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Eisenhower Decides to Run:
Presidential Politics and Cold War Strategy
William B. Pickett, Eisenhower Decides to Run: Presidential Politics and Cold War Strategy. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000. 215 pp. $27.50.
William Pickett has successfully probed an important issue for political historians: When does a future U.S. president begin to think about the presidency, and how does the candidate move from casual thoughts about the White House to the career decisions and strategies that will secure the nomination and win the ensuing election? Dwight D. Eisenhower is a particularly challenging case to examine, given his military background, his expressed reluctance to enter the political arena, and the standard view advanced by Stephen Ambrose and others that Eisenhower exhibited little interest in the presidency until late 1951 and then reluctantly accepted a draft organized by Republican leaders. By using materials in the Eisenhower Library, most notably Eisenhower's prepresidential papers and other collections such as the Edwin Clark papers, Pickett carefully challenges the standard view and provides interesting insights into Eisenhower and the political process.
Pickett suggests that Eisenhower first emerged as a candidate in the perspective of others, rather than in his own musings about future career opportunities. The victorious campaign in North Africa in 1943 and the ensuing D-day landing at Normandy brought Eisenhower not only public adulation but also the interest of politicians from both parties, including Harry Truman, who made several suggestions at that time and after the election of 1948 that Eisenhower run as a Democrat. Although Eisenhower expressed unwillingness to seek a political post, he found himself increasingly drawn into political debates about military demobilization, postwar security, and the emerging Cold War. His potential as a candidate stood out because of his leadership responsibilities as army chief of staff, president of Columbia University, an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on strategy, and the first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Pickett offers several alternative explanations of Eisenhower's rise to political prominence and the calculations that led him to the presidency. One possible explanation is that Eisenhower's motivation paralleled that of his chief military rival, General Douglas MacArthur, who directly sought the Republican nomination in 1948 and 1952. Although Eisenhower did not match MacArthur's vanity and egotism, both men emerged as leading military heroes from World War II, and both articulated a somewhat different strategy with different priorities during the early Cold War and the Korean War. Pickett convincingly demonstrates that MacArthur's example prompted increased caution from Eisenhower about getting involved in politics. [End Page 139] When MacArthur made himself available for the Republican nomination in 1948, Eisenhower moved in the opposite direction, sending a letter to the press that argued against the involvement of military leaders in politics. The Truman-MacArthur crisis in 1951 caused Eisenhower to redouble his caution about any premature move into the political arena.
A second possible explanation advanced by Pickett emphasizes Eisenhower's skills as a behind-the-scenes strategist, an early example of the "hidden-hand" style of leadership associated with the Eisenhower presidency. Pickett provides a detailed account of Eisenhower's relationship with his advisers and a growing number of moderate Republican leaders who looked to Eisenhower in 1952 as the best hope for defeating the conservative candidate, Senator Robert Taft, as well as the Democrats. Eisenhower exhibited enough interest to spur his advisers to set up Eisenhower-for-president groups to draft the general. At the same time, Eisenhower resisted announcing that he was a Republican until January 1952 and held off announcing that he would accept a Republican nomination as long as possible. Eisenhower was so successful in this strategy that President Truman was still attempting in December 1951 to recruit the general to run as a Democrat. Although Eisenhower reassured his advisers and Republican leaders that he would do his duty and join the campaign, he remained somewhat elusive, preferring to work by...