American Presidents and Foreign Policy 8-2-2011

I have had the distinct pleasure of hosting Michael Cohen on my show The Advocates over the past few years. I read with interest his piece regarding who were the best and the worst foreign policy presidents.

First of all no one could disagree with FDR being number one. From his warnings regarding the threat from the totalitarians in his 1937 Quarantine Speech, to his battle against the America First isolationists and appeasers, to his embargo of critical material to Japan, to his excellent strategy regarding Germany First, FDR was a master of judgment, strategy and negotiation. He kept the Allied coalition together; he selected excellent commanders on both land and sea, and was willing to forget ideology with regard to his cabinet (Stimson, Knox) and with the creation of the OSS (Donovan). He was the central force behind all of critical meetings from the Quebec Conference, to Casablanca to Teheran and through to Yalta. At the end he was the creator of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Conference on Monetary reform was critical to the post war economic structure. He had a problem with the London Monetary Conference on gold, but scored high marks regarding his Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America.

Truman had a distinct disadvantage following FDR, but he gets high marks for continuing his policies. His decision to drop the A-Bomb was correct and even though it is impossible to know for sure, I believe FDR would have come to the same conclusion. The Marshall Plan, NATO and the Truman Doctrine give him high marks along with the firing of the recalcitrant MacArthur. MacArthur’s invasion at Inchon and his run up north to the Yalu River was not wrong-headed or against Truman’s directives. The problem was his failure to heed warnings regarding China’s motives that were clearly given him and his poor dispersal of his troops. Truman and the US were almost helpless in regards to the Chinese Civil War, which was almost decades old by 1945. Though FDR did not trust the corrupt Chiang Kai-Shek he was able to work with him because of the Japanese threat to the existence of an independent China, but after the war, Truman was stuck with a loser.

Eisenhower was an overrated president who made many foreign policy mistakes. His going to Korea didn’t change the dynamic of the truce, but it put a lie to the baseless and oft used Republican political cry of, “who lost China?” He was not well enough to be an active engaged president and he failed with the Suez Crisis, and after being bluffed by the Soviets, he let down our allies; the British, French, and yes the Israelis. He embargoed arms to Israel, and also did not capitalize on the aborted Hungarian Revolution. He was embarrassed at the summit over the U2 Incident, and was upstaged by the bellicose Khrushchev. His South American policies reversed excellent relationships developed by FDR’s successful Good Neighbor policies. (Nixon’s disastrous trip to South America in 1958.) He also fouled up the Vietnam situation by not recognizing Ho Chi Minh’s efforts against the Japanese, underestimated their aspirations for a unified country, and half-heartedly supported the French colonial rule, which FDR opposed. The CIA’s coup and their replacing Mossadegh with the Shah in Iran set the stage for long-term problems that have not ended. He allowed the ascendency of Castro, and the planning for the Bay of Pigs.

George HW Bush, deserved high marks for creating the coalition against Saddam Hussein, but failed miserably in the end. His failure to destroy the Baathist regime set the stage for the next round of warfare, which we are still entangled. Over all he was an uninspiring leader who achieved his office by the “Peter Principle.” His allowing Sadaam the use of helicopters enabled him to put down revolts in 90% of the provinces that resisted his totalitarian rule. He was generally seen as ineffectual and naïve.

Wilson’s policy of organizing our first effort as a real world power succeeded. His selection of Pershing was excellent and our effort won the war. But his inability to compromise with Senate “irreconcilables” led to his political failure. He gets high marks for the Fourteen Points, the World Court and the League of Nations, but underestimated the virulence of the Allies toward Germany and the opposition here to foreign entanglements. Conservative German-American revisionist historians in the 1920’s did a lot to sully Wilson’s efforts.

Lyndon B. Johnson forgot FDR’s adage on “guns and butter,” was sucked into the “who lost China” canard by the GOP, and fought an insincere foolish war. According to Art Buchwald, the late humorist and journalist, he could have bought off the North Vietnamese for a fraction of the cost of the war. His policies of containment followed the Truman model, but were unachievable because unlike Korea, Vietnam was not a peninsular and the Ho Chi Minh Trail could outflank our forces by going through Laos and Cambodia. He wasted blood and treasure in an unwinnable effort. As to his other actions, they paled in comparison.

Nixon politically exploited the Vietnam War with his “secret plan” for victory in the same way Eisenhower did in Korea. Nixon’s efforts in Vietnam were worse than Johnson’s. He allowed more of our forces to be killed, he spent more money, and he caused more damage to the region. As to China and the USSR he certainly opened the door to a different level of negotiation. But few people remember that it was Nixon whose Senatorial career and advice to Eisenhower as Vice-President was to not recognize Red China. It was that policy that delayed normalization with them. He supported the failed Eisenhower policy of supporting the French before the Dien Bien Phu defeat. Basically he was a paranoid hypocrite who spent the last years of his life rationalizing his whole disastrous career.

As to JFK being in the top five, that conclusion is disputable. He allowed the Berlin Wall to be built; he aligned himself with the corrupt Catholic minority in Vietnam, organized their downfall and was indecisive about how to handle that country. His “Ich Bin Ein Berliner,” speech got high marks, his South America policy was better than Eisenhower’s and he was able to be well-liked in Europe and the 3rd World. His efforts on Nuclear Arms limitations deserve high marks, but his shortened presidency left too many unanswered questions about the future. His actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis after the disaster with the Bay of Pigs deserve very high marks.

Carter was a poor president and his failure with the Iranian Hostage Crisis showed his weakness, but at least they were released alive. We were sucked into the Iranian Revolution by our past support of the corrupt Shah, and Carter’s ambivalence and his dalliance with him started the mess with the Iranian Mullahs and militants. But, he did get high marks regarding Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty.

Clinton’s foreign policy was under-rated with strong successes in Haiti, Northern Ireland, ending the Balkan War and containing Sadaam Hussein with relatively inexpensive air containment.

Reagan was overrated on foreign policy. The fall of the Soviet Union was on the way long before the expensive and unnecessary 600 ship navy and the foolish “Star Wars” expenditure. The revolt at Gdansk along with liberalization of Hungary which opened the door to the West for East Germany refugees set the stage for the USSR’s collapse.

George W. Bush was our worst president, home and abroad, enough said.

Top Five: FDR, Truman, Clinton, Wilson, and JFK. The bottom five: GW Bush, GHW Bush, Eisenhower, LBJ and Carter.

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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

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