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on December 28, 2012
Now that the cold war has become history, it is great to read how the Soviet threat was overblown and fear of the Soviets played into the hands of the "military-industrial complex". This book tells the story of Eisenhower's presidency when the cold war was threatening to become nuclear. Ike, the poker player, faced and balanced the threat versus the pressures to increase military spending to an unsupportable level. His use of MAD (mutually assured destruction) stood for 30 years and prevented the cold war from going nuclear and us from going broke in an arms race. Ike was the right man at the right time on the world stage and this is presented in a most readable fashion. I would have given it five stars but I got tired of the author continually detailing Ike's personal health problems such as his flatulence and various other personal issues that didn't contribute to the main thread of the story. I highly recommend this book to the casual reader of history who really does not understand the standoff of the cold war. Ike was the master poker player at every level.
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on June 27, 2013
As a staunch Democrat, I believe that President Eisenhower was a man who stood above partisan politics. This book shows, in depth, how he was able to stand up to a very difficult world, and kept our country out of a major war. He had many problems, not only abroad, but at home. While dealing with the Soviet threat abroad, he was dealing with the Right Wing at home who continually pressed for military involvement, including the use of nuclear weapons. Ike understood the horrors of war, and understood that no one would win if we (or the USSR) unleashed a nuclear war on the world. Was he perfect? Of course not. But, he was a great leader. This book is a fascinating read of that era, and should be read by all to understand the history of the time.
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on April 30, 2015
Evan Thomas thinks that Eisenhower won his phase of the cold war by letting Kruschev believe that John Foster Dulles was in charge and would not hesitate to drop the bomb. While this certainly the impression that Kruschev had, even after Dulles exited the scene, the actions that Eisenhower actually took, as described by Thomas, paint a picture of a president completely in control. From his steps to end the Korean War at the beginning of the first term, to his approval of individual U-2 flights at the end of the second term, Eisenhower is depicted as carefully balancing the demands of the DOD partisans for a large and diverse arsenal against his perception of the actual Soviet capabilities. We see the careful general preparing his positions for a major battle and trying hard to outguess the number and disposition of the enemy forces. But what we see most is a bridge player counting his points, not a poker player going by instinct and making courageous decisions. Most importantly, we don't know if Eisenhower ever agonized over any of his tough decisions in the White House. We have repeatedly heard the stories of his agonizing over the Normandy 1944 invasion, even to the point of preparing a statement to be released to the press in the event of failure, but we don't know if he ever contemplated confronting Kruschev on the Hungarian invasion, or even bargaining for some guaranteed safe passage from the US embassy of Hungarian premier Imre Nage (instead of the duplicitous promise from the puppet government that only resulted in the capture and execution of Nage that actually took place). We don't know if he ever worried over the birds that have now come home to roost many years after the US sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala. The reader gets the impression that Eisenhower in the White House was not the military hero, but rather the clever tactician who could seize opportunities when the risk was not too great, but knew how to keep his head down otherwise.
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on October 16, 2012
Maybe you've seen the SNL sketch where Reagan (played by Phil Hartman) is an aloof and gentle old man for public consumption, but when the doors close, is barking out orders of who they're working on, what they're getting done, and how they're making it happen.

It's actually a good description of Eisenhower, as Thomas details. Contrary to JFK's and era-historians' description of Eisenhower as an aloof do-nothing president who played golf while the country fell behind the Soviets, Ike was very much the military man on the ball. But he knew how our system worked, how egos needed to be massaged, how public opinion ran hot and cold, how America needed to be gently persuaded and not ordered. He didn't particularly care that Americans liked him but increasingly saw him as out-of-touch - so much the better strategically to be underestimated.

Thomas's central point is that Ike was determined to keep us out of war, successfully winding down the Korean stalemate, avoiding provocations in the Taiwan Strait, in Berlin, in the Middle East, in Indochina, and in Hungary. Ike's view was that there was no such thing as half-war or controlled war or phased-in war - you either stayed out, or you got in and went all the way till complete victory. JFK learned that lesson late, after the Bay of Pigs, when he and Ike last met (although JFK applied the lessons well for Berlin and Cuba in 1962), and LBJ never learned it at all and got us mired in Vietnam because of it. Ike stayed mum on what the line precisely was when he would use nuclear retaliation - his public cat-and-mouse game essential to that threat being credible. When the Soviets were making inroads in a country, Ike would have the problematic leader killed by the CIA, rather than sending in hundreds of American soldiers to die.

