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Ike Spiked
What Bush Squandered

Browsing through a used bookstore the other day I did something I hadn’t done since reaching the age of consent two and a half decades ago. I picked up one of those old National Geographic issues with the pictures of doffed and frolicking natives. Except that the natives inside weren’t the bouncy kind from Bali or Burundi . They were from countries we’ve come to know as breeders of anti-Americanism or out-and-out enmity: France, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the kind of places where, if President Bush was to venture — as he has been venturing through Latin America last week — he’d be burned in effigy and local authorities would have to mobilize the equivalent of two military brigades to protect him. Colombia , the third-biggest recipient of American aid in the last decade and supposedly its greatest ally south of the Rio Grande , had to do just that for a Bush stop-over lasting just a few hours on Sunday.

But the Geographic was dated May 1960. The 63 pages featuring all those countries fell under the banner of a single article entitled, “When the President Goes Abroad.” And in every country, in almost every picture, Dwight Eisenhower’s presence was cause for delirious celebration. It didn’t matter where: Madrid , Kabul , Teheran, even Karachi , that now-seething Pakistani sweatshop of hatred for America . (Daniel Perl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, was beheaded by Islamic militants he was investigating in Karachi ). “From his open car,” the Geographic wrote of Eisenhower’s stop in Karachi , Eisenhower “waved to cheering Pathan tribesmen wearing baggy white trousers, long-tailed white shirts, and faded turbans.” The car he was traveling in was actually an open horse-drawn-carriage, slow and providing not even shade from the sun. Can you imagine Bush traveling in an open car anywhere anymore, Downtown Disney included? “Certainly Mr. Eisenhower saw a unique welcome of bright saris — long scarflike garments of red, blue, green and yellow — flying from lines strung atop orange-tiled roofs,” every roof jammed with spectators. Saris and spectators, not snipers. The stones that hundreds of children lining the road clicked together weren’t for throwing, as they might be today given the chance, but “a traditional rhythmic welcome to President Eisenhower.”

In Kabul , the then- Soviet-backed regime streaked its Soviet-built MIGs “across blue skies and swooped on a United States jet transport crossing the border” in welcome. If MIGs (or even F-16s) tried that on a presidential transport anywhere these days, they’d be smoke and dust before their pilots could say “what the — .” In Delhi , “a sea of hands salutes a peaceful sahib.” The “human flood” that greeted Eisenhower at Delhi ’s Ram Lila Grounds, “undoubtedly the greatest mass of people President Eisenhower has ever seen in one place at the same time,” was larger than the crowds that had attracted Mahatma Gandhi or Prime Minister Nehru there. In Teheran, Eisenhower’s car traveled on a road literally carpeted with Persian rugs. In Ankara , Turkey , 400,000 greeted him and were amazed to hear that “Ike even speaks Turkish.” (Sometimes it’s hard to say that Bush speaks English.)

And so it went on every stop of Eisenhower’s 19-day, 22,000-mile “Flight to Peace” mission through Asia , Europe and North Africa on Dec. 3-22, 1959 . It’s not as if the world was a perfectly peaceful place then. The cold war may not have been in an ice age. It was frigid nonetheless. America was projecting power and brawn then as now, but with purposes way beyond power and brawn for supremacy’s sake. In those pre-Vietnam days, the world loved America because it led by example and cooperation first, cudgel last.

That very opportunity existed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, even in the Islamic world. Bush didn’t just squander it. He trashed it, demolished American prestige and respect for a generation to come, and did so not by stupidity alone, but with in-your-face pride. His remaining supporters boast the same perverted sense of American supremacy fueled by missionary zealotry: Every anti-American protest is to them proof that America is on a virtuous mission. But there’s nothing virtuous in these realities. The 2006 University of Maryland/Zogby International Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey found that while Osama bin Laden has no more than a 1 or 2 percent approval rating even in his native Saudi Arabia, Arabs were unequivocal about whom they disliked most: Bush was the outright winner (38 percent) followed by Israel’s Ariel Sharon (11 percent), Ehud Olmert (7) and Britain’s Tony Blair (3). The biggest irony, of course, is that while Jordan had the biggest Bush-disapproval rating of all Arab nations at 57 percent, it was still below Bush’s 63 percent disapproval by Americans in the most recent Gallup poll.

The last article in that 1960 Geographic was a brief one on Brasilia , the new capital of Brazil then under construction. Eisenhower is pictured in that one, too, receiving a gold key to the city from the Brazilian president as busloads of schoolgirls wave “We Like Ike” pennants. When Bush was in Brazil last week, the pictures were of protesters smashed and cuffed by riot police. Ike wouldn’t recognize the world remade in Bush’s distorted image. But who among us with a memory as fresh as the 1990s does?

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Ike in Karachi
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