Monday, July 05, 2010

What Eisenhower Could Teach Obama

By Melvin A. Goodman
July 5, 2010

Fifty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower told his senior advisers in the Oval Office of the White House, “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” Several months later, he issued his famous warning about the military-industrial complex.

Read on.


Montag said...

Umm, Mel, I'm a bit confused. The planning and training for the Bay of Pigs operation began under Eisenhower. It is known that training began in May, 1960, and it was known at the time in some parts of the Eisenhower administration--and by some in the CIA--that the operation could not succeed without U.S. military support.

So, quite simply, Kennedy got suckered by Richard Bissell and others (and yes, perhaps, by his own anti-Communist inclinations)--and by Eisenhower. But, there's no indication I know of that anyone told him at the time he reauthorized the operation that it had a high probability of failure without military assistance.

Moreover, Kennedy inherited Eisenhower's military. The military-industrial complex came to be in Eisenhower's two terms, and it was his first Secretary of Defense who laid the groundwork for it.

Further, Eisenhower--regardless of his public statements--left the military pretty much to its own devices, which is why, when Kennedy entered office, he was presented with a Joint Chiefs' office and a high command which was a rat's nest of Birchers and right-wingers who had even less respect for civilian authority than the current bunch in the Pentagon have for same. The situation was serious enough that Kennedy had to relieve Edwin Walker of his European command, and move Gen. Lemnitzer to NATO to get him out of the Pentagon.

The very strong difference between Kennedy and Obama is that Kennedy understood what was happening inside the Pentagon, while Obama still may not.

Kennedy even enlisted Eisenhower to go on television to speak--as much in his capacity as the old general as the ex-President--on the necessity for civilian control of the military. Kennedy at the same time gave a series of speeches across the country deriding extremism in all its forms, something Obama, is still loathe to do for fear of being accused of incivility toward the right.

I think Kennedy understood the military better than the credit given--even the situation with Vietnam suggests he did. That war, too, was the work of Eisenhower's CIA, as it originated in the U.S. finding Diem in exile and returning him to Vietnam to run the South after the unification elections had been disrupted (a French Catholic in a Buddhist country!), and it was Eisenhower's CIA which enlisted much undercover help from academia (particularly Michigan State) to run the government of Diem. It was Eisenhower who first introduced military "advisors" into the country in 1958 (some of the earliest American deaths in that war were NSA people doing signals interception). And yet, it was Kennedy who signed an executive order in Oct., 1963, to begin the orderly withdrawal of American soldiers from Vietnam. I would submit that Johnson understood the situation less well, because he not only rescinded Kennedy's order something like four days after Kennedy's assassination, he put his political weight behind the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, all the while knowing the grounds for it were specious.

It's more complicated than just not having any experience with the military (which both Kennedy and Johnson--and Nixon--did).

Anonymous said...

To a greater or lesser degree every president has an understanding of the military. I think Obama got some. The question is about his willingness or the lack of it to confront them and exert his full authority over them.

Maybe he is experiencing first hand the terrifying nature of military power as LBJ did before him.

Anonymous said...

This psychology has led to a decade of wireless wiretapping, the abrogation of habeas corpus, torture and abuse, and an atmosphere of fear and anxiety, which have combined to make us less secure.

Shouldn't this say "warrantless" wiretapping???