Although judged by his contemporaries to be a largely passive chief executive, Dwight D. Eisenhower has been reappraised in more recent scholarship—which draws from newly available primary documents—and found to be far more active than originally perceived. Historian Cole C. Kingseed reinforces this revisionist perspective in his study of Eisenhower’s effectiveness during one of the major foreign policy challenges of his administration: the Suez crisis of 1956.
Kingseed’s principal focus is on the president—what he did and why and how he did it. Discussion of the Middle East situation forms the backdrop against which to analyze Eisenhower’s control of the decision-making apparatus of the federal government. Forgoing late-twentieth-century hindsight, Kingseed evaluates Eisenhower’s managerial performance according to what the president knew at the time. As much as possible, he relies on the president’s own diary, his private letters and memoranda, his official correspondence, official Department of State records, minutes of the National Security Council and cabinet meetings, presidential secretary Ann C. Whitman’s diary and journals, written records and personal correspondence of staff secretary Andrew J. Goodpaster, and a wide array of oral histories.
What Kingseed reveals about Eisenhower’s command of the White House during the Suez crisis reflects his executive abilities generally: Eisenhower was at the center of events, organizing the security departments within the federal government in such a manner that it was only at the presidential level that all aspects of strategy and policy coalesced. In devising and implementing long-term policy, he utilized more formal organizations, such as the National Security Council, but for matters that required personal and immediate attention, he convened an ad hoc group of special advisers for daily operations.
A major premise of Kingseed’s analysis is that the method in which a president organizes and supervises the decision-making apparatus has a profound impact on the attainment of political goals. That Eisenhower, in responding to the Suez crisis, achieved his policy objectives amid dissenting allies, contentious military chiefs, and political opposition in a presidential election year clearly demonstrates, according to Kingseed, the unique, flexible leadership style of an extraordinarily active—and effective—chief executive.
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