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What Eisenhower Could Teach Obama

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Mel Goodman
Message Mel Goodman
Reprinted from Consortium News

Editor's Note: This is Part I of a series by former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman addressing the presidency and the Pentagon.

Part II will deal with President Obama's difficult inheritance of two wars in addition to a war on terrorism as well as the legacy of presidents who contributed to the militarization of national security policy. Part III will deal with President Obama's mishandling of this inheritance and what the Obama administration needs to do to reverse the situation:

Now the United States finds itself in a cul-de-sac, with no way out of increased military deployments and expenditures, and no evidence that President Obama has a firm hand on the national security tiller.

A central problem for the nation is the increased power and influence of the Pentagon over the foreign and national security policies of the United States.

No president since Eisenhower has fully understood the Pentagon's dominant position in military and security policy. Armed with his knowledge and experience as World War II's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Eisenhower made sure that he could not be outmaneuvered by his military advisers, particularly on such key issues as the Vietnam War and tensions with the Soviet Union.

However, his immediate successors thoroughly bungled the decision-making process. President John F. Kennedy never understood that the Pentagon anticipated the failure of the CIA in Cuba in 1961 and expected to use its air power to finish the job.

President Lyndon B. Johnson knew that Vietnam was a fool's errand but failed to challenge the pleas from the Pentagon for more force and additional troops or the strategic views of the Rostow and Bundy brothers.

By contrast, Eisenhower ignored the hysteria of the bomber and missile gaps in the 1950s, claimed by Senators Stuart Symington and Kennedy as well as by such key advisors as Paul Nitze.

Nitze had unnecessarily heightened concerns about U.S. security in National Security Council Report 68 (known as NSC-68) in the late 1940s, and he was the chief author of the overwrought Gaither Report, which called for unnecessary increases in the strategic arsenal.

Eisenhower ignored these advocates for increased defense spending and even cut the military budget by 20 percent between 1953 and 1955 on the way to balancing the budget by 1956. Eisenhower started no wars and was willing to settle for a stalemate in ending the Korea War.

Eisenhower clashed with the military mindset from the very beginning of his presidency. He knew that his generals were wrong in proclaiming "political will" as the major factor in military victory.

A five-star general, Eisenhower would have shuddered when four-star General David Petraeus, like so many military commanders of recent decades, proclaimed last week that U.S. political will is the key factor for success in Afghanistan.

How Much is Sufficiency?

Eisenhower knew that military demands for weaponry and resources were always based on inexplicable notions of "sufficiency," and he made sure that Pentagon briefings on the Hill were countered by testimony from the national security bureaucracy.

Henry A. Kissinger was one of the rare national security advisers and secretaries of state who understood Eisenhower's point of view.

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Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. He is a professor of international security studies and chairman of the international relations (more...)

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