undertaking, a risky one, and ultimately a worthwhile one which would help stabilize the housing market.

3. Israel – In 1947, the newly set aside land for the Jews became embroiled when the British announced they were going to leave in 1948. Arab armies massed at the border, and in 1948, the state of Israel was born and for the last 60 years, a tenuous situation has ebbed and flowed in the Middle East with some nations refusing to even recognize the existence of Israel. Truman set the precedent of supporting Israel and every American President has followed suit. Now, the questions have not become whether Israel should exist but how much of it should be a Palestinian state and whether the two can co-exist. As for Obama, he has publicly stated his support for Israel, but I don’t know if he will let the leadership of Israel do whatever they please to the Palestinians. Special Envoy George Mitchell was Obama’s first choice, and one of his first tasks is to deal with both sides (notice the lack of Hillary in dealing with issue).

4. Kashmir/Pakistan/India – In 1947, India gained its independence from the British Empire. Soon, the partitioning of India resulted in bloody deaths and a conflict which has never really ended between the Pakistanis and the Indians over the territory of Kashmir. In the midst of a burgeoning Cold War, Truman and the US became allies with the Pakistanis and a tenuous relationship has existed for 60 years between the two nations. Now, add in that both sides have nuclear arsenals, the Mumbai attacks, Muslim extremism, and a weak Pakistani democracy, the situation is ripe for conflict. Where India has thrived in the global economy, Pakistan has not. The disparity of wealth is something Obama will have to deal with in all of the Muslim world, not just in Pakistan.

5. The Rabid Right - Truman was also bipartisan with his Republican brethren when it came to foreign affairs, but not so when it came to domestic ones. The same can be said for Obama. Although Obama has met with Republican leaders, the relationship is strained at best because of the passage or ARRA and the soon to be disbursement of the remaining TARP funds. In the late 40s and early 50s, the House Un-American Activities (HUAC) committee and later Senator Joseph McCarthy staged a series of congressional hearings on communism at home. It made stars out of many including HUAC member Richard Nixon and witness Ronald Reagan. Now, Rush Limbaugh, a star who has risen, fallen, been  to detox, lost weight and put it back on, is in a tizzy because of the $787 billion ARRA while he is OK with multi-trillion dollar spending deficit of the Bush regime…OK. I better stop here.

6. Farmers – Dr. Bruce Field has chronicled Truman’s relationship with the Farmers in his well researched and well written Harvest of Dissent. The farmers did not like Truman’s foreign policy and made no bones about telling him so. Unfortunately, the Korean War split the National Farmer’s Union into two camps. It did not stop farmers from being a political voice to be reckoned with. It is a little different today for Obama. No one has benefited more from the collapse of property values more than farmers. Not only are they happy they have to pay less taxes, they are happy that people still have to eat and that there are lots of people to eat. Where Obama and the farmers will clash in the coming years will be with regards to subsidies and also whether or not to continue subsidies for ethanol production. It should make for some interesting dialogue.

7. China – Of all of the criticism leveled at Truman during his tenure, none was more damaging than “How we lost China”. When Mao in the Communists sent Chiang Kai Shek across the sea to Taiwan, many in America were shocked at the outcome and at Truman. For Obama, the task is how to deal with China in a global economy and how they now control a large portion of our debt. It’s scary how the world works somedays.

8. Miscellaneous – The similarities are almost endless. You could throw in NATO, race relations, baseball, the Fair Deal (National Health Insurance), and how to use the UN to advance American Foreign Policy. It is almost like looking in/at a mirror.

Lessons for Obama from Harry Truman
1. Be who you are -
What my father most loves about Truman was that Truman was a tough little guy who didn’t seem to be changed by Washington. He was actually quite perturbed by it. He never spoke out of character, and he used his swear words judiciously -

“I fired him [MacArthur] because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President… I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”
—Harry S. Truman, quoted in Time magazine

How many Americans can call a World War II hero a dumb SOB and get away with it? But then again, I don’t have that high an opinion of MacArthur in the first place. But I digress…
2. The Buck Does Stop Here
Obama and no one else is responsible for the actions of his administration. Geithner’s press conference last week, or lack thereof, was a pithy way to say nothing. A President has to do more than that and the people deserve better.
3. A Lot of Pans on the Stove
Truman not only had a lot of things to deal with but many were at the same time and many were about the same two issues: Communism and the Economy. Obama may not like the fact that he has just about as many pans on the stove as Truman did between 1947-1950 but he can’t change the fact he does.
4. The Truman Doctrine

We can’t fight every war and not every war needs to be fought. But we can aid those in need and reshape the world to be our allies by our actions and their choice rather than by fear of our force.
I have no clue what an Obama Doctrine would look like at this point. The world is a much different place today than it was in 1946.
5. Right, Virtue, and Creativity
For all of Truman’s actions, they were done because they were the right thing to do and history has proved that Truman’s actions were just. He had to get a little creative at times to do them, but he did. From executive orders to airlifts to treaties to envoys, where there is a will to do right, you can always find a way.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush