Dwight D. Eisenhower
Fred I. Greenstein
DWIGHT DAVID EISENHOWER, the thirty-fourth president of the United States, was uniquely popular among post-World War II American presidents. As of 2002, only two other chief executives of that period, had been elected to and completed two terms in office. Apart from John F. Kennedy, who did not live to face the consequences of his policy of increasing military involvement in Vietnam, Eisenhower was the only postwar president who received more positive than negative ratings for his entire time in office.
In spite of Eisenhower's impressive ability to maintain the support of the American people, for roughly the decade and a half after he left the White House most scholars and other writers on the presidency judged him to have been a lackluster leader. In 1962, for example, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., asked seventy-five leading authorities on the American presidency to rank the chief executives in order of greatness. Eisenhower placed twenty-first, tied with Chester Arthur. The scholars' views of Eisenhower and his leadership fundamentally echoed the 1950s partisan rhetoric of liberal Democrats, who viewed Eisenhower as bland, good-natured, and well intentioned, but politically inept and passive. He seemed to hold a minimalist view of the leadership responsibilities of the chief executive. His success in achieving the potentially valuable political resource of popular support was inescapable. But this support was judged to be based merely on the legacy of acclaim he inherited from his World War II leadership as supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, reinforced by the appeal of his broad grin and benign countenance to the politically inattentive bulk of the electorate.
By the mid-1970s, a reappraisal of Eisenhower and his leadership was well under way. Interest in reexamining Eisenhower's presidency was spurred in part by the difficulties encountered by his successors and in part by retrospective assessments of the events that occurred while he was in office. Lyndon B. Johnson had felt obliged not to run again because his backing was so weak; Richard M. Nixon had resigned in the face of certain impeachment and conviction; Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter had been defeated at the polls. Eisenhower's ability to serve two full terms while maintaining his popularity seemed to call for study and analysis. Moreover, his period in office now seemed to have been one of accomplishment rather than drift. By the summer of 1953 his administration had negotiated an armistice that ended the bloody, stalemated Korean War. Peace prevailed throughout the remainder of his presidency, in spite of major episodes that could have led to East-West military conflict. The divisive internal debate over whether the nation was endangered by Communist subversion from within had ended. Inflation rates were low, and, in general, the economy was performing well.
Other of Eisenhower's actions appeared in retrospect to be highly questionable, perhaps most notably his covert use of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to help overthrow the nationalistic Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953 and the left-leaning Ar-benz government in Guatemala in 1954. But the very fact that Eisenhower had policies worthy of attention (whatever their merit), like the fact of his popularity, seemed by the 1970s to make it necessary to reconsider the notion that his presidency was simply a time of leaderless inaction.
Fortunately such reconsideration was by then possible. In the archives of the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, and in other repositories, enormous bodies of primary source records on Eisenhower and his conduct of the presidency began to be released, many of them in successive volumes of the Department of State's invaluable documentary volumes entitled The Foreign Relations of the United States . These records constitute a window through which to view the unpublicized aspects of a president and presidency whose public and private sides were near antitheses. It is now possible to read private diary notes in which Eisenhower recorded his experiences and clarified his thinking and feelings, as well as similar records by some of his close associates, and it is possible for nonspecialists to explore such matters through a burgeoning scholarly literature on the Eisenhower years.
Eisenhower was a prolific and fluent writer of off-the-record correspondence, which provides important insights into his views and actions. His leadership also is well documented in records of his official and unofficial meetings, phone conversations, and even transcripts of his remarks in pre-press conference briefings on what information he did, and did not, choose to make public and what impressions he sought to create. From this evidence and the testimony of people who were closely associated with him, it has become clear that Eisenhower in fact was a presidential activist, but that his activism, which was grounded in a consciously articulated view of how to exercise leadership, took a distinctive and unconventional form.
The most thorough account of Eisenhower's pre-presidential career is Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890–1952 (New York, 1983). Eisenhower provides a crisp, somewhat impersonal account of his wartime leadership in Crusade in Europe (Garden City, N.Y., 1948). For Eisenhower's memoir of his presidency, see his rather dry two-volume report in The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953–1956 and Waging Peace: 1956–1961 (Garden City, N.Y., 1963, 1965). More of a sense of the man is given in his anecdotal but shrewdly reasoned and wry At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Garden City, N.Y., 1967). The fullest picture of the private Eisenhower emerges in The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower (Baltimore, Md., 1970–); close to thirty volumes are anticipated. See also Robert H. Ferrell, ed., The Eisenhower Diaries (New York, 1981).
The most comprehensive scholarly account of Eisenhower's presidency is Stephen A. Ambrose, Eisenhower: The President (New York, 1983). The specialized literature on Eisenhower in general and his presidency in particular is growing rapidly. Early contributions to what by the mid-1980s became a steady flow of contributions include Fred I. Greenstein, The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (New York, 1982; rev. ed., Baltimore, 1994); Gary W. Reichard, The Reaffirmation of Republicanism: Eisenhower and the Eighty-third Congress (Knoxville, Tenn., 1975); and Richard H. Immerman, The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention (Austin, Tex., 1982). A good starting point for grasping Eisenhower's world outlook is H. W. Brandes, Jr. Cold Warriors: Eisenhower's Generation and American Foreign Policy (New York, 1988). On Eisenhower's role in sending the first troops to Vietnam see David L. Anderson, Trapped by Success: The Eisenhower Administration and Vietnam, 1953–1961 (New York, 1991).
A spate of recent scholarship has produced other specialized studies on details and significant issues of Eisenhower's time in office: Craig Allen, Eisenhower and the Mass Media: Peace, Prosperity, and Prime-Time TV (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1993); Isaac Alteras, Eisenhower and Israel: United States—Israeli Relations, 1953–1960 (Gainesville, Fla., 1993); Michael R. Beschloss, MAYDAY: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair (New York, 1986); Robert A. Divine, The Sputnik Challenge (New York, 1993); Robert J. Donovan, Confidential Secretary: Ann Whitman's Twenty Years with Eisenhower and Rockefeller (New York, 1988); Richard G. Hewlett and Jack M. Holl, Atoms for Peace and War, 1953–1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission (Berkeley, Calif., 1989); R. Alton Lee, Eisenhower and Landrum-Griffin: A Study in Labor-Management Politics (Lexington, Ky., 1990); Stephen G. Rabe, Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anti-Communism (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988); Duane Tananbaum, The Bricker Amendment Controversy: A Test of Eisenhower's Political Leadership (Ithaca, N.Y., 1988); and Raymond J. Saul-nier, Constructive Years: The U.S. Economy Under Eisenhower (Lanham, Md., 1991).
For a valuable review of the growing body of Eisenhower scholarship see Chester J. Pach, Jr., and Elmo Richardson, The Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower , rev. ed. (Lawrence, Kans., 1991), pp. 263–272. For further sources consult R. Alton Lee, comp., Dwight D. Eisenhower: A Bibliography of His Times and Presidency (Wilmington, Del., 1991).
Recent works include Steve Neal, Harry and Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Postwar World (New York, 2001); Geoffrey Perret, Eisenhower (New York, 1999); William B. Pickett, Eisenhower Decides to Run: Presidential Politics and Cold War Strategy (Chicago, 2000); and Tom A. Wicker, Dwight D. Eisenhower (New York, 2002).