President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the beloved and protective father figure of post-World War II, is perhaps most revered for his competence, and whose leadership as a Commander-In-Chief kept a nation safe during an unsettling period of the Cold War. He is highly regarded as one of our country’s greatest military leaders; however, he is considered a good, but not a great president. ‘Great presidents’ inherently ‘possess’ a visionary leadership role; that is they know the direction in which they want to steer the country to, where it came from, and where it currently is.
They are leaders with a moral compass in a sense, as they are able to clarify and quantify the ‘needs‘, wants, and ‘anxieties’ of the American citizenry during a particular crisis. It is through these crises that a great president seizes upon opportune moments with bold and decisive action, for better, or for worse. My favorite President Dwight D. Eisenhower though, missed his defining moments on at least two different occasions. His response to the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) best illustrate his indecisiveness in uniting a country away from racial segregation.
Additionally the United State’s initiated, but deadlocked, nuclear test-ban treaty which was the centerpiece of US/Russia disarmament, was ultimately shattered by Eisenhower’s ill-advised authorization of the disastrous U-2 flight reconnaissance debacle. Born in Texas on October 14, 1890 Dwight David Eisenhower was raised in Abilene, Kansas where he received most of his formal education. Along with five other brothers, he was reared in a modest single story cottage until he came of age whereupon he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in upstate New York (1911-1915).
While growing up in Abilene he absorbed the “simple and unquestioned values” which were impressed upon him through his community and especially by his parents who inculcated within his moral character “honesty, self-reliance, hard work, ambition, and fear of God”. His parents imparted to him the importance of “getting ahead” which would later prove fruitful and evident in young Ike’s tremendous work ethic. Equally important as a subjective introspection was a fact that in the eighborhood surrounding South East Fourth Street there was not much “racial” or “political diversity” in a town in which most people were “Republican, Christian, and of European descent. ” These factors would play a pivotal role in Eisenhower’s ethical and moral reasoning in later years, especially concerning the issue of civil rights. After World War II, Eisenhower, the wartime ‘Supreme Allied Forces Commander’ and the conqueror of Nazi Germany appeared almost subdued in occupying the position of the Army’s postwar Chief of Staff.
During World War II he was our Nation’s single most highest ranking military officer, attaining the rank of a five-star General. In subsequent years, he became President at Columbia University as well. Interestingly, although he consistently led in popularity polls, he appeared uninterested in politics somewhat even reluctant to entertain the prospects of the office of the president. This is somewhat corroborated by the fact that in 1948 Eisenhower reportedly turned down both parties who eagerly wanted him to run on their tickets. However, that flies directly in the face of General George S.
Patton’s remarks quoted in 1943 that “Ike wants to be president so badly you can taste it”. In light of this then it was hardly a surprise that “in a tradition dating back to George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, and Ulysses S. Grant” the great ‘Liberator of Europe’ was in fact sought after for the White House nomination. His 1952 platform was what we would now call moderately Republican. He was deftly in opposition to a welfare state which he interpreted as being encouraged by FDR’s ‘New Deal’ reforms (parts I & II), but does nothing to institute his own policies.
Essential to his campaign would be Herbert Brownell who already had two Republican presidential campaigns under his belt. Brownell would later become Attorney General in the Eisenhower administrations. Ike, the competent General-turned-candidate was demonstrable in his personal appeal but lacked a political prowess he would later come to regret. He allowed the Republican Party to choose his vice presidential running mate Senator Richard Nixon from California. In the party’s eye Nixon would become an asset in bridging Eisenhower with the Republican Old Guard; that is, Nixon could bring in the ull support of the Southern Republicans who were essential if the party was to have a chance to regain the presidency held by the Democrats for two decades. The move was a shrewd calculation, because besides getting elected Eisenhower “would need a united party if he were to lead a successful administration”. During the 1952 presidential campaign, John Foster Dulles was brought in to help with Eisenhower’s main platform, which was foreign policy, followed by fiscal conservatism. John Dulles would later become the administration’s Secretary of State.
