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, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997

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Donald Nuechterlein

1952 and 2016: ELECTIONS THAT CHANGED AMERICA'S DIRECTON

NOVEMBER 2016

Many who voted for Hillary Clinton November 8 haven't recovered from the shock of Donald Trump winning the White House, even though she won in the national vote. Protests continue in many cities and some even declared themselves "sanctuaries" for illegal residents.

What happened in 2016 resembles what occurred in the 1952 election when voters decided they wanted change in Washington and brought Republicans back to power after twenty years of Democratic rule. This year, enough voters in mid-western states who wanted change in Washington decided that Clinton would continue Obama's policies for another four years.

1952 election

Those of us old enough to vote in 1952 recall the major foreign and fiscal policy changes the Republicans campaigned on. The election result was not close, primarily because the party chose a war hero, Dwight Eisenhower, to be their candidate. Democrats picked Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois who, like Barack Obama, was a fine orator and intellectual who appealed to educated voters. He was no match, however, for Eisenhower who commanded allied forces that defeated Nazi Germany in 1945.

In 1952, the Republican Party was deeply split between conservatives who wanted to roll back Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs (including Social Security) and adopt an isolationist foreign policy, and moderates who wanted to defend America's commitments to Western Europe in the face of Soviet threats to undermine their governments. Eisenhower won the nomination in the hotly-contested Republican convention in the summer over Senator Robert Taft of Ohio.

When Republicans took over Washington in January 1953, few Americans had any doubts that major changes in policy were on the way.

By 1953 I had worked for a year in the State Department when its secretary, Dean Acheson, managed the country's foreign policy, despite wild charges by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy that the department was "riddled with Communists."

Acheson was replaced as secretary by John Foster Dulles, a serious, hard-liner who had been a foreign policy adviser to both Democratic and Republican leaders who favored a robust policy to counter Moscow's political and military pressure on Western Europe.

I recall a cold February morning in Washington in 1953 when department employees gathered in a parking lot adjacent to State Department headquarters to hear what our new boss had to say. Mr. Dulles soon appeared at the podium, spoke into a microphone, and declared (I'm paraphrasing here): "The new administration will bring about major changes in our foreign policy, and I expect all our employees to show positive loyalty in carrying out your responsibilities." A colleague looked stunned and blurted out: "He's questioning my loyalty?"

There were certainly major changes in foreign policy, including harsh anti-Communist and anti-Soviet propaganda, and a major strengthening of U.S. strategic forces to cope with Moscow's development of nuclear weapons. Eisenhower also threatened Moscow with a major escalation of war in Korea unless it forced North Korea to agree on a permanent cease-fire. He later negotiated a "d├ętente" relationship with new Soviet leaders who had succeeded Joseph Stalin, and this greatly reduced Cold War tensions.

2017 realities

Donald Trump faces foreign policy challenges similar to those Eisenhower and Dulles dealt with, for example: how to deal with an aggressive Moscow, how to confront a nuclear North Korea, how to counter an Iranian regime that tries to expand its influence over the entire Persian Gulf area. In addition, Trump must deal with a resurgent China that aims to establish its hegemony over East Asia at the expense of American power and influence in the region.

It's too early, in my view, to judge how Donald Trump will conduct his foreign policy. His appointments of secretaries of state, defense, and treasury will give us a clearer idea of where his policy is headed. We should also appreciate that the Senate must approve all Trump's cabinet choices, and it's doubtful that Republican senators will simply rubber stamp his selections. In the meantime, especially before January 20, it would be prudent to stay calm and let the democratic process of its checks-and-balances do its job.

File last modified on Monday, 28-NOV-2016 10:42 AM EST

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