Thursday, May 9, 2013

Eisenhower—America’s Worst President

The U.S. and Iran

Since April 1980, the United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis ensured that decades of good relations between the two nations would come to an abrupt and hostile end. Things have remained the same for the last 33 years. But the seeds of discontent in Iran were planted decades before in a blundering foreign-policy mistake made by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican president: the CIA-backed coup d’état against a democratically elected leader, installing Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī in his place. As George Jochnowitz writes: “Eisenhower overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the legally elected Prime Minister of Iran, and installed the Shah in his place. He ended a parliamentary system and replaced it with a monarchy, which, like all monarchies, ignored the views of the public. A revolution later overthrew the Shah and created a theocracy with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at its head.”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be very grateful to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the legally elected Prime Minister of Iran, and installed the Shah [Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī] in his place. He ended a parliamentary system and replaced it with a monarchy, which, like all monarchies, ignored the views of the public. A revolution later overthrew the Shah and created a theocracy with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at its head. Iran is now attempting to become a nuclear power. We can't turn the clock back to see what would have happened had a different decision been made. But could anything have been worse than Khomeini? The whole world is suffering as a result of the money and inspiration that Khomeini gave to international terrorism. Khomeini is dead, but Iran has become the most active and influential force supporting radical Islam.

Iran was not the only country that had its government overthrown with Eisenhower’s help. In 1954, he got rid of Jacobo Arbenz, who may have been a Communist, in Guatemala. President Eisenhower was afraid that democracy in undeveloped countries would lead to communism. That is why he canceled elections in Vietnam, thus becoming responsible for the Vietnam War. In his memoir Mandate for Change he informs us, “General elections in Vietnam,Laos, and Cambodia were to be held in July 1956, supervised by an international commission” (p. 371, first edition). Eisenhower estimated that “80 percent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai” (p. 372).

Eisenhower didn't know that democracy is popular everywhere. He apparently believed that the North Vietnamese were happy with communism. Had the vote been held, Vietnam might very well have chosen democracy. True, it could have gone communist, as it did after a costly war. If it had, would we have been worse off?

Eisenhower was the first American president ever to cut and run during a war. His first act, before his inauguration, was negotiating an agreement to end the Korean War, thus securing the legitimacy of the murderous Kim dynasty.

Saying “I shall go to Korea” certainly clinched the 1952 election for him, since most Americans wanted the war to end and few cared about who won. Maybe Eisenhower did the right thing, maybe not; we don’t know what would have happened had the Korean War continued. Be that as it may, we do know that the Kim Dynasty, more vicious and more dangerous than any other in the world, is still in power.

Eisenhower was probably the most anti-Israel of all American presidents. The United States maintained an embargo against shipping arms to the Middle East, which had been introduced by President Truman. However, in Truman’s day, the Soviet Union had not yet become a supporter of the Arab cause. The embargo became a one-sided weapon against Israel once Czechoslovakia stopped selling arms to Israel. But his most an anti-Israel act was joining with the USSR to force Israel to abandon its gains after its victory in the Sinai Campaign of 1956. He thus established a tradition for the world to follow: Israel would not be allowed to benefit from its military victories after it defeated the enemies who had threatened it. Eisenhower forced Israel to withdraw immediately and unilaterally.

At the same time that the Sinai Campaign was taking place, Hungary overthrew its Communist government. The Soviet Union invaded Hungary and reestablished a Communist regime there. Eisenhower--who had overthrown Mossadegh because he felt Iran might be to friendly to the Soviet Union, who had canceled elections in Vietnam, and who had overthrown an elected government in Guatemala--said nothing and thus tacitly supported the invasion of Hungary just at the moment that he was actively working with the USSR against Israel.

President Eisenhower signed a bill introducing the words “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, thus initiating a struggle about church-state relations that has grown worse with time and has split the country. This brings us back to why Ahmadinejad should be grateful to Eisenhower. After two centuries of separation of church and state in America, Eisenhower turned in the other direction. Did his move have echoes all over the world? Did it lead Iranian religious fundamentalists to look forward to the day when religion would be reestablished in Iran? The influence couldn’t have been direct. But ever since Eisenhower’s day, religion has been a growing influence in the United States, and therefore in the world. What more could Ahmadinejad ask for?

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937.  He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects.  As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2013. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This post can be found on George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the permission of the author.

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