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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-09
- Reviewer: Staff
Often derided as an inattentive national grandfather, Eisenhower emerges as a subtle, sharp-witted master statesman in this probing study of his foreign and security policies. Historian Thomas (The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898) paints a colorful, richly detailed portrait of a man whose habit of hiding his cutting intellect, volcanic temper, and poker-player’s instincts behind public grins and vague pronouncements amounted to a profound political strategy. Eisenhower’s low-key nuclear brinkmanship anchors the book. Thomas argues that Ike’s deliberately ambiguous statements about using nuclear weapons caused the Soviets and Chinese to back off. His duplicity and indirection prevailed in everything from the Suez Crisis to his battle against bloated defense budgets. The result, Thomas contends, was an audacious geopolitical gamble: while dreading the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, Ike embraced a doctrine of massive retaliation that put nuclear war at the heart of American strategy—and then adroitly used it to defuse military confrontations. Thomas’s appreciation of Eisenhower is sometimes too sunny; he says little about Ike’s approval of CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala and the troubled interventionist path they charted. Still, his vivid, compelling profile of Eisenhower—the man and the shrewd operator—should spark reconsideration of his presidency. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Sept. 25)
Keeping the dogs of war at bay
In 1952, with the Cold War beginning and a hot war raging in Korea, American voters sought a leader whose foreign policy could bring peace and security. Toward that end, they elected war hero Dwight Eisenhower as their president. With an escalating nuclear arms race, Ike found he was the first person in history with the power to destroy the world. As Evan Thomas demonstrates in his riveting Ike’s Bluff, the new president’s single most important preoccupation was avoiding war. How he did it, with subtlety and a pragmatic approach, is the focus of the book.
At the heart of Eisenhower’s strategy on nuclear weapons was confidentiality—he was the only person who knew whether he would drop the bomb. His ability to convince the enemies of the U.S. as well as his own supporters that he would use nuclear weapons was, Thomas writes, “a bluff of epic proportions.” To do this required extraordinary patience and self-discipline.
As Thomas points out, “Eisenhower’s critical insight was that nuclear warfare had made war itself the enemy.”
Thomas shows that Eisenhower’s approach to nuclear weapons would have worked only for him, a highly respected and popular military hero. As Thomas writes, “Ike was more comfortable as a soldier, yet his greatest victories were the wars he did not fight.”