Saturday, January 12, 2008

Five best: books about the role of commander in chief

Thomas W. Evans, author of The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism, named a five best list of "exemplary books about the role of commander in chief" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:

The Hidden-Hand Presidency
By Fred I. Greenstein
Basic Books, 1982

Who was better prepared for the job of commander in chief than Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II? And yet, as president, he was a detached, avuncular character given to garbled answers at press conferences -- or at least that's the conventional perception, handed down by his critics in the 1950s. Political scientist Fred I. Greenstein's dogged pursuit of "recently declassified confidential diaries, letters and memoranda" two decades after the conclusion of the Eisenhower presidency overturned received ideas about Ike, elevating his standing with historians and doing much to change the way we study our leaders. "On the assumption that a president who is predominantly viewed in terms of his political prowess will lose public support by not appearing to be a proper chief of state, Eisenhower went to great lengths to conceal the political side of his leadership," writes Greenstein. He proceeds to reveal the real Eisenhower: an aggressive leader operating beneath a mask of statesmanlike nonpartisanship. Even the president's seemingly garbled statements could be tactical, prepared in advance to avoid taking firm official positions. While commander in chief, Eisenhower did not start a major war, but he ended one -- in Korea -- without fanfare. Ike's own writing confirms that he moved through back channels to tell North Korea's ally, the People's Republic of China (with which we did not have formal diplomatic relations), to end the conflict immediately or risk the use of nuclear weapons. A truce was soon in place.

Read about another book on Evans' list.

--Marshal Zeringue