Essays on American politics and foreign policy
By Donald E. Nuechterlein
Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist
and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the
author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy,
- Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
- America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
- A Cold War Odyssey, 1997
LECTURE: THE PERILS OF THE SECOND TERM: GEORGE BUSH AND IRAQ
(Delivered at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge, January 18, 2006)
Every second term president since 1945 has had a foreign policy crisis
- Truman, elected after serving out Roosevelt's fourth term, could not
end the Korean War. By 1952 his approval rating had sunk to 22%, and he
chose not to seek reelection.
- Eisenhower faced a crisis in US-Soviet relations in 1960, when
Nikita Khrushchev broke off negotiations after downing a U-2 spy plane. Ike's
approval rating sank from 60% to 49% by the time he left office.
- Johnson was elected after serving out Kennedy's term, but he could
not end the Vietnam War. In 1968 his public approval had dropped to 36%
and, like Truman, he decided not to seek reelection.
- Nixon engendered the public's and Congress' wrath for not
withdrawing quickly from Vietnam, and continued to bomb after 1973. With
impeach- ment pending and an approval rating of 25%, he resigned in
- Reagan faced an Iran-Contra crisis in Congress in 1986-87 and might
have been impeached. But his public approval rose to 64% in 1988 after he
admitted mistakes, and after he improved relations with Moscow.
- Clinton encountered public and congressional opposition in 1999 over
his handling of the Kosovo war. But its early conclusion and the Senate's
refusal to support his ouster gave him a 65% approval rating in
Significantly, each president, except Reagan, saw the opposition party win
the White House in the next general election.
- In 1952 Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson
- In 1960, John Kennedy defeated Vice President Richard Nixon
- In 1968, Nixon defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey
- In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford who served out Nixon's term
- Reagan was the exception: in 1988 Vice Pres. Bush beat Michael Dukakis
- But, in 2000, George W. Bush defeated Vice President Al Gore
Composition of Congress was a factor in the fate of some presidents
- Not Truman: Democrats had a majority in both House and Senate in 1952
- But with Eisenhower, Democrats held both the House and Senate in 1960
- Not Johnson, as Democrats retained control of both houses in 1968
- Ford faced a hostile Senate and a House in 1976
- Reagan lost control of the Senate in 1987, as Democrats held the House
- Clinton had to cope with Republicans in control of both houses after 1994
Two observations about second term presidents who engage in wars
First, presidents who launch limited wars have up to three years to
end them, otherwise the public concludes the costs outweigh the benefits.
- This was true of Truman in Korea, Johnson in Vietnam, and
Nixon on withdrawal from Vietnam.
- Reagan began end to the Cold War in 1985, with Gorbachev's help
Second, most presidents need at least the Senate, or House, controlled
by their political party, in order to launch a limited war.
- Truman and Johnson had Democrats in control of both houses.
- Nixon had neither the Senate nor House, and he faced impeachment.
- Reagan lost the Senate in 1986 (House was already Democrat) and
might have been impeached. But his apology on the Iran-Contra affair and high
public approval saved his presidency.
- Clinton lost both houses in 1994 and was hampered in dealing with
Iraq in 1998, and Al Qaeda's bombings of two US embassies. But high approval
ratings overcame Republican efforts to impeach him.
Finally, what is the prognosis for George Bush's second term?
- Unlike his predecessors, Bush's Iraq crisis began in the first term. His
reelection in 2004 provided a chance to recoup a failed Iraq strategy.
We are coming up on three years since his launch of the Iraq War.
- Bush's success depends on whether Republicans retain control of the Senate
and House after the November elections. His plan to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq
is motivated, in part, by this political consideration.
- Public disaffection with the costs of Iraq poses a large question mark.
But the strong U.S. economy--low inflation and unemployment--helps him
- Public concern about domestic surveillance and lobbying corruption is
growing and could affect the outcome of Republican congressional seats
- 2007-08 shapes up as a crucial challenge for George Bush's political
skills: whether he can replicate Ronald Reagan's achievement by electing a
nominee of his party to succeed him in the White House.
Are second-term presidents inhibited in dealing with foreign crises by their so-called "lame duck" status?
James MacGregor Burns, the noted presidential historian, penned an article
recently (New York Times January 8) titled: "No More Second-Term Blues."
He proposes repealing the 22nd Amendment that limits a president to
two- terms, in order to avoid the "lame duck" effect on the second term. Is this
a prudent way to enhance a president's ability to conduct effective foreign
policy in the second term?
File last modified on Sunday, 22-JAN-2006 08:03 PM EST