Dwight Eisenhower and American Foreign Policy During the 1960s: An American Lion in Winter.
Richard M. Filipink, Jr. pierces through the mythology that still surrounds Dwight D. Eisenhower and portrays him as an extremely conservative ideologue and a Machiavellian politician shaping American foreign policy in the 1960s. The author makes a persuasive case that Eisenhower used his immense personal popularity to influence the foreign policy of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Clearly, he consistently advocated a militaristic response to the many challenges these Democratic presidents faced in the Cold War.
Unquestionably, Eisenhower was devious, intellectually disingenuous, and politically partisan. The author states, "Once he was no longer in office, Eisenhower was clearly much more willing to support the use of force to obtain foreign policy goals" (111). In fact, he was the same old Eisenhower. As president, he had, behind the scenes, habitually supported threatening or using force in Korea, Indochina, China, Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, and Cuba. He carefully hid this militant belligerency from both the public and the press. President Eisenhower, a man of the "middle path" and a moderate Republican, is essentially mythological. Filipink shatters many of these falsehoods by showing him as extremely quarrelsome and taking contradictory stands on many issues before eventually taking a negotiated public position, while often holding the exact opposite point of view in private.
Virtually all of the crises in foreign affairs that Kennedy and Johnson confronted have their origins in the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower carefully maintained his reputation of being nonpartisan in foreign affairs, while, in reality, being highly partisan and extremely critical of the Democrats. Kennedy and Johnson reasonably feared the possibility that he would attack their foreign policy. Appeasing Eisenhower became an important theme for them. Kennedy, however, as Filipink properly points out, had a healthy disdain for Ike's foreign policy advice.
Kennedy wisely rejected his counsel on sending U.S. troops to Laos. Eisenhower gave Kennedy a scathing critique of the Bay of Pigs, but then promised not to publicly embarrass or humiliate the new president. Kennedy then calmly took no military action with the construction of the Berlin Wall. All of these actions made him appear weak to Eisenhower. Yet, with his successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy adopted a very independent foreign policy. He negotiated a limited test ban treaty, which Eisenhower had opposed. Kennedy favored MacArthur's view that a land war in Asia should be avoided at all costs. In April 1961, MacArthur had criticized Eisenhower to him by saying the "chickens are coming home to roost" (37).
After the assassination of Kennedy, the new president heavily depended on the former president for foreign policy instruction. Filipink's basic argument that Eisenhower had a major impact on foreign affairs seems much more credible here. Johnson believed in Eisenhower's domino theory in the Far East and actively consulted with him on Vietnam. The student of Clausewitz told Johnson to escalate and win the war. This recommendation included, if necessary, the use of tactical nuclear weapons. This prospect naturally frightened Johnson and most of his advisors. Operation Rolling Thunder may have been a result of Eisenhower's belief in a bombing campaign for morale purposes.
What Filipink astonishingly reveals about Eisenhower in this well-researched book is not his massive transformation in the 1960s, as the author wrongly implies, but how he made the same arguments in the 1960s that he had made in the 1950s. The domino theory and his Munich appeasement analogy failed to impress Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. Lyndon Johnson, however, completely accepted these premises as valid and then acted militarily, without allies, against the Communists in Vietnam. This led the United States into a disastrous military quagmire and to an eventual Communist victory in Southeast Asia.
Paradoxically, Eisenhower kept telling Kennedy and Johnson, directly and through intermediaries, to trust the military. In retrospect, this appears as extremely odd advice coming from someone who never trusted the military or his generals. Eisenhower, in his farewell address, specifically warned the nation about the grave dangers of the military-industrial complex. Presidents do not have the luxury of trusting generals. Kennedy's biggest error happened to be in trusting his military advisors about Eisenhower's Bay of Pigs plan. Johnson destroyed his presidency by taking his advice on Vietnam. Filipink effectively contends that Eisenhower had a major impact on foreign policy in the 1960s; unfortunately for the country, the results were entirely negative. Finally, Filipink's insightful analysis of Ike in the 1960s gives us an understanding into what he really thought in the 1950s, and this directly challenges the historical consensus that still exists about him.
--David M. Watry
University of Texas at Arlington
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|Author:||Watry, David M.|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2017|
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