Eisenhower: The American Kutuzov?
I promise, I’ll drop this theme eventually. But I couldn’t help thinking of the Russian general when reading Daniel Larison’s review of Evan Thomas’s book, particularly this paragraph:
Eisenhower was “remarkably willing, on occasion, to let himself appear disengaged, even weak,” Thomas writes. This reflected his caution about overreacting or responding hastily to new developments. It was one of his most admirable traits. His seeming weakness often exposed him to politically motivated charges of dithering or incompetence, yet Eisenhower had enough confidence in his own judgments not to be pressured into policies he knew to be mistaken.
The flip side, of course is this:
Thomas seems unfazed by the expansion of the national security state on Eisenhower’s watch. Eisenhower’s farewell address is justly famous for its warnings of the dangers posed by the “military-industrial complex.” Even so, it is hard not to conclude that the warning was too little and too late after Eisenhower had spent eight years presiding over the growth of that complex.
It makes sense that the same man who was “constructively ambiguous” in his approach to foreign affairs, and aimed to avoid confrontation where possible, would be similarly ambiguous and unconfrontational in his approach to domestic interests. And the growth of the “military-industrial complex” was driven by forces much larger than President Eisenhower.
And finally, a friend emailed me Ike’s West Point yearbook page, where we find this:
“In common with most fat men, he is an enthusiastic and sonorous devotee of the King of Indoor Sports, and roars homage at the shrine of Morpheus on every possible occasion.”
Rod Dreher talks about the Reagan who challenged Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” but his more Kutuzovian quip was: “they say hard work never killed anybody, but I figure: why take a chance?”