From 1946 to 1949, with bipartisan support, the Truman administration gradually took a more confrontational stance toward Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe. With bipartisan support, Congress in March 1947 approved the Truman Doctrine, which appropriated funds to aid the Greek and Turkish governments as they combated communist-led revolution and external Soviet pressure, respectively. More important, Congress and the executive, Republicans and Democrats, joined together to declare that it would be the policy of the United States "to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Later that year, the Marshall Plan, devised to fund the reconstruction of Western Europe, passed Congress with bipartisan support. Over the next four years, the United States poured more than $13 billion into areas ravaged by World War II, in part out of a belief that communism thrived in areas where economic deprivation and social instability prevailed. In 1949, by a wide bipartisan margin, Congress approved U.S. participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which committed its members to view an attack on one as an attack on all.
By 1950 anticommunism had become perhaps the most important theme in American politics, but it was no longer a rallying point for bipartisanship. The Republicans were deeply frustrated by their inability to win a presidential election. Truman's upset victory over Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 was particularly galling. The New Deal and the permanence of the emerging welfare state in America had left the Republicans without a compelling domestic issue. In the aftermath of Truman's victory, the party leadership decided that it could no longer afford a me-too position on American foreign policy. With Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy charging that the administration had permitted infiltration of the federal government by Soviet espionage agents, and Senators Robert Taft and Everett Dirksen indicting Roosevelt and Truman for selling out Eastern Europe to the Kremlin, the Republicans launched a relentless campaign to portray the Democrats as soft on communism.
The effect of this campaign was to create an anticommunist consensus in the United States of monumental proportions. In late January 1950, President Truman directed the State and Defense departments "to make an overall review and reassessment of American foreign and defense policy" in light of the fall of China to the communists and the detonation of an atomic bomb by the Soviet Union (both in 1949). The result was National Security Council Document 68 (NSC68), a policy paper committing the United States to combating the forces of international communism "on every front," to use the historian Thomas G. Paterson's phrase. This paper led to a fourfold increase in defense budgets and committed the United States to defending democracy against communism on the global stage. It paved the way for the transformation of the United States into a national security state and institutionalized a Cold War between the United States and its allies on the one hand and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other that would last until 1989. It led to U.S. intervention into the Korean War and provoked a series of brushfire conflicts throughout the developing world with the Soviets or Communist Chinese backing one side and the United States the other.
Meanwhile, the Republicans continued to hammer the Democrats with the soft-on-communism issue. In 1950, with General of the Army Douglas MacArthur in command, United Nations forces drove invading North Korean troops out of South Korea and pushed toward the Yalu River, the boundary between communist North Korea and Communist China. In November, 180,000 Chinese communist troops crossed the river and smashed MacArthur's troops. They retreated below the Thirty-eighth Parallel separating the two Koreas, but MacArthur soon halted the advance and mounted a counteroffensive. When the general regained the Thirty-eighth Parallel in March 1951, he asked permission of the Truman administration to once again proceed north. This time the president and his advisers refused. Undaunted, MacArthur wrote a letter to the leading Republican in the House of Representatives, Joseph Martin, in which he asserted that "there is no substitute for victory." When Truman subsequently relieved MacArthur of his command, the Republican leadership decided that they had the perfect presidential candidate for 1952. In May and June, Republican senators ostentatiously held hearings on MacArthur's firing. His demise and the refusal of the Truman administration to reunify Korea under a noncommunist government was clear proof that Democrats were either appeasers or soft-headed. When it became clear subsequently that MacArthur was defying not only Truman but also the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who took the position that an all-out war with Communist China would make it impossible for the United States to defend Western Europe, MacArthur's popularity faded, and the Republicans had to look for another war hero to run for president.
During the 1950s, many Democrats suspected that Dwight D. Eisenhower's frequent appeals to bipartisanship were merely attempts to trick the Democratic Party into sharing the blame if policies already decided upon failed. Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson continued to act as a partner with President Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, in pursuing a policy of combating communism through a policy of cooperation with allies and economic and military aid to noncommunist developing nations. The Eisenhower administration actually received more support in Congress from Democrats than from the conservative wing of his own party. Indeed, led by Senator Robert Taft and former President Herbert Hoover, conservative Republicans espoused a form of neo-isolationism. They insisted that America's resources were limited and that it ought to concentrate on perfecting its own institutions and guaranteeing its own prosperity. They were particularly adamant about the need to balance the budget. The neo-isolationists opposed the stationing of U.S. troops in Europe as part of a NATO armed force, and they somewhat paradoxically warned about the perils of being drawn into a land war in Asia. The Eisenhower-Johnson axis prevailed, however, and in December 1954 Congress approved a pact between the United States and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government on Formosa that committed the United States to stationing troops "in and about" the island. In 1957 bipartisan support led to congressional approval of the Eisenhower Doctrine, empowering the president to use military force if any government in the Middle East requested protection against "overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism."
It was with Democratic help that the Eisenhower administration fended off a proposed constitutional amendment authored by the conservative Republican senator John Bricker of Ohio, which would effectively have given Congress veto power over executive agreements with foreign powers.
During the presidential campaign of 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy, running against Vice President Richard M. Nixon, criticized the Eisenhower administration for being passive and unimaginative in dealing with the forces of international communism. He promised a more active policy in which the United States would fund and participate in "counterinsurgencies" against communist guerrillas, augment America's nuclear stockpile, and continue to furnish military and economic aid to developing nations. Kennedy and his advisers also promised to open dialogue with noncommunist leftist elements fighting for social and economic justice. Kennedy won, but his pragmatic intentions were soon dashed on the rocks of Fidel Castro and communist Cuba. When the new president failed to press home the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, which was intended to rally popular opposition to Castro and lead to his overthrow, Republicans once again raised the "soft on communism" cry. From that point on, the president tended to base his assessment of nearly every hot spot in the Cold War upon his bitter experience with Cuba.