What Would Eisenhower Do Today?

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Dwight Eisenhower Dedication Plaque NBC.jpg
(Commemorative Plaque of Dwight Eisenhower opening NBC Studios at 4000 Nebraska Avenue, NW on May 22, 1958; photo credit: Steve Clemons)
With the benefit of time, it’s increasingly clear that Dwight Eisenhower was one of America’s greatest Presidents.
Eisenhower maneuvered the US away from the collision course with the Soviet Union that his lead national security advisers and the top tier of the Republican Party wanted at that time and instead adopted a version of ‘modified containment’ of Soviet global ambitions.
He warned of an uncontrollable military industrial complex — which we see today in spades in the military/intelligence industrial complex that the Washington Post‘s Dana Priest and William Arkin have profiled.
Today, I think Eisenhower would focus a substantial amount of his time on Israel-Arab peace, and on the Iran challenge. He would not approach the challenge weakly — and would work hard to incentivize Iran away from its nuclear course.
He would see Afghanistan as a power-deflator, as he would the gridlock in Israel-Palestine negotiations, and he would cut his vulnerabilities in these areas as a way to shore up his capacity and tools to influence Iran.
Barack Obama should be doing the same.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

24 comments on “What Would Eisenhower Do Today?

  1. justin dole says:

    Wow ecocide? Yea stick with that while the economy and world falls apart…Global Warming is a fukkunbscam created by global elitists to tax rich nations into obscurity with abphantom boogie man in the clouda when in reality the CO2 levels are near normal and global climate temps r fluctuating as they always have since millions of years and 1000s of ice ages ago…..U dem lib eco idiots R the fukin fools, While the global elites play u like a fukkin fiddle real eco problems like OCEAN pollution ravage in a quantafiable manner whole food chains, species and US! IKE was top 5 prez’s easy, he had the balls to call out the globalists in the military indust complex, Bak then there was trully a 2 party system today its one party, the globalists that pull all the strings and when we have an idiotic infantile citezenry like we do now then it js quite easy to take over a country and rape it for lets say…..18 FUKKIn TRILLIOn$. Citezens like U r the precise reason Y this experiment called the USA is doomed, UnInformed and easily divided and fooled U latch on to fake issues like “ecocide” only because its “cool” vs quantifiable, measured science….Climate by fuking definition is the stdy of weather over generations ….Is it Climate Change or Weather Change? Idiots.

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  2. JohnH says:

    Instead of reigning in the warmongering Dulles brothers, he simply tossed the problem over the fence to his successor. Instead of using his stature to deal with the military/industrial complex, it became JFK’s problem, and according to James Douglass’ book “JFK and the Unspeakable,” it cost JFK his life.
    I wonder if Ike ever felt any remorse.

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  3. WigWag says:

    While I don’t think Eisenhower was a great President by any stretch of the imagination; I do think he made one major decision about domestic policy that was enormously beneficial to his country and to his political party; he abandoned the attempt to roll back the New Deal.
    The Republican Party had been implacably hostile to the New Deal and promised that once it was back in the White House it would eliminate most of its features; Eisenhower wisely realized that this wasn’t possible or even desirable.
    Eisenhower’s stature (which was mostly undeserved; he was only a moderately talented military tactician at best) enabled him to move his Party to an acquiescence of what Roosevelt had wrought. In fact, Eisenhower expanded Social Security and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now HHS) to coordinate the New Deal programs.
    Had the Republican Party continued the fight against the New Deal it is highly unlikely that it would have experienced the political success that it did under Nixon, Ford and Reagan. And the country would have been far worse off.

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  4. David says:

    Oh, yeah, Eisenhower urged the desecration of the Pledge of Allegiance with the insertion of “under God” between “one nation” and “indivisible.” We are paying dearly for that misguided bit of meddling with a folk tradition.

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  5. David says:

