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Eisenhower and the Cold War

Author: Robert Divine

Oxford University Press, 1981

Here is Divine's summation of Eisenhower as President of the United States:

"The essence of Eisenhower's strength, and the basis for any claim to presidential greatness, lies in his admirable self-restraint. Emmet Hughes had this quality in mind when he wrote: 'The man – and the President – was never more decisive than when he held to a steely resolve not to do something that he sincerely believed wrong in itself or alien to his office.' Nearly all of Eisenhower's foreign policy achievements were negative in nature. He ended the Korean War, he refused to intervene militarily in Indochina, he refrained from involving the United States in the Suez crisis, he avoided war with China over Quemoy and Matsu, he resisted the temptation to force a showdown over Berlin, he stopped exploding nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. A generation of historians and political scientists, bred in the progressive tradition, have applied an activist standard to Ike's negative record and have found it wanting. Yet in the aftermath of Vietnam, it can be argued that a President who avoids hasty military actions and refrains from extensive involvement in the internal affairs of other nations deserves praise rather than scorn."

Divine describes in detail, but not boring detail, the major events that occurred during Eisenhower's administration, including the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, but he does not describe the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Eisenhower comes across as keeping John Foster Dulles under control and frequently having to combat Republican Party hot heads. Divine refers to Eisenhower's memoirs, including Eisenhower's description of himself as threading his way "with watchfulness and determination, through narrow and dangerous waters between appeasement and global war."

Divine describes some of the oil considerations that molded European and U.S. foreign policy, and he forgives what he describes as one of Eisenhower's naive Cold War notions: that he, Eisenhower, should be able to convince the Russians that the U.S. means no harm to them and that if they accept this we could live in peace with them.

Eventually a Soviet leader emerged who was convinced that the United States really wanted peace. This was Mikail Gorbachev, after Divine wrote his book.

Divine makes at least two errors. At one point he confuses Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas with Senator Ed Johnson of Colorado. And on the same page, 48, he leaves a qualification from one of Senator John F. Kennedy's statements, distorting slightly the meaning of the statement. But the great body of Divine's work is lucid and real.

Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, is portrayed as a Cold Warrior without Eisenhower's sense of measure.