Dwight D. Eisenhower - Aftermath and retrospect

A few months after Eisenhower left office, Congress restored to him the lifetime rank of General of the Army. His military service, which had begun at West Point in 1911 and continued until he resigned to run for office in 1952, resumed. As had been the case before 1952, Eisenhower assumed the nonpolitical status of a member of the military, although he now felt free to take a moderately active part in the Republican party and speak out for Republican domestic programs.

Behind the nonpolitical facade, he maintained the same private preoccupation with the detailed working of public affairs that had marked his pre-presidential career. Private diary entries show that Eisenhower was displeased with the statecraft of both Kennedy and Johnson. Nevertheless, he held it to be his responsibility to support them in public on matters affecting national security. Thus, he made a point of being photographed with Kennedy after his successor's efforts to launch an invasion of Cuba failed, and he met unofficially with Johnson, advising him at length on the conduct of the Vietnam conflict. By the time of Nixon's nomination in 1968, Eisenhower was bedridden after multiple heart attacks. He nevertheless broadcast a message to the Republican convention from his hospital bed and advised the Nixon administration until a few weeks before his death on 28 March 1969.

In retrospect, many of Eisenhower's accomplishments seem to have been what from a latter-day perspective might be described as constructively negative. They were outcomes that did not occur, but that might have ensued were it not for his efforts to resolve conflicts and prevent potential catastrophes. The conflict in Korea was ended; further fighting in Indochina was avoided; McCarthy was defused; inflation rates were held down; the Western alliance held fast; and in spite of many circumstances that might have provoked war, the seven-and-a-half years after the Korean settlement saw no American troops in combat.

Eisenhower's dual policy of limiting the expansion of the welfare state and of curbing costly, potentially provocative military escalation was reversed by his successors. The Kennedy administration greatly expanded missile production. (In later years, opponents of an American weapons buildup often cited Eisenhower's warning in his farewell address against the influence of the "military-industrial complex.") And the Johnson administration expanded welfare programs massively. By the final decades of the twentieth century, however, there was renewed interest in curbing domestic expenditures and limiting weaponry. And there was a new fascination with the statecraft of a president who had succeeded in keeping the support of Americans for two full terms. Thus, the Eisenhower presidency seems both to have had important consequences during his time in office and to provide lessons for future presidencies.

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