    Ike got some things right, many things terribly wrong. He was probably a wiser President at the end of his tenure than in the earlier stages. His attitude toward blacks was apparently not terribly embracing.
    I did not then (admittedly I was young, but I was aware) and do not now understand his attitude toward McCarthy or his tolerance for McCarthy’s ruthless destruction of people’s lives.
    I do not think I will ever see him as a great President, only a President who demonstrated competence in some important areas. FDR was a great President. Truman was a mixed bag, great on some issues, not so wise in his inauguration of the US side of the Cold War.
    Why were we afraid Russia would try to nuke us? Because we were constantly being told to be afraid Russia would nuke us. Luckily, when I asked my mother, probably in 1956 or thereabouts (I would have been 12), she said No, they are not that irrational. I ceased to be afraid because her answer made sense. I did come later to worry more about trigger-happy anti-communists at high levels in our government, the Dick Cheneys of the day, especially as I began to understand we were actually far ahead of the Soviets technologically. And we had used nuclear weapons in war, the only nation ever to do so.
    Rode out the Cuban Missile Crisis at the University of Florida, contemplating with friends the choice of beverage should some idiot actually trigger a nuclear exchange. Was totally unimpressed by any of the posturing, any of the rationale for “nuclear preparedness and nuclear prowess,” thought then and think now nuclear weapons bespeak supreme idiocy, even though I understand why Einstein thought we must develop nuclear weapons before the Nazis to serve as a deterrent, since there was reason to think normal rules of rationality did not actually apply to Hitler.
    Turns out we’ve chosen the slow death of ecocide over the sudden death of nuclear annihilation, although nuclear weapons do still utterly dominate the conversation, and mostly for the wrong reasons.
    God love Obama for at least having the cojones to say they’ve gotta go, as did one of my overall least favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan.

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  6. JohnH says:

    During the 1950’s we practiced regular air raid drills at my elementary school. Everyone got got under their desks when the alarm went off. In one instance I remember the alarm going off at lunch, and we marched silently back to the classroom to get under our desks. The fear was palpable, whatever actual delivery capabilities the Soviets had.
    Obviously, the Soviets were not anywhere near the threat that was hyped to the unsuspecting American public for 40 years. But the fear mongers and the war mongers were ascendant, as they are now.
    And Joe McCarthy was there to create paranoia about communism and assure ideological conformity. We have not reached those depths yet, but Joe Liberman and Lynne Cheney were clearly starting to fulfill that role post 9/11.
    My earliest recollection of foreign affairs was the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which the news media (3 networks) cast in apocalyptic terms.
    It was enough to scare the bejeezus out of most anyone, not just children.
    And leading the charge of the fear mongers were Ike’s SOS John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, who headed up the CIA.
    There was never the least indication that Ike did anything to reign them in.

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    • E2 says:

      The Soviet Union’s first successful submarine launch of a ballistic missile was on 16 September 1955. Conidering that just 14 years earlier the US Navy lost track of the entire Japanese fleet, it was very possible that a single Soviet submarine could reach US waters. Those are facts not ear mongering.

  7. Drew says:

    JohnH,
    Why was there a fear of being nuked by the USSR during
    Eisenhower’s terms in office, prior to their demonstration of rocket-
    lift capabilities? Even in the Cuban crisis they only had modest
    ballistic missile capabilities (i.e., regional); the Cuban crisis was
    precipitated by the absence of intercontinental ballistic missile
    technology, and Russia’s desire to threaten North America. That
    was 1961.

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    • E2 says:

      The Soviet Union’s first successful submarine launch of a ballistic missile was on 16 September 1955. Conidering that just 14 years earlier the US Navy lost track of the entire Japanese fleet, it was very possible that a single Soviet submarine could reach US waters.

  8. Franklin says:

    With respect to Eisenhower, his argument against direct engagement with McCarthy was that doing so would elevate McCarthy’s stature and diminish the presidency. Ignoring McCarthy would diminish McCarthy’s power. Ultimately, he saw McCarthy’s course as one of self-destruction — he was right on this score.
    Part of Eisenhower’s critique was that McCarthy was a creation of the modern press — it wasn’t until late in the game that even the press turned on McCarthy (at least the non-Hearst, non-Buckley parts); once that happened it was pretty much over for McCarthy.
    Could Eisenhower have short-circuited the process, or did McCarthy need to run his course and discredit himself? To what extent did Ike let party interests trump national ones?
    At least to my mind these aren’t questions that can ever be completely resolved — too many counter-factuals to contemplate.
    Clearly there were moments when party interests factored into the equation — McCarthy was useful to the GOP and he gave the party an issue to run on other than “we are no longer the party of Herbert Hoover”; additionally a direct engagement would have split the GOP, which was something that Eisenhower contemplated but never seriously pursued. Beyond party interests though, if Eisenhower had used the presidency to intervene, what would the consequences have been for the reputation of the office and the balance of power between the two branches? I don’t think it’s entirely possible to dismiss the question with an answer like “only good would have come out of it” or “nothing” — there may very well have been some costs beyond just party interests.

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  9. Don Bacon says:

    The Cold War:
    NSC-68 or National Security Council Report 68 was a 58 page classified report issued in the United States on April 14, 1950 during the presidency of Harry S Truman. Written in the formative stages of the Cold War, it has become one of the classic historical documents of the Cold War. NSC-68 would shape government actions in the Cold War for the next 20 years and has subsequently been labeled its “blueprint.”
    Apparently Eisenhower tempered the Cold War strategy during his presidency which started in 1953.

