Books: Robert R. Bowie and Richard H. Immerman's Waging Peace

Culture Watch

Mr. Snead is a member of the Department of History at Texas Tech University.

Editor's Note: The following first appeared in November 2001 on H-Diplo, the web site of the scholarly society H-Net.

Robert R. Bowie and Richard H. Immerman's Waging Peace is an outstanding addition to the historiography of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's decision making system and national security policies. More than any previous scholars, Bowie and Immerman detail how Eisenhower modified the national security decision making structure so that it would provide sound advice, and used it to formulate the basic national security strategy that the United States followed in waging the Cold War. Although not without a few flaws, Waging Peace deserves high accolades for its lucid arguments, careful research, and attention to detail.

Bowie and Immerman present two essential arguments. First, they assert that Eisenhower"developed the first coherent and sustainable cold war strategy suitable for the basic conditions that would prevail