May 23, 2010
The Buck Stopped Where?

My old White House boss Jim Fallows thinks very highly of President Obama’s West Point speech, but even more highly of President Eisenhower’s thematically similar farewell address in 1961 — the military-industrial complex one.

Nonetheless, I thought the argument and emphases of the speech made it important and wise, though for a different reason from what immediate press accounts have stressed. The short-term point about the speech is how different it is from George W. Bush’s argument for “preemptive war” at the same site eight years ago. The more significant point, to me, is how consistent Obama’s argument was with one of the statements of U.S. interest and strategy that holds up best over time: Dwight Eisenhower’s extraordinary “farewell address” to the nation nearly 50 years ago.

Well, okay, but Jim was in grade school nearly 50 years ago whereas I had spent the Eisenhower years as a college student, an army draftee, and a Washington newspaperman. Thus I have trouble getting too misty-eyed about that farewell address, although it was certainly extraordinary in one way.

Who had been president for the previous eight years? Who had sent White Star special forces teams to Northern Thailand only months before? Who had just told the incoming president that the greatest threat to world peace facing him was Laos?

Who made the unspeakable Dulles secretary of state and kept him in the job? Who sent thousands of “advisers” and billions in military aid to Diem after he violated the terms reached at Geneva by refusing to hold the national elections that he (and we) knew Ho Chi Minh would win?

Who blew the very real possibility of ending the Cold War when he continued the U-2 flights, thereby making it impossible for Khrushchev to pursue the detente the Soviet leader had plainly been seeking? Who let the other unspeakable Dulles gin up a CIA invasion of Cuba and who then left the whole mess on Kennedy’s plate?

Finally, who was the only president of my lifetime who had the military credibility, popularity and heroic stature to actually do something about that whole military industrial complexy thingy that upset him so?

But I agree with Jim — it was a swell speech.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at May 23, 2010 10:34 PM
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I made the same mistake as Fallows did right here on this blog several years ago and was quickly corrected by those more knowledgeable than myself. And this even after I had recently finished reading a long biography of Eisenhower, in which the writer placed particular emphasis on the methods by which Ike used to stop the likes of General Curtis LeMay and some other similar types, who wanted to start a war a land war in Asia by using nuclear weapons.

However what I most remember about that biography now so long ago that read so long ago that I have now forgotten the name of the author or the title of the book was how much time Ike spent at Augusta National playing golf and how much Ike hated it when General Montgomery from England insisted on inviting himself to play golf with Ike at that famous golf course.

Incidentally, I wonder when President Obama and former President Bush will get together for a game of golf. Not that I play, I was given lessons as a youngster but preferred part time jobs over golf in those golden days of youth, now long gone.

Posted by: Buck on May 24, 2010 4:28 AM

I was just a kid when the U2 was shot down but I remember my father talking with his friends and one of them said he just couldn't believe it that the President of the US had lied. I think that was the end of America's innocence, at least for those men. FDR lied, sure. Truman lied. But Ike? They loved Ike, they trusted him. I'm sure it must have been worse for them and a lot of other Americans when the East-West summit fell apart over Eisenhower's refusal to apologize to Khrushchev. What an irony when Gary Powers survived, only to die later when he crashed his TV station helicopter in LA (I think) during a low-altitude weatherman flight.

Posted by: CCRyder on May 24, 2010 9:54 AM

While we’re all piling on Eisenhower let’s not forget McCarthyism. Oh, wait. That was under Truman and Ike put an end to it.

Posted by: Nugatory on May 24, 2010 10:39 AM

Don't worry, Noogie, it's coming back. W. took the first giant steps toward McCarthyism under the guise of GWOT, and Obama/Holder seem to be following right along in the master's footsteps.

Posted by: Aitch Jay on May 24, 2010 11:48 AM
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