Obama and Eisenhower, War and Lattes
Barack Obama and Dwight D. Eisenhower seem as different as war and peace, a pair set off by Obama's casual "latte salute" on leaving Marine One.
Eisenhower and Obama are juxtaposed in time, too. Eisenhower, then the oldest president, left office in 1961, the year Obama was born. In place, they share prairie roots. Eisenhower grew up on a Kansas farm. Obama's origins go back to Kansas.
Like war and peace, yes sir, but history is up to its tricks again.
Eisenhower, the five-star hero of his West Point generation, was elected as a warrior. The presidency was all he ran for. Yet the Republican famously championed peace in his farewell.
On the other hand, Obama campaigned as prince of peace and won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year as president. The rare honor did not suit him. The president just started a war in Iraq and Syria. He defended airstrikes at the United Nations, seeking support: "We come together at a crossroads between war and peace."
Let's hope he's right. However, the world community may hold its applause at our third war against Iraq, remembering the WMD speech Colin Powell gave the last time around.
The coffee cup salute Obama gave stirred a thousand spoons and knives. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander on D-Day, would not have made that snafu. But nor would people, including the Marines, fuss about Eisenhower — "Ike" to you and me. In general, people looked up to him.
Eisenhower looked like a genial grandfather. But Ike commanded respect, angered easily and belonged to an elite culture where his orders were obeyed. In command and control, he knew what was up.
"He hated wasting time and would terminate conversations, not because he was rude, but because there was always something more to be done," author Evan Thomas wrote in "Ike's Bluff."
It's hard to believe in these polarized times, but the sunny slogan rang true then: "I Like Ike."
"Everything he did was automatically wonderful," James Reston, Washington editor of The New York Times, observed.
Even though Eisenhower was fighting a war — the Cold War — he calmly presided over things moving right along. Nobody minded how much golf Ike played — and he played much more than Obama.
Father Knows Best. Likable Ike made it through life without a latte.
Peace and prosperity defined the Eisenhower era. The interstate highways were built and the new suburban dream was within reach for thousands, if not millions, of households. As we look back on that decade, the '50s may seem conformist, goody-goody and too easily led on witch hunts for Communists.
But at least Eisenhower got the respect he deserved. Obama deserves more respect than he gets. They each tended to govern from the middle, so the tone of public discourse is about us, not them. Make that "discoarse."
The war and peace contrast remains. It's harder to tell what made Obama become a "war president" than what bent Ike toward the arc of peace.
Days before his years in the Oval Office ended, Eisenhower addressed the nation, warning of a burgeoning "military-industrial complex."
As the Cold War got underway, as president, Ike witnessed — and did much to enhance — the arms industry. He golfed with rich friends who made tanks, missiles and other death machinery for a living.
Yet the trumpet call could not have been clearer, urging "disarmament in the nuclear age," Thomas wrote.
The old general spoke like a prophet. War was "theft" from society and future generations. Shedding his invincible skin, he said, "As one who has witnessed the horror and lingering sadness of war ... I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight."
The message is not a paradox. People who hate war the most know what it's really like. Didn't a Civil War general say, war is hell?
Obama does pretty well as commander-in-chief, with the Pentagon brass wary of one more desert war. But he has never seen war up close. Always a civilian, he may step more lightly on the military side of the line.
Make that a skinny latte salute.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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