Jewish World Review August 25, 2004 / 8 Elul, 5764

William McKenzie

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Bush could profit from being like Ike | As he readies himself for the GOP convention and the themes that will guide his fall campaign, I suggest President George W. Bush step back into his party's history. Not too far back, only to the Eisenhower era. The general-president had a pragmatic idealism that served his nation and the world. It could benefit President Bush as well.

Some critics on the right and left see our current president as a rigid idealist, more Woodrow Wilson than Dwight Eisenhower. That may sound odd since George W. Bush and Woodrow Wilson hail from different parties. Nevertheless, writers like columnist Doug Bandow have made the connection. In American Conservative magazine in December, he wrote, "President George W. Bush has made Woodrow Wilson the guiding spirit of Republican foreign policy. A candidate who criticized nation building now pursues global social engineering."

That may be a stretch, but both presidents certainly came to office religious to the core. And their moral idealism shaped their view of the world. Hence, Wilson's championing of the League of Nations. Hence, Bush's push to dump Saddam Hussein.

President Wilson's unwillingness to bend caused the League of Nations to falter, of course. President Bush may want to remember that point. An unflinching sense of right and wrong may not always work to his favor. And that sense is what bothers some on Capitol Hill and in world capitals.

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Loyal Bushites will say they've heard this a million times before and scoff at the grumbling. But the frustration the White House has created has given John Kerry an opening to offer himself as the leader who can make things right with our friends.

That's why I suggest President Bush look back to the Eisenhower model. Dwight Eisenhower was military tough. But he succeeded in World War II because of his shrewd political skill. He moved a fussy coalition toward the goal of stopping Adolf Hitler. He kept the Allies marching toward that aim amidst sharp disagreements. Ike understood we needed a team to beat Hitler.

The West Point grad kept that sense of balance about him as president. His historian grandson David Eisenhower made a point in an interview several years ago with this journalist that applies as much now as to the 1950s.

"The tone of the Eisenhower administration, even down to his farewell address, is the restraint of American power," he said. "We had overwhelming advantages, and Eisenhower urged mutual respect and balance for the sake of converting that temporary advantage to our long-term benefit."

In today's world, respect and restraint - those kinds of words - are known as "soft power." And the administration's tough guys frown upon them. They like "hard power" and its flexed muscles.

But listen to what David Eisenhower was saying. His grandfather knew we had all the power in the world. We didn't need allies for running buddies. We needed them for our own benefit. They could help down the road.

That's why a little restraint today - heavens, diplomacy - makes sense. We may have plenty of military might, but we still need friends to help us win the war against terrorism.

I have hope that Bush understands this. "It's important for America to set the right tone in the world," he told me during the 2000 campaign. "Our role requires building relationships." Much has happened since that interview, but Bush was putting some of that into practice earlier this summer, trekking from one allied meeting to the next. And last week in Wisconsin he said he values alliances.

But Americans need to see more of a pragmatic idealism, especially if there is a second Bush term. In fact, getting a second Bush term may depend upon his ability to show skeptics he has an Eisenhower streak in him. If I were George Bush, I'd be thinking a lot about Ike before I head to New York.

William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.