Eisenhower and the Cold War
The Eisenhower presidency has undergone massive reappraisal in recent years, with the president’s star continuing to rise. The image of Eisenhower fostered in the 1960’s and into the 1970’s was of a weak president who preferred golfing to decision-making, who allowed others, particularly Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, to make important decisions. He seemed to personify the tranquilized 1950’s, a time when “the bland were leading the bland.” A president who read Westerns and slept late seemed to fulfill the country’s expectations, a father figure who took life easy. It is now clear, however, that the 1950’s were anything but a tranquil period, and it is clear also that Eisenhower only pretended to sleep much of the time. His low profile was deliberate, designed to reassure the country while he continued to make difficult decisions, particularly concerning foreign policy matters. He now appears as a strong leader whose strong anti-Communism did not prevent him from negotiating with the Soviet Union and reducing military spending. The seemingly contradictory nature of Eisenhower’s foreign policy decisions, intervening to stop Communism in countries such as Iran and Guatemala while working strenuously to prevent nuclear war, has perhaps been most fully explored in Blanch Cook’s recent The Declassified Eisenhower (1981). Refurbishing Eisenhower’s image is also the goal of Robert Divine’s study, although, unlike Cook, he does not stress the ambiguities of his subject.
Divine’s Eisenhower is a strong leader, guiding American foreign policy with a sure hand (Divine admits that Eisenhower cared little about domestic affairs). His greatest diplomatic triumph was in maintaining peace for eight years:six months after taking office, he brought the fighting in Korea to an end; in Indochina, he resisted intense pressure to avoid direct American military intervention; in Suez, he courageously aligned the United States against European imperialism while maintaining a staunch posture toward the Soviet Union.
Of course, Cold War tensions ran high during the 1950’s, and John Kennedy inherited a number of crises when he entered office, but Divine argues that Eisenhower accomplished a great deal.
By the time of his election in 1952 Eisenhower had proven himself to be a skilled leader, having served as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II. Perhaps more important, however, he had mastered the art of public relations. He had always cultivated reporters and strained to make himself look good, but in the past he had bridled at criticism. By the time he became president, Divine says, Eisenhower could remove himself from the passions of the moment and rationally reach conclusions. This stance enabled him to adhere constantly to his major goal, that of maintaining peace. By fulfilling his campaign pledge to end the fighting in Korea soon after his election, he clearly outlined the path his presidency would follow. Many commentators have argued that Eisenhower allowed his foreign policy to be dictated by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a cold warrior who advocated stopping the spread of Communism and freeing the “captive nations,” albeit without the use of force; but, according to Divine, the president used Dulles but was not dominated by him. He appreciated his diplomatic skills, yet constantly kept him in check, always letting Dulles know who was boss....
(The entire section is 1407 words.)