WASHINGTON, July 21, 2014 — In 1962 just after the US had placed missiles in Turkey and Italy which were aimed at Moscow, the Russians responded by placing nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the US, apparently without fear of repercussions. Similarly in 1980, Iran held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year, again without fear of American repercussions. Both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan responded strongly, creating the “peace through strength” doctrine.
Should President Obama do the same?
In 1962 Kennedy wanted peace with the Russians. However after some aggressions, the Russians insisted that they would keep the missiles in place, Kennedy realized that the only way they would agree to remove the missiles was to show them that they would suffer militarily if he missiles were not removed. Kennedy set a blockade around Cuba. Even though Soviet Premier Khrushchev said the blockade constituted “an act of aggression” Kennedy continued to show strength, perhaps bringing the world to the brink of a nuclear war.
But by showing strength and the willingness to use force if necessary, Kennedy prompted the Russians to remove the missiles. Kennedy realized that while military force is always the last option, it is, nonetheless, a viable option that the US is willing to use when needed. Many historians note that this episode was the beginning of the cold war.
In 1980, Reagan entered office only to find a severely weakened military. In the 1970’s, after the humiliating outcome from the Vietnam War, Marxists governments were able to gain control of Angola, Nicaragua and almost in El Salvador. And the Russians looked to conquer Afghanistan. Islamic fundamentalists had gained control of Iran and then-President Carter had failed to rescue them as the military simply could not perform.
During the Carter administration, the military had problems with low pay, outdated equipment and poor maintenance. And the number of military personnel was being reduced.
Both Kennedy and Reagan also had the problem of a very poor economy, as both Presidents saw a recession as they entered office. Yet both responded similarly which lead to a strong economy, a strong military and eventually a more peaceful world.
Can President Obama follow their lead?
Kennedy and Reagan both sought to vastly improve the economy and strengthen the military seeing these actions as a road to prosperity and peace. Both presidents significantly reduced taxes and encouraged economic growth, while strengthening the military.
Reagan in particular wanted to show that the US was stronger than any other power and that if challenged, the US would use their full force to prevent any activity which could lead to a security threat to the US. Even though he entered under the conditions of an extremely deep recession, he was able to create an expansion where GDP growth averaged more than 5%. In addition he beefed up the military and ended up with a defense budget that was more than 40% greater than the budget during the Vietnam War.
The combination of a strong economy and a strong military was enough to end the cold war, break up the Soviet Union, tear down the Berlin wall to unite Germany and have the US emerge as the only super power left on earth. Peace through strength worked and the world was much safer.
President Obama’s “turn the other check” policy simply does not work. While diplomacy is always the first choice to resolve disputes and restrain is often practiced to reach a solution, military force and even boots on the ground, have to be viable options. Our enemies do not believe that President Obama has the will to use military force, which encourages them to proceed.
Putin invades parts of the Ukraine eventually annexing Crimea and President Obama slaps their wrist with some minor sanctions. The Russians then shoot down a passenger plane and the President warns of consequences. Islamist militants seize control of parts of Syria and parts of Iraq and Obama sends advisors.
Instead of strengthening the economy by lower taxes, reducing regulations and encouraging growth, Obama concentrates on programs that raise taxes, increase regulations, re-distribute income and generally discourage economic growth all because he wants to help the bottom 15% of income earners.
History shows that the world will be more peaceful when the US has a strong economy and a strong military that will be used if diplomacy fails. While no one wants to use force, it is time for President Obama to toughen up militarily and ease up economically.