Scott McConnell, founding editor of the American Conservative, places Ike right alongside Reagan. I agree with Scott, especially when he suggests, “There is much Obama can take away from that.”
At one point early on in the Suez crisis, Eisenhower contemplated intervening in support of Egypt against Israeli aggression. As the crisis unfolded, Eisenhower became a de facto protector of Nasser, not of the policies of Britain and France. He recognized that America’s interests did not lie with blind and unconditional support of an ally. This is perhaps the most critical lesson Obama could draw from 1956, and he should make it very clear that an Israeli attack on Iran would be viewed as direct threat to American interests, and the United States might counter it directly, by military means, if necessary.
An underlying lesson of 1956 is that America’s geographic position enables it to watch events and not rush into precipitous action. What seemed an earth-shattering crisis was, in fact, not one. Britain and France got over it. Their imperial pretensions, which Eisenhower always thought ridiculous, were doomed anyway. NATO survived, and thrived. The man accused by the Washington commentariat of not “leading” and acting forcefully has gone down in history as America’s most successful postwar President, alongside Reagan. There is much Obama can take from that.
A joke currently going around the chanceries of Europe is that Washington, having missed out on the beginnings of World Wars I and II, wants to be in right at the start of World War III. It is mordant, the darkest of gallows humor. But Obama has it well within his power to put this joke to rest.