Politics Stop at the Water’s Edge
Would that be true today, but it was true for a brief moment from 1945-1949 when Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg worked hand-in-glove with President Harry Truman to craft a revolution in American foreign policy. Lawrence Haas, a former communications director to Vice President Al Gore, tells the story about a partnership that ended a century and a half policy of isolation and turned the United States towards a policy of full-throated internationalism. All of this was done against a back drop of highly partisan domestic politics. Recall that Harry Truman called the Republican Congress of 1946-1948 the “do nothing Congress” all the while the Republicans were over-riding his vetoes on labor and tax legislation.
Not only did Vandenberg work with Truman directly, he had very cordial working relationships with Secretaries of State Stettinius, Marshall and Acheson and the very influential Under-Secretary Robert Lovett. So important was Vandenberg’s role was the Truman placed him on the U.S. delegation to the founding United Nations conference in San Francisco in 1945. Truman clearly did not want to make Wilson’s mistake by failing to appoint any Republicans to Versailles conference a quarter of a century before. At the conference Vandenberg was the author of Article 51 which enabled defensive military alliances outside of the United Nations. That article paved the way for the Rio Pact in 1947 and, more importantly, NATO in 1949.
What Truman and Vandenberg wrought was the United Nations in 1945, the Greek Turkish Aid Act of 1947 which was a direct product of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan of 1948 and NATO in 1949. All of this was accomplished as the United States policy makers were coming to grips with a very aggressive Soviet Union in the early phase of the Cold War. Both Truman and Vandenberg recognized that Britain was done as a major power and only the United States had the ability to protect Europe and its periphery. Having the power is one thing, having the will is another? The alliance Truman and Vandenberg forged provided the will. Furthermore Vandenberg not only provided policy ideas, he shepherded the necessary legislation through the Congress.
The bipartisan era ended with China falling to the Communists in 1949 and the Korean War that followed in 1950. By then McCarthyism was on the rise and Vandenberg was dying of cancer. A return to bipartisanship would have to wait for Eisenhower’s arrival in 1953.
The lessons for today are obvious as Haas points out. With the United States under President Obama engaged in a strategic retreat from the world, there is no power present to take its place. When Britain retreated the United States was there. Thus without the United States’ will to act the world has become a more dangerous place. Where are a Truman and a Vandenberg when we need them again? I would recommend this book to all of the members of Congress and those who are now running for President. I don’t know whether it would help, but it is worth a try.
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