Ike had the U-2 spy plane pictures coming in, so he knew how pitiful the Soviet threat really was. He knew the most dangerous place for Khrushchev to be was at a crowded public summit meeting where he could rant at will, so he avoided them. (He reached out to the Soviet leadership for detente after Stalin died, but was rebuffed.) As an ex-Pentagon man, Ike knew exactly what the military brass needed and what they didn't, and eagerly cut the Pentagon budget every year, over vociferous opposition from everyone else in America (especially after Sputnik), particularly military contractors and their congressional supporters. (Ike originally wanted to call this pernicious element the "military-industrial-congressional complex" but dropped the third-named out of a sense of respect for a co-equal branch.)

While Thomas focuses on foreign policy, he briefly discusses Ike on civil rights. Personally anti-racist, Ike got a modest civil rights bill enacted and sent the troops in when mobs defied court rulings to integrate. He was, however, reluctant to use the bully pulpit for equality.

He was reluctant to use the bully pulpit for just about anything, including rolling back to the New Deal (much to the chagrin of Goldwater at the time and some today). America just wasn't ready for that, although Ike did keep a lid on federal spending growth, producing the last consistent budget surpluses until the late 1990s. He was a Republican primarily because he viewed Democrats as eager to spend the country into bankruptcy. He pushed through the highway system for defense reasons but only to connect metropolitan areas - he was upset but powerless when they were used to gash freeways through cities, where he wanted urban rail systems. He shook his head at fallout-shelter-building hysteria but was reluctant to speak out against it, just as he was reluctant to speak against McCarthy even though he loathed him.

I know there are bigger and more in-depth books out there on Ike laying out what a clever and amazing president he actually was. Thomas's book is a quick, entertaining, factual read, that should be essential for anyone interested in foreign policy.
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on May 9, 2014
Nothing to add to what has been said. I was another baby boomer who had seen Ike as a great War hero overmatched in the rat's nest of D.C. This book makes sense of the two Eisenhower POV. There was one Eisenhower, a hero in war and a hero in the White House. We needed someone like him to keep us out of Viet Nam, out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq.

A great read and a tribute to a great man.
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on January 25, 2014
As president, Eisenhower apparently pretended to be trigger happy in order to avoid a nuclear Armageddon. As a consequence, his dialogues with policymakers were sometimes erratic and unintelligible, and his the stress on him personally was immense. The conundrum Eisenhower faced hasn't entirely disappeared, so we read with increasing self-awareness. This book is thought provoking, fascinating, and an excellent read.
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on January 19, 2013
The narrative was somewhat shallow. In that Eisenhower was not a deep thinker, nor a colorful president, Thomas had to work at his conclusions and praise. This does not imply that Ike was a dull or indecisive president. What it does imply is that Thomas had to take some inductive leaps to present his conclusions. A result is that one is not convinced of Ike' s true effectiveness. I am not a fan of Thomas' writing style, and found it a little stilted. Having said all of this, I am glad I read the book. Ike was a true American hero.
I am a West Point graduate, and graduated at the conclusion of Eisenhower's presidency. I recall that once I was almost late for class, and blindly running to the academic hall almost physically ran in to President Eisenhower on a day he was visiting. I saluted and kept on running.
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on March 6, 2014
Mr. Thomas has written one of the best books I have read in a long time his research is first rate and written with such depth I could put it down. He paints a pictire of IKE that many have not seen or understood. He proves details many details that only comes from first rate research and interviews of people who were there. A great book!
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on January 6, 2013
Renewed interest in Eisenhower has produced various recent books. "IKE'S BLUFF" presents a newer perspective about his presidency with information not generally known. In addition to providing more intimate insights into Ike's life as president, the book is very well written and documented and very readable. I found it to be a real page-turner.
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on January 25, 2013
This is the first book I've read on Eisenhower, so I found it very informative. I was particularly interested on how Eisenhower managed the very difficult task of facing down the Russians on one side, while dealing with McCarthy on another side, the growing military industrial complex on a third front, and a corrupt and ineffectual CIA on a fourth side. It is a testament to Eisenhower's strength of character and his true patriotism that he stayed true to his beliefs and tried to steer the country on the straight and narrow. It's very clear his WW II role as Supreme Allied Commander (dealing with egotistical generals and difficult allies) prepared him well for the political maneuvering required by the presidency. What was most surprising about the book was how it illustrated his skill in poker and bridge helped to make him an effective negotiator and strategist on both the foreign and domestic issues.

In many ways, his leadership of the country during a pivotal time of post war adjustment and international intrigue reminds me of Washington - leading by force of character when other powerful forces would have forced the nation off course for selfish and foolish reasons.

Ike certainly had flaws and made some mistakes, but the overall impact of the book should be to elevate his stature amongst American president. A 2011 Gallup poll that ranks him 13th (BEHIND Clinton, Obama, GW Bush, and Carter) makes me want to puke and move to Costa Rica. Of course that same poll, by ranking Reagan, Clinton and Kennedy ahead of George Washington, effectually illustrates the colossal failure of our educational system and that why it can be fairly stated that a very significant percentage of Americans are political morons.
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