DWIGHT D Eisenhower is applauded. His successors Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush all get it in the neck. And Obama? Well, we’ll have to wait and see on that one.
The precedents, frankly, aren’t great. The tendency – one might say the expectation – for all US presidents is to go messin’ where they ought to not mess.
The thumbs-up for Eisenhower in a huge new book, A World of Trouble, is essentially for leaving well alone.
Not in Europe, of course, where if you’re to believe the Hollywood version he won the Second World War virtually single-handed. But in the Middle East, where decades of US intervention have created one unholy mess after another.
And that, by some accounts, has led directly to America’s status as Public Enemy No.1 in the eyes of at least one big part of the world.
By that version, the War on Terror is really the war against Arab and Muslim anti-Americanism. A self-defeating struggle if ever there was one.
Or, to take the more cynical view, a self-perpetuating one – good for arms sales, oil annexation and general alpha-male chest-beating.
But George W wasn’t the first to go striding into Biblical lands like a six-gun-toting John Wayne. And neither was his daddy.
In fact Eisenhower is the only president exempted from blame by author Patrick Tyler, whose book is subtitled ‘America in the Middle East’.
Tyler gives ‘Honest Ike’ credit for untangling the mess made by Britain and France over Suez in 1956 and for “recognising the perils of intervention in distant lands”. And even that is to overlook one of the many wrong turns taken in the region.
In Iran in 1953 the democratically elected PM Mohammed Mosaddeq was deposed in a military coup that installed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as dictator. Thereby paving the way for all that country’s subsequent troubles (and those of its neighbours).
It didn’t just happen on Eisenhower’s watch, but with the active involvement of the CIA. Backed by American – and British – funds.
British responsibility for Middle East problems goes back even further than the catalogue of US interference. At least as far as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which led directly to the founding of the state of Israel 31 years later.
You can’t blame all the troubles of the region on the existence of Israel. But it’s clearly been a huge factor and continues to be so.
It might have been better if Israel had never been created. But it was, and that’s the reality the world has to live with now.
The stated wish of those in Iran and the Arab world who wish to wipe Israel off the map is the biggest reason for Israel behaving as aggressively as it does.
And having once put the Israelis there, the Americans, the United Nations and Britain can hardly just leave them to get on with it.
Much the same can be said of Iraq. America should never have got involved – but having done so they are left with a huge responsibility.
Just to say “whoops, sorry” and leave could make a bad situation worse. It certainly did in South-East Asia, where the US withdrawal led directly to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
So, like so many of his predecessors, Obama has inherited a huge problem in a part of the world he was not elected in.
One can say – as Patrick Tyler virtually does – that the problem with America’s Middle-East policy is that there is one. But they can’t just stop now.
Or can they?
That’s one of the biggest questions Obama has to answer. By appointing Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state he seems to have answered: No we can’t.
DAVID NUTT’S job as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is to advise the government on drugs policy.
As an experienced professor of psychopharmacology, he is as close to an expert on the subject as you will find.
Now he has another experience under his belt, though he’s hardly the first to learn it the hard way.
The lesson is that speaking the truth in public and to government ministers is not always what’s wanted.
Nutt said the dangers of taking ecstasy were no greater than those of riding a horse.
Actually, given the statistics on both, that may be slightly underplaying the dangers of riding. But I’ll bow to his superior judgement.
Unlike home secretary Jacqui Smith – effectively his boss – who chose to lambast him in parliament and then ride roughshod over his considered advice.
The difference between Nutt and Smith is that he knows what he’s talking about.