Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World.

Author:Jackson, Michael G.
Position:Book review
 
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Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World. By Evan Thomas. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2012. 484 pages.

For those scholars who have immersed themselves in Eisenhower studies, they will find little that is substantively fresh in Evan Thomas' new book about Dwight Eisenhower and his eight years in office. Thomas acknowledges his debt to authors such as Fred Greenstein (The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader [The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994]) and others who, years ago, challenged the 1950s stereotype that Eisenhower was a "lightweight," who only excelled in playing golf, but was, in fact, a president who utilized shrewd strategies of "hidden hand" leadership in manipulating people and events during his time in office. However, it is a very well-written book, packed with insights and vivid anecdotes about Eisenhower's personality, for example, he was a fiercely competitive bridge and poker player who hated to lose and who always sought to manage, in contrast to his genial public image, a bad temper that could explosively erupt in force. Thomas describes and notes Eisenhower's tart and sarcastic opinions about many of the leading political players of that era. As a journalist, Thomas has an eye for presenting the interesting quote or fascinating vignette. Thomas also portrays in graphic detail how often the president was in physical pain, as a result of a variety of ailments. The author primarily focuses on the president's national security policies and his management style, especially during crises.

Though Thomas fairly points out many of Eisenhower's flaws and failures, in his opinion, Eisenhower was a near master of the use of deliberate ambiguity, bluff, and confusion in achieving his central national security goal, namely, keeping the United States out of war, especially, a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. This is the core argument that Thomas makes. During the multiple crises of the Eisenhower presidency, Thomas shows us a leader who used the ambiguous threat, sometimes skillfully, other times, less so, of "massive retaliation" to protect American national interests, in order to prevent war. According to Thomas, "he [Eisenhower] knew that, to be credible about using the bomb as a deterrent to war or as a prod to diplomacy, he had to show a willingness to use nuclear weapons--not just in his public statements but in his most private deliberations" (p. 79). To Thomas, Eisenhower was a...

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