Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Eisenhower reconsidered

I've long had ambivalent views of President Eisenhower. My Republican family was enthusiastically for his election, not least because they viewed him as a "Denver boy" since he married a woman who had gone to high school with my maternal grandmother. I got excited about the Kennedy campaign and presidency and largely adopted the Democratic critique of Ike's presidency.

Some scholars have published revisionist views in recent years that I find persuasive. Over the holidays, I read a recent book dealing with a single year of his presidency that increased my admiration for the guy. David A. Nichols, Eisenhower 1956 (Simon & Schuster, 2011) describes Eisenhower's illnesses and their impacts on policymaking [mainly because of his unavailability at the doctors' orders]. It also shows that the US cancelled Aswan dam funding because of clear congressional opposition. As Dulles wrote to Ike: "If I had not announced our withdrawal when I did, the Congress would certainly have imposed it on us, almost unanimously."

I also found it significant that Ike repeatedly said Congress would have to approve any military action, even with UK & France. At a September 11 news conference, he said: "This country will not go to war ever while I am occupying my present post unless the Congress is called into session, and Congress declares such a war."  He also insisted on regular briefings/consultations with congressional leadership on possible military moves. He was a man of my own heart regarding Constitutional war powers.

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