Today, everybody likes Ike. Liberals see Dwight Eisenhower’s foreign policy as a model of strategic restraint. Conservatives view him as a tough but shrewd warrior president. But there’s another side to Ike, one that’s often ignored: The story of his political life after leaving the White House. Ike in winter became a ferocious hawk on Vietnam who helped propel America deeper into the quagmire.
Eisenhower was the son of pacifist Mennonites who fretted about his love of military history. He became a hero of World War II and the architect of D-Day. And Ike also understood the price of war. After becoming president in 1953, he hammered out a truce in the Korean War. In 1954, Eisenhower resisted entreaties to intervene in Vietnam following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Indeed, during the last seven-and-a-half years of Eisenhower’s presidency, only a single American service member was killed by hostile fire (in Lebanon in 1958). Eisenhower famously left the White House in 1961 warning about “the military-industrial complex.”
Some commentators have seen Obama as a successor. Both presidents entered office in the shadow of a stalemated war; both favored foreign-policy restraint and cool-headed realism. Fareed Zakaria wrote on “Why Barack is Like Ike.” “Eisenhower understood, as Obama surely does,” Jeffrey Frank wrote, “how America’s role can change indelibly in a moment: that sending a single air strike, or soldier or, as happened with later Administrations, thousands of soldiers, binds us to the outcome.”