THERE ARE GREAT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SUCCESSFUL FOREIGN POLICIES OF PRESIDENT HARRY S. TRUMAN AND THE POLICIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH
Several weeks ago, another gentleman in this chamber summarized an article from U.S. News and World Report, suggesting that George W. Bush deserved comparison to our great 33rd President, Harry S. Truman.
It has become fashionable in recent years to measure unpopular public officials, especially presidents, against Harry Truman because Truman maintained the courage of his convictions and did what he thought was right despite low standing in public opinion polls during his second term. By standing up to Communism around the world with the Doctrine that bears his name, and by aspects of his straightforward, plain-speaking personality, Truman developed a certain no-nonsense image that is commonly characterized by the slogan: “Give ’em hell, Harry,“ that arose from his 1948 campaign.
So now it seems that any time someone in the White House throws around a little bit of tough talk, it invites comparison to Truman.
But that is an overly simplistic view, which does not do justice to the sensitivity, the careful decision-making, and the good judgment in foreign affairs that Harry Truman exhibited time and time again. I have studied Truman closely and have long admired him, and not just because we share the same birth date and party affiliation.
Today, I thought it might be useful to review some of Truman’s foreign policy so that we can see how far away the current administration is from his legacy.
A good place to start would be a subject that first brought Truman to national prominence when he was a U.S. Senator – wasteful spending in the military.
An article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 2 of this year, titled “Taj Mahal by the Tigris” details plans by the Bush Administration to build what the paper describes as “a palatial new embassy” in Baghdad. It will be by far the largest American diplomatic facility in the world, and it raises serious questions about just how long Bush plans to keep our troops in Iraq. On a 104-acre site, the paper notes, it will “require a small army just to defend the place.” It will have 21 buildings with space for 8,000 U.S. personnel. By comparison, the current embassy in Iraq has a staff of about 1,000.
The U.S. is making sure this project gets finished, even though the Bush Administration is letting down the Iraqi population that we are supposedly there to help. Other projects, like many of the 150 health clinics we were going to build, have been abandoned. Parade Magazine reported two Sundays ago that people in the capital city of Baghdad have electricity just four hours per day. Prior to our invasion, they had it 16-24 hours per day.
The cost of our new embassy will be at least $592 million, although probably more, since the original estimate was $1.3 billion. And it is no surprise that the contractor is a politically connected Kuwaiti firm.
Harry Truman probably would not have stood for such a thing, or for rich no-bid contracts to companies such as Haliburton, or for the lack of adequately armored Humvees, or for the lack of body armor that our troops had to endure at the outset of the Iraq war.
In the early days of World War II, Senator Truman heard some stories about what was going on with our military procurement, so he got in his car by himself and drove to defense installations all over the country, where he discovered rampant waste and mismanagement that not only cost taxpayers money, but that put the lives of our soldiers at risk.
His investigation of Army Camp Building alone resulted in $250 million in savings in 1940s dollars. One example was right down the road. He discovered that Fort Indiantown Gap cost 10 times its original estimate. All over the country, contactors were making in a few months what they usually made in a year for the same amount of work. He also turned up enormous problems in production, in areas such as ship building, armaments and planes. He found evidence of poor planning, bad administration and shoddy work.
He came back to Washington, informed President Franklin Roosevelt, then went to the Senate and asked to chair a committee that would formally investigate wartime spending.
The result was the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which everyone in the country came eventually to call the Truman Committee.
He was of the same political party as the president. In time, many people urged FDR to find excuses to get rid of the committee by claiming it was slowing preparations and hurting the war effort. But FDR refused, believing that Truman’s work was, in fact, essential to the war effort.
That is the sort of non-partisan approach that is sorely needed in Washington today. Imagine this Congress appointing a committee to investigate the Bush Administration’s handling of the war, or the contracts it has doled out to Halliburton.
The Truman Committee saved many American lives, saved billions of dollars, and put Harry on the cover of Time Magazine during the middle of the war in1943.
After he became president, Truman faced international crisis after crisis. In every case, unlike the current administration, he did his utmost to avoid war, or when it proved unavoidable, to keep it as limited as possible.
History now recognizes the Truman Doctrine as America standing up for freedom around the world, but its fundamental principle was “containment” of Soviet Communism, not efforts to instigate new wars. He considered the Cold War mainly a war of nerves. In a note to Eleanor Roosevelt as the postwar tension between the U.S. and Soviets deepened, he wrote: “Patience, I think, must be our watchword if we are to have world peace.” He was tough with the Soviets, but he never tried to provoke a shooting war. And by the way, his policies of the late 1940s set America on the long course to victory, and he deserves as much credit for winning the Cold War without a shot being fired as Ronald Reagan does.