In understanding presidential politics and the amount of personal involvement, it is easier for me to understand the office of the president as being either foreign affairs as their major preoccupation or domestic affairs as their central focus. If the office of the president is focused on, foreign affairs then they will invariably rely heavily on their national security advisors. If, the focus is on domestic affairs they will relegate the assistance of their secretaries of state. In modern times, a good example would be to use George H. W.
Bush as a president concerned with foreign affairs and Bill Clinton as preoccupied with domestic affairs. The current Obama administration appears to be domestic focused as well because his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is everywhere. In this role, the secretary is afforded a much greater freedom in shaping policy on the president’s foreign policy team. President Eisenhower was, unequivocally a foreign affairs president. After all what else could we expect out of WWII’s most powerful leader? Regarding all the glory, honor, and power of the presidency, none is felt more strongly than in the arena of foreign affairs.
In describing his ascendancy to the presidency, it is a testament to his leadership and composition of character, intellect, and party organization, as well as what Niccolo Machiavelli (‘The Prince’) would call “fortuna”, or, ‘the mysterious interaction of fate and chance. ’ As immensely popular as he was, the nation readily chose his nomination as much as he accepted it. Arthur Krock the, New York Times Washington Bureau Chief said on Inauguration Day 1952: “Since George Washington, perhaps no more imposing and popular personage had taken the president’s oath, to greater public expectations” ,“he fairly radiates oodness, simple faith and his honest background”. Greatly supportive as all First Lady wives must be, Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower was ever-present when Eisenhower had campaigned for President his wife cheerfully shared his travels. “When Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated in 1953, the American people warmly welcomed her as first Lady. Diplomacy and air travel in the postwar world brought changes in their official hospitality.
The Eisenhower’s entertained an unprecedented number of heads of state and leaders of foreign governments, and Mamie’s evident enjoyment of her role endeared her to her guests and to the public”. What Eisenhower wanted to accomplish in his administration would be in essence the antithesis or repudiation of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations namely “numerous instances of malfeasance in office, disregard for fiscal responsibility, apparent governmental ignorance or apathy about the penetration of communists in government, and a willingness to divide industrial America against itself. He also believed the culmination of the last twenty years “had reduced the prestige of the United States and caused disillusionment and cynicism among our people. These I felt must be erased. ” Clearly, when he decided to run in 1952 his utmost priority was going to be foreign policy, and when he entered the White house in 1953 world affairs and the nation’s role were still at the top of his major concerns. At the root of his foreign policy, was still the postwar omnipresent fear of the spread of communism .
Shortly after his inauguration and to the relief of the Eisenhower administration, Joseph Stalin died on March 3, 1953. Recognizing a turning point, Eisenhower indicated in a carefully crafted speech that it was time for leaders on both sides to “begin talking to each other”. Shortly after on July 27, 1953 the Korean War ended after the subtle threat that nuclear options were not going to be ruled out which was initiated by Eisenhower himself (China and North Korea were not interested in calling his bluff). Eisenhower’s popularity soared, as did the public confidence in his leadership; he seemed, indeed to have turned a page in the Cold War by having begun talking to the other side”. The next step of his administration was to have everlasting consequences in the International community of nation-states. Another “one of his first presidential moves was to revitalize” (or reorganize) the United Nations Security Council which was second in the order of precedence regarding international coalitions because of postwar reunifications.
The UN Security Council was a lower priority because the international coalition of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was a higher priority in the post-World War II era. Subsequently, the NSC decisions finalized in Eisenhower’s administration had in effect “foreseen unilateral American intervention, if necessary to save Laos, Cambodia, or South Vietnam from communism”; these contingencies included the possible use of nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia. These decisions were still official doctrine when Kennedy took charge of Southeast Asia in 1961.
In a nutshell, after ending the Korean War, and immediately after Stalin’s death, the Eisenhower Administration saw an opportunity to end the Cold War, and with it, the spread of communism in the satellite-periphery of the nation-states with the support of NATO as well as the UN Security Council. The last major obstacle toward a foreign policy equilibrium would be a nuclear test ban treaty between the (then) superpowers of Russia and the United States which in hindsight was illusory, since the Cold War would continue for another three decades.
