Late last month Iraqi soldiers seized our 24-year-old son in Kuwait. He had gone there three days before the Aug. 2 invasion after repeated reassurances from the State Department that nothing untoward was going to happen.
The soldiers took him first to Baghdad, then to a military installation as part of Iraq's "human shield." Finally, came word of his release in response to a desperate appeal from his mother to President Saddam Hussein.Throughout this nightmare, punctuated by long stretches in which we knew nothing of his whereabouts, we prayed he and the other hostages would survive the ordeal. But we also prayed for our country - that if blood were to be shed, it would be for a foreign policy of which all Americans could be proud.
We stand today at a crossroads. One way leads to another Vietnam, the policy of American macho unilateralism. The other way is the way of President Dwight Eisenhower, which President Bush largely has followed so far.
As a member of Eisenhower's White House staff, I believe I know what he would do in the Persian Gulf.
He would not go it alone. At Dienbienphu in 1954 he saw many reasons to go into Vietnam - but only in company with allies. He couldn't put such an alliance together. So he stayed out and thus avoided U.S. humiliation.
He would work through the United Nations. In a single day in 1958 Ike sent some 15,000 soldiers and marines into Lebanon, the biggest peacetime deployment of troops in our history up to that time.
But Ike did something else. He instantly went to the United Nations, cited the right of nations under the U.N. Charter to engage in collective self-defense, urged the United Nations itself to replace American troops in protection of Lebanon and pledged that when the United Nations did so, we'd get out. And we did get out, a few weeks later.
He would never mention Saddam. Ike had a hot temper; he did a lot of boxing as a young man; and he had a swift impulse to lash out at an adversary. But as president he never attacked his enemies by name - not even Stalin. To turn international differences into a name-calling brawl only makes their resolution harder.
"Someday," Ike said of Stalin, "I might have to negotiate with him."
Ike would respect cultural differences. He would, I feel sure, shun a white man's party in the Middle East - the prolonged presence of huge numbers of Americans.
Whatever we do there should have overwhelming Arab approval and participation.
He would respect the rights of the powerless. At times during his presidency Ike encountered difficult demands from smaller, weaker countries. These he considered "the tyranny of the weak."
He would watch the polls. Anthony Eden invaded Egypt in 1956 with the House of Commons split down the middle. "I'd never commit American forces with such weak public backing," Ike said of his old friend.
Worried that American and allied enthusiasm for Middle East action may melt away in a few weeks or months, the Bush administration may feel a pressure to act now. First, however, we should ask ourselves whether we might end up as a house divided, fighting the wrong war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy.
He would take the long view. After the Lebanon landing in 1958 Ike went to the U.N. General Assembly for a major address on building a lasting peace in the Middle East, including a far-ranging program for increasing the Arab region's water supply, food, health and education.
Ike has left us a valuable lesson in the successful conduct of international relations. I hope we keep it before us in the days ahead.