He could easily have gone to war when the Soviet Union blocked access to the three Western-held sectors of Berlin, in East Germany, on June 24, 1948. No supplies could go in or out, and two and a half million people in those sectors of Berlin faced starvation within a month. Some of his advisors and generals suggested to Truman that the Allies should force their way from West Germany into Berlin with an armored convoy, and that they should be prepared to fight if challenged. But Truman rejected that idea, because of the risk of war. Instead, he ordered the Berlin Airlift, which his biographer, David McCullough, called “One of the most brilliant American achievements of the postwar era and one of Truman’s proudest decisions.” The city was supplied until Moscow granted access again almost a year later. Through the patience that he had written about to Eleanor Roosevelt, Truman made the Soviets back down.
Of course, we did get into a major military conflict during Truman’s term in office, the Korean War. Our involvement was in response to an all-out invasion of South Korea by communists from the North. Truman acted to check aggression against one of our allies by another country. It was much closer to what Bush’s father did in 1991 in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait than it was to George W. Bush starting a war by invading Iraq.
Truman bottomed out in the polls during the Korean War, after he fired General Douglas MacArthur. For those who might be tempted to draw inaccurate comparisons between Truman’s foreign policy and Bush’s invasions of Iraq, it might be of interest to examine why he fired Macarthur. It was because MacArthur consistently agitated for escalation of the war in Korea to a larger one with China. MacArthur privately advocated dropping atomic bombs on Communist Chinese cities. He issued his own public proclamation designed to arouse greater hostility among the Chinese, thus undermining a ceasefire proposal that Truman was planning to offer. MacArthur sought to bring Chiang Kai-shek’s troops into the conflict, another act sure to provoke a wider war with Communist China. But Truman did not want a larger war, and he relieved MacArthur for insubordination, at great political cost to himself.
When Truman took the U.S. into Korea, he asked for and received the support of the United Nations. It is true that the Soviets could not veto the action because they had walked out earlier in protest of another issue, but the essential point is this: Truman had most nations of the world behind his entry into Korea, unlike our invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Harry Truman had respect for the United Nations, and nations of the world had respect for Truman and the United States.
As early as 1943, when he was a highly regarded Senator, he went around the country talking about the need for an association of united nations after the war.
His very first decision as president, moments after he was sworn in, was to go forward with the plans that were already underway for a conference on the creation of the UN. He proudly mentioned that cornerstone decision in his farewell address to the nation when he left the presidency to return to Independence Missouri in 1953. In his first address to Congress after becoming president, just two days after the death of FDR, he called for the creation of “a strong and lasting” United Nations.
This is the very same United Nations that George Bush and many other conservatives ridiculed and thumbed their noses at when the U.N. would not support our invasion of Iraq.
Unlike George W. Bush, Harry Truman understood the importance of international cooperation. The Marshall Plan, to relieve the enormous suffering in a devastated Europe at the end of Word War II, was done in that spirit. Although we were already eyeing Russia suspiciously as our global adversary, Truman and Secretary of State George Marshall extended an invitation to Russia to participate. Stalin refused, but Truman had understood the benefit to America’s place in the world of not appearing to be acting alone, and of not arousing suspicion of our agenda in Europe.
Truman recognized that the key to confronting the Soviet Empire, and to the ultimate success of the Truman Doctrine, was international cooperation. That was why he insisted, as a key part of his foreign policy, that the U.S. become an integral part of international institutions such as the U.N., the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and NATO.
Those organizations, coupled with the Marshall Plan, increased America’s moral legitimacy around the world, which Truman knew was essential to building alliances that would help us protect our own national security. George W. Bush has done just the opposite – he has weakened America’s moral legitimacy in the international community.
Maybe Harry Truman was reluctant to go to war over Berlin, and maybe he was reluctant to escalate the conflict in Korea, and maybe he had a more sober attitude toward war than the current Commander in Chief, because he himself had been in combat. That’s another distinction that George W. Bush and Dick Cheyney don’t share with Truman.
Truman personally knew of the horrors of war, because during World War I, he commanded an artillery battery. He had seen young men killed. He had seen the mangled bodies of soldiers. He had heard the screams and cries of the wounded.
We continue to lose more of our young men and women today, but in an unnecessary war that we should not have started.
The latest National debate being framed by Karl Rove is that those who want to get us out of the war in Iraq are the “cut and run” Democrats. And he would rather “stay the course”. His position, while attempting to wrap himself in the usual patriotic rhetoric, is not resonating well with his Republican members who are taking heat from the American public for this insane war. The answer, Madam President, is neither “cut and run” nor “stay the course”! The answer, Madame President is that America needs a new leader, in the mold of Harry Truman, who will give this country a new strategy to get us out of the quagmired mess that George W. Bush got us into.
The American military death toll now is 2,519. Another 18,356 have been wounded.
Among the dead are two more men from Pennsylvania:
1st Lieutenant Robert A. Seidel 3rd, 23, of Gettysburg, died on May 18 in Baghdad, Iraq, from injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Private First Class Steven W. Freund, 20, of Pittsburgh, died May 23, while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar province. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Thank you, Madam President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo