A lifelong Army man, Eisenhower had watched Marshall and MacArthur during their differences with Roosevelt and Truman. When he entered the White House in 1953, he was probably better schooled to know both the importance and the limits of military advice than any other president of his century.
Though the story does not appear in either book, in the late 1950s, Eisenhower’s generals — especially in the Air Force — were clamoring for a huge increase in the defense budget. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, was declaring that his country was cranking out planes and nuclear missiles “like sausages” and would soon overtake the United States.
Knowing from secret intelligence that Khrushchev’s claims were a fraud, Eisenhower held down military spending. His fortitude opened him to charges from Senator John F. Kennedy and other politicians that he was tolerating a “missile gap” and leaving America undefended. But his decision probably meant the country was able to avoid the ruinous inflation that afflicted its economy in later years.
In case that does not persuade you of how important it is to have presidents with the wisdom and experience to know when, and when not, to take military advice, it is worth remembering that Ike Ike was the leader in 1954 who scoffed at warnings that the free world would be in peril unless we immediately went to fight in Vietnam.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
New York Times Book Review: By Michael Beschloss