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Winning the Cold War

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By David M. Abshire
Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009

This is the story of four very different people on pathways that came together to influence the course of the Cold War. Curiously enough, it came about through an almost unknown group called The League to Save Carthage -- Carthage's freedom being threatened by the powerful Romans. Let me explain.

How was the Cold War won• Not so much through missiles, or NATO divisions or fleets at sea. It was won through the battle of ideas, developing strategic consensus and national purpose.

I got my Cold War feet wet not just in battle as an infantry leader in Korea but also on Capitol Hill in 1960 as the first director of the House Republican Policy Committee. The political offensive involved putting together a dozen or so pre-eminent professors and practitioners led by a promising Republican congressman named Gerald R. Ford. We examined and explained President Eisenhower's "long-haul" strategy.

Ike inaugurated the first and last long-term national strategy soon after assuming office. For three months, Ike put together three competing teams on Cold War strategies. The strongest strategy would be chosen, provided that it maintained long-term fiscal stability.

He believed the entrepreneurial economy would be the key to ultimately winning the Cold War. He defined a framework for military intervention, thereby only intervening when the criteria were met, including an exit strategy. Thus, Ike was able to wrap up the Korean War, avoid others and maintain fiscal stability.

In 1961, I left Capitol Hill for the think tank world, believing that such institutions were critical to develop a long-haul strategic consensus. My path soon crossed with a remarkable individual, Frank Barnett, a retired corporal of infantry from World War II and a former professor of Shakespeare. Whereas, I was more oriented toward trying to shape the Congress and the presidency, he was the outside man to develop strategic consensus with colleges, universities, lawyers and other professionals.

He proved to be a master of strategic thought, which he honed after the war at Oxford, as well as an effective speaker about the complexities of the Cold War. Toward that end, he founded the whimsical League to Save Carthage, an eclectic ad-hoc group of leading citizens to network with each other on Cold War issues -- a process that lasted 30 years. This name was suggested by Adm. Arleigh Burke.

After Barnett's League was under way, I had the dream of starting a strategic center in Washington. Initially with my doctoral alma mater Georgetown University, I recruited the famed honorary League member Adm. Burke. He had gained fame first by contributing to the victory in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific War. Then, as an unparalleled three-time chief of Naval Operations, Burke shepherded the development of the Polaris submarine, which gave both mobility and agility to our missile deterrent.

I had heard Barnett talk about Dick Scaife and Dan McMichael. The latter had recently joined with Scaife also to promote a strategic consensus in effectively fighting the Cold War. His path crossed Barnett's in the 1950s when he was in charge of strategic communications for U.S. Steel in Chicago, and he helped Barnett organize the nation's first major conference on the Cold War -- a significant outward manifestation of Ike's long-haul strategy.

The chemistry was good and the two teamed up to develop program prospects to build national consensus. Shortly after, McMichael wound up in Pittsburgh, where his path then crossed with Scaife's, who also had a keen interest in Cold War strategies. Scaife was a full partner in hammering out strategies to build consensus.

Our paths crossed when Barnett brought Scaife and McMichael in as League members. We all became equally involved in our twin but different roles -- myself more with policymakers inside the beltway; Barnett more with the American heartland through his National Strategy Information Center.

The first conference of the new Center for Strategic and International Studies was conducted at the Hall of Nations at Georgetown to further plot Ike's long-haul strategy. Up until then, academic communities had been totally compartmentalized. At this convocation, those in geopolitics like Henry Kissinger, Herman Kahn and Hans Morgenthau interacted with economists such as Warren Nutter, Murray Weidenbaum, Norman Ture and Jim Schlesinger. Edward Teller, who invented the hydrogen bomb, vibrated between them.

As if Teller was stirring an explosive mass, the collaboration helped put the country on higher ground to develop the political, military and economic strategies for the next decades.

All of this is now "gone with the wind," even from historic memory. We are lost on how to bring to bear the strategies to maintain our nation as a pre-eminent power. The fiscal train wreck that we are on, with mounting deficits and debts, would have appalled five-star Gen. Eisenhower. Looking at the long-haul, he would have cried out that we have made Communist China our principal banker.

As noted on the front page of The Washington Post in the 1990s, Dick Scaife went on to underwrite so much of the conservative movement in an effort to take us back to the fundamentals of our founders.

David M. Abshire is president & CEO of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. L. Brent Bozell III is off today.

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