The greatness of Eisenhower
On a plane somewhere, I read a review of two new books on President Dwight Eisenhower (1953 – 1961). The books are Eisenhower: The White House Years by Jim Newton and Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith.
I had long held the view that this two-term Republican and WWII general was an underrated president. He kept the peace, he controlled his military, he produced balanced budgets, he built the national highway system, and he sent the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock to enforce desegregation ordered by the Supreme Court.
In the review, Thomas Powers argues that: “…American presidents since Eisenhower seem to share an abiding temptation – they can’t let peace alone. They wish to look bold; defiance makes them pugnacious; and the military leaders promise quick victories with little pain.”
We may imagine Eisenhower’s response, if he had been sitting in the room when Kennedy’s advisers told him they planned to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government by invading Cuba with a thousand men, or when they told him later to send a few thousand American soldiers to stave off defeat in Vietnam – but not too many, and as “advisers” only. Would Eisenhower have told Lyndon Johnson, oh yes, certainly, send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to do what Kennedy’s few could not? Would he have encouraged Johnson to help the Air Force pick bombing targets in North Vietnam? Would he have advised George W. Bush that seizure of Kabul and dispersion of the Taliban into the mountains were victory enough in Afghanistan? Would he have backed the urging of Cheney and Rumsfeld to send an army to invade Iraq, but not too big an army? What would Eisenhower say now about Iran?
Food for thought, that’s all I’m saying, food for thought.