Without a doubt (in my opinion) the two defining controversial failures of the Eisenhower Administration in history were his lack of leadership in addressing the inequality of races following the Brown v. Board of Education, and a colossal blunder in authorizing an unnecessary spy mission which altered the immeasurable possibilities in deterring nuclear armament. Still, there are other controversial moments as well during his presidency.
Although his administration set a precedent in using ‘executive privilege’, against the attack machinations by Senator Joe McCarthy, Eisenhower never expressed any “moral outrage at McCarthy’s sins against decency. ” This is unfortunate because the 1950’s Red Scare unleashed by Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy are definitely a black mark on U. S. history, because in their zeal to prosecute communist sympathizers they also destroyed the lives and careers of innocent U.
S. citizens. Nevertheless, perhaps the darkest precedent has to be that his was the first seek the approval of a pre-authorized war from Congress. This was formally known as the 1955 Formosa Resolution, which ultimately became the instrumentality to commit U. S. ground forces in Vietnam by the Johnson Administration, known officially as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. This resolution essentially gave President Lyndon Johnson carte blanche to wage the war in Vietnam.
Amazingly, Eisenhower asked for, and received by a large majority the Formosa authorization within one hour of the House of Representatives receiving the request. The Formosa Resolution passed with Congressional authority was in essence a pre-authorized U. S. military intervention policy concerning the island of Formosa in 1955. The intervention never occurred but the policy remained intact. The body of the resolution is as explicit as it is vague and refers to “such other territories as may be determined. It would later be used by other administrations in deference. In summation, the iconic ‘father figure’ was both a remarkably successful as well as a dismal failure regarding morality. Immensely popular, his was an image of strength and courage; the nation trusted that he would keep us safe from harm, aggression, and communism. He is largely thought of as keeping the peace, ending the unpopular war in Korea, creating NASA and adopting Germany’s interstate highway system that we as citizens use every day. When he left office, he had a remarkable 66% approval rate.
Yet, he fails to sustain any semblance of moralistic leadership concerning civil rights, and was perfectly content with earlier ‘separate but equal’ rulings on the issue of segregation, reflecting perhaps his childhood upbringing and his Republican ‘Old Guard’ affiliations. Of his own admission (regarding the Paris Summit), the President noted that because of “the stupid U-2 mess”, “he saw nothing worthwhile left for him to do until the end of the presidency”. Sadly, after “risking the crowning success”, on which he wished to end his presidency, he instead shattered the hole prospect of disarmament and was a principal participant regarding nuclear proliferation for decades to come. If this sounds harsh then I am sorry, for history judges him by the harshest standard: empirical evidence. Regarding the now infamous 1961 farewell address and prayer for the nation, Eisenhower warns us of the omnipresence of the military industry. It is perhaps only an afterthought, because for years he had a direct hand in authorizing clandestine warfare by proxy in Iran, Guatemala, Indochina and Nicaragua.
Yet, maybe his sudden epiphany served to soothe an ailing conscience. For all of his popularity and leadership skills as an international figure, he is seen to have squandered away a unique opportunity to steer the country’s path toward greatness with a moralistic vision for the country on both the foreign and domestic front as well. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous misplaced power exists, and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with out peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together”. -Farewell address 1-17-1961 Smith Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. General Editor, The American Presidents Wicker, Tom. Biography on Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ch. 1 p. 4 Wicker, Tom. Dwight D. Eisenhower. P. 4
Wicker, Tom. Dwight D. Eisenhower. P. 8 Wicker, Tom. Dwight D. Eisenhower p. 9 Wicker, Tom. P. 8 Wicker, Tom. P. 13 Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Author of Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower. Ch. 1, P. 9 Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Second Chance. P. 8 Wicker, Tom. Ch. 2, p. 17 www. whitehouse. gov/about/first-ladies/mamieeisenhower Wicker, Tom. P. 21 Wicker, Tom. P. 21 Wicker, Tom. P. 22 Wicker, Tom. P. 23 Wicker, Tom. P. 26 Wicker, Tom. P. 139 Wicker, Tom. P. 79 Wicker, Tom. P. 129 Wicker, Tom. P. 129 www. Eisenhower. archives. gov