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“Ike’s Bluff” by Evan Thomas

This book focuses on President Eisenhower’s foreign policy, using poker as its primary metaphor. Ike was so good at poker he had to give it up because he was wiping out his fellow military officers’ personal savings, and he used his ability to read and bluff opponents all through his years at the White House. His game was so subtle that it would be years before anyone realized just how crafty he had been, having correctly ascertained that the Soviets didn’t want, and couldn’t afford, WWIII. It is refreshing to read a book in which the President is the smartest person in the White House, something I thought only happened in “The West Wing.” Thomas acknowledges that it was also a strategy only Eisenhower could have used, since his remarkable military career had given him a reputation to use both at home and abroad.

Eisenhower’s great weakness was being too tolerant of the Dulles brothers and their CIA operations. All the important foreign policy mistakes during his administration can be traced back to the Dulles brothers and Richard Bissell, with their aggression born of paranoia.

The book also outlines his resistance to the military-industrial complex and Red Scare. Eisenhower knew that the United States had atomic dominance during his entire administration, but saying so publicly might have revealed their successful U-2 spy missions. Since Eisenhower had spent his entire adult life in the military, it never really occurred to him how frightened America was becoming of atomic warfare, so he didn’t do enough to reassure citizens. Even so, he knew how the Pentagon worked, and kept trying to hold the line against levels of military spending that he thought would threaten the American economy and perhaps even our liberty. We are learning his wisdom through unfortunate example today.

Keeping up his calm poker face in front of the world’s leaders took its toll on his health, and he often relieved the emotional stress by losing his temper with those close enough to him to not hold it against him. Despite Eisenhower’s precarious health, then Vice-President Nixon played only a minor role in this book, portrayed as a loyal courtier rather than in light of his own important role in the Cold War.

Thomas wrote a worthy book, well researched and well written. I hate to think that it took sixty years for a book to written that gives up the truth about his administration. At that rate, I could be dead long before the truth comes out about any president elected after the 2000, a prospect I do not relish.
Tags: author: t, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: history
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