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The Presidency: History Repeats Itself

     By a strange coincidence, C-Span broadcast the program on Eisenhower in its American Presidents series at the same time that C-Span 2 was broadcasting the speech in which Pat Buchanan announced that he planned to run for the presidency on the Reform ticket.
     The Eisenhower program, broadcast from the Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas, was as usual, excellent. It featured Daniel Holt, Director of the Center, and Geoffrey Perret, the author of a new book on Ike. As usual, the weakness from the WAIS viewpoint was insufficient stress on international affairs, even though Ike joined the Republican Party and agreed to run for President in order to block the candidacy of isolationist Robert Taft. There was a reference to Latin America. Perret, who spoke very well, described Ike´s overthrow of the Arbenz regime in Guatemala as a mistake.
     Before the Roosevelt Good Neighbor policy, the U.S. had repeatedly intervened in Latin America with disastrous results. Ike reverted to that policy against Arbenz, a democrat with Communist friends, who promoted land reform. Ike feared that land reform might spread and hit Nicaragua, dominated by U.S. ally, Dictator Somoza. The program mentioned Ike´s brother Milton Eisenhower (the two were extremely close), but it did not say that Milton was an important influence in Ike´s Latin American policy.
     Above all, the program made no mention of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was behind the Guatemalan policy. I was in Guatemala just after the coup which overthrew Arbenz. The public affairs office of United Fruit invited me to a party at his house. Afterwards he mysteriously took me to his be room and pulled from a drawer a document which allegedly proved that the coup had been engineered by Castillo Armas at the barracks next to the presidential palace.
     The next day I examined the layout of the barracks, and decided that this story made no sense. I went to the PR's office and told him so. To my amazement, he expressed surprise that I had fond out, and he admitted that the document was a forgery.
     After that I was at the conference of the Organization of American States meeting in Caracas. At the plenary session, I was sitting on the stage from which Dulles made his speech expressing support for the overthrow of Arbenz. The assembled heads of state applauded loudly, expecting that Dulles would then announce that he was going to give them large bounty allegedly to fight communism. Instead, he apologized because a meeting in Brazil prevented his remaining, and he stalked out of the hall. General dismay.
     Pat Buchanan's speech in Falls Church, Virginia was received with enthusiasm. It was a mirror image of the Ike story. He moved out of the Republican Party because it was internationalist. He sounded like Taft reborn, except that he was a much better speaker. Indeed, he sounded more intelligent and informed than George W. Bush or any of the other candidates. Many of his points were well taken. He deemed that the U.S. was accepting immigrants from Latin America faster than it could absorb them and transform them into good citizens. Damning multinational corporations, he sounded like the workingman's candidate, and he clearly struck a responsive note. This should be said because commentators have dismissed him as a madman.
     At the same time, his old-fashioned isolationism sounded unrealistic in the modern world. He did not name the United Nations, but he clearly has no use for it or for its affiliates like the World Trade Organization. He would clearly earn the hostility of most of the world. That would not bother him, but it would bother me and I imagine most WAISers. He would undo the work of many enlightened presidents from Woodrow Wilson on. Progress?

Ronald Hilton - 10/25/99