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  10. Don Bacon says:

    He’d definitely play more golf.
    President Eisenhower played nearly 900 rounds of golf during his two terms in office whereas Obama has shot 41 rounds as president. That works out to 9.3 rounds per month for Eisenhower and 2.2 per month for Obama.

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  11. Drew says:

    Steve, I believe it is ahistorical to credit Eisenhower, if you are, with
    originating the containment strategy.
    Kennan’s “Long Telegraph” of 1946 (from Moscow), and his
    subsequent monograph, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”, mark the
    articulation and initial adoption by Truman of a coherent U.S. policy
    of Soviet containment. Eisenhower inherited this strategy.
    Ironically, Kennan’s policy of containment, as adopted by a more
    hawkish Truman adminstration, displeased Kennan and he resigned
    from State in 1950.

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  12. JohnH says:

    Having lived through the constant fear of the Eisenhower period (fear of being nuked and fear of Joe McCarthy), I am not inclined to put Eisenhower on any list of great Presidents. Ike could have used his immense personal stature to reach a mutually beneficial understanding with the Soviets (as Kennedy did) and to reign in the fear mongering, war mongering conservatives who were intent on nuking the Soviets with no regard for the aftermath.
    However, Ike does deserve immense credit for ending the Korean War (though without peace). Today’s leader would have perpetuated the Korean War until it bankrupted a war weary nation.

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  13. Drew says:

    I think Ike is looking pretty good in contrast to the subsequent
    “bear any burden, pay any price” democracy wars of Kennedy and
    Johnson, Bush and Obama. I think Ike had a pretty healthy
    skepticism about nation building and the unknowable,
    unpredictable, unintentional outcomes that follow the first rifle
    shot. And of course to a wartime general the military was not some
    abstract tool of power and national interest; it was deeply personal.
    Now that Afghanistan is the longest war in American history, and
    no one can tell us how it ends, this circumspection is appealing.

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  14. WigWag says:

    “With the benefit of time, it’s increasingly clear that Dwight Eisenhower was one of America’s greatest Presidents.” (Steve Clemons)
    “One of America’s greatest Presidents” – Really?
    Wasn’t Eisenhower President during much of the time that the House Un-American Affairs Committee was conducting many of its worst witch-hunts? Wasn’t it Eisenhower’s predecessor, Harry Truman, who was the man who came out and called HUAC the “most un-American thing in the country today” while Eisenhower remained largely silent?
    Didn’t Eisenhower select one of the most venal and aggressive members of the HUAC to join him on the ticket as Vice President?
    Wasn’t the Hollywood blacklist that started in 1947 still in effect for virtually the entire Eisenhower Presidency without him uttering a single word of objection to it?
    Didn’t Eisenhower assiduously avoid publically criticizing Senator Joseph McCarthy and only begin working behind the scenes to isolate him once McCarthy started making accusations about members of his Administration and military personnel that Eisenhower had served with?
    President Eisenhower’s record on civil rights was at best mixed. According to Thurgood Marshall, Eisenhower opposed the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v Board of Education (1954) and tried to convince his fellow Republican, Earl Warren to vote against it.
    And for the more salacious minded, didn’t Eisenhower cheat on his wife by conducting a long lasting affair with Kay Summersby, the woman who was originally his driver, later his secretary and finally his mistress?
    Which of these things does Steve think qualifies Eisenhower for greatness?

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  15. samuelburke says:

    Glenn Greenwald has a piece over at salon dot com
    “Most of what the U.S. Government does of any significance —
    literally — occurs behind a vast wall of secrecy, completely
    unknown to the citizenry. . . . Secrecy is the religion of the
    political class, and the prime enabler of its corruption. That’s
    why whistle blowers are among the most hated heretics. They’re
    one of the very few classes of people able to shed a small
    amount of light on what actually takes place.
    Virtually every fact Priest and Arkin disclose underscores this
    point. Here is their first sentence: “The top-secret world the
    government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept.
    11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive
    that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people
    it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how
    many agencies do the same work.” This all “amounts to an
    alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America
    hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.”
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/07
    /19/secrecy/index.html

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  16. Franklin says:

    I’m not so sure about that nadine. My sense is that there are many libertarian-conservatives who would push for privatization of those roads rather than dedicating a new tax to the creation of the system of roads.
    Look no further than Virginia these days. For years now the GOP has blocked any infrastructure investment which would require a tax increase — instead they’re looking at privatization schemes.
    With respect to the 1956 Act, the privatization scheme had been explored decades before the passage of the act but for obvious reasons it never materialized. It probably never would have in part because it wasn’t economically feasible for private investors to make the kind of long-investment that would have been needed to engage in construction in the large stretches of rural America.
    Even in the case of energy policy these days — an area that intersects pretty strongly in the area of “national infrastructure” — there is absolutely no political will within the GOP-libertarian movement to tackle the issue.
    If the program requires federal money and a tax increase, a certain strain of the libertarian movement will always just say no — regardless of the benefits or the potential economic payoff over the long-term.

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  17. nadine says:

    “I wonder if today’s libertarian-
    influenced conservatives would also protest against the
    ‘massive federal spending’ of such a system as they do with
    any other federal programs?” (Spike)
    No, they wouldn’t. Today’s liberatarian/conservatives recognize building infrastructure as a proper function of government.
    Just because you don’t want a cradle-to-grave nanny state doesn’t mean you want the government to do nothing.

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  18. nadine says:

    “Today, I think Eisenhower would focus a substantial amount of his time on Israel-Arab peace, and on the Iran challenge” (Steve Clemons)
    Ike’s one big Mideast foray, the Suez Crisis, is hardly a model of success.
    If the US gained anything, it was purely at the expense of its allies Britain and France; Nasser rose hugely in stature thanks to the success Ike gave him (the opposite of what Ike had intended) — not only did he keep the Canal, but he ran straight into the arms of the USSR to build Aswan High Dam, whose funding Ike had previously pulled when Nasser recognized Communist China. Nasser remained a solid USSR cold war ally thereafter.
    Ike’s efforts to negotiate Israeli-Arab peace went exactly nowhere due to Nasser’s total intransigence.
    So Egypt and the USSR won, and Britain and France lost. Israel moderately won, but that was only due to greater deterrence gained from their display of military prowess in the Sinai; Ike made them withdraw from the territory. Still, the Israelis reckoned their victory had won them about ten years of quiet; which turned out to be correct.
    The US and the USSR became the sole superpowers in the Mideast, but the US had lost allies while the USSR gained them.
    Meantime, Hungary, which Ike had wished to help, was crushed by the USSR.
    The morale for today’s times should be this: beating up on your own allies to display “fairness” is not a strategy that the Mideast rewards.

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  19. Franklin says:

    Eisenhower’s stance on civil rights is among the many strengths that can be added to the list.
    His use of covert ops in Guatemala in Iran are also on the balance sheet (actions that may have advanced short-term interests at the expense of longer term ones).
    It’s a nearly impossible to contemplate what an Eisenhower presidency would be like today, because of the fundamental changes to the domestic economy; the media environment; the Fall of the Soviet Union; the Sino-Soviet split; the rise of developing economies — so many changes. WWII and the Great Depression are no longer part of much of the popular memory. Without those experiences you have an entirely different domestic, political environment as well.
    Positing the “if Eisenhower was alive today what would he do” strikes me as about as challenging as divining what Thomas Jefferson’s views on abortion rights would be if he was alive today.
    I will say this much: For all of Obama critics, he has the temperament of Eisenhower, and seems to have many of the same political instincts for bridging difference. He has those qualities to such a degree that he seems to show about as much deference to his party’s progressive base as Eisenhower did to the isolationists in the Robert Taft camp. Unlike Eisenhower though, Obama faces an opposition party which uniformly refuses to work as a good faith partner on pretty much ANY issue (foreign or domestic).
    Obama also shows as much political caution and indirection in dealing with some of the bigger domestic controversies as Eisenhower did in his dealings with McCarthy. If Eisenhower was alive today, I suspect he would be very frustrated politically.

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  20. sagesiah says:

    You are also forgetting the fact that he was
    President during Operation Ajax, which destroyed
    Iranian democracy. Of course, it may have destroyed
    itself eventually, anyway. We will never know. But
    every president makes mistakes, and Eisenhower
    certainly made less than most.

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  21. Spike says:

    Steve,
    to add t the list, Eisenhower also oversaw & championed the
    Interstate highway System. I wonder if today’s libertarian-
    influenced conservatives would also protest against the
    ‘massive federal spending’ of such a system as they do with
    any other federal programs? Eisenhower actually understood
    and cared for the Nation and its survival as a Country. Such
    courage is missing is today’s political world.

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  22. Don Bacon says:

    Dwight Eisenhower caused the US to disavow the 1954 Geneva Accords on Vietnam, nixed the Accord’s Vietnamese elections in 1956 because Ho Chi Minh would have won, and then illegally established the Republic of (South) Vietnam with a guy (Ngo Dinh Diem) plucked form a New Jersey monastery as president. Diem was later assassinated with US compliance, for incompetence.
    Thus was laid the groundwork for the Vietnam tragedy, extended by LBJ and then Ike’s protege Nixon, which ended up killing 58,000 good Americans and a couple million good Vietnamese. A tragedy of the highest order, and Eisenhower started it. If he had observed the Geneva Accords it never would have happened.

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