The image many of us have of President Dwight Eisenhower is an affable, grandfatherly figure, with that comforting, simple smile. You wouldn’t think he bore the burden of being the first human in history with the power to destroy civilization, but that’s the image that emerges from Evan Thomas’ new biography, “Ike’s Bluff“.
It’s the most compelling biography I’ve read in recent memory, though Thomas stipulates it’s neither a complete biography nor a full study of Eisenhower’s Presidency; those looking for an accounting of Eisenhower’s civil rights record will be disappointed. But the subject of Eisenhower’s creation of a foreign policy for a new, nuclear world order is barely contained in over 400 riveting pages.
It’s impossible to read the history without noticing some similarities with our own time. Eisenhower confronted a new nuclear reality, a re-ordered world. We asked Thomas if he saw any resonance with what President Obama and his successors may be facing with a nuclear Iran:
Eisenhower made use of advanced aviation technology— the U2 spy plane— in a way that calls to mind our current use of drones, at least for surveillance.
The U2 gave the United States a singular advantage over the Soviets, letting Eisenhower see that the Soviet missile program was far less of a threat than widely believed.
Of course, that advantage literally crashed to earth when the Soviets shot down a U2.
The CIA had told Eisenhower that the plane was impervious to anti-aircraft fire, and its downing was a diplomatic disaster, wrecking Eisenhower’s plans for negotiations with Russia.
By contrast, when an American surveillance drone crashed in Iranian territory last year, no one feigned surprise.