In response to:
He Got the Big Things Right from the April 26, 2012 issue
To the Editors:
Several readers have protested my failure in a recent piece on Eisenhower [NYR, April 26] to mention his approval of covert operations to overthrow governments in Iran and Guatemala. Both of these episodes were unjustified and created a world of trouble that we all live with still. But in my review of two new biographies of Eisenhower I wanted to draw attention to a different matter—his success in avoiding new or expanded wars despite much pressure to plunge in. Once the shooting stopped in Korea, for which Eisenhower personally deserves much of the credit, no more American soldiers died in combat for the remainder of his time in office. This was a notable achievement, as difficult as balancing the budget, and no president since has managed to do it again.
The point is worth stressing now when President Obama is being urged to make an unprovoked attack on Iran. What Obama thinks about this matter is not yet clear, but I have a pretty good idea what Eisenhower would say to any president tempted to wage a third war in the Middle East—don’t do it. With the possible exception of Ulysses Grant, no other American president has shared Eisenhower’s understanding of the inertia of modern war—the ease of getting in, the difficulty of getting out, and the impossibility of predicting cost or consequences. No amount of fast talk could persuade Eisenhower to set those considerations aside when war was in the air, and by the end of his life he may have grasped that much the same is true of covert operations.
South Royalton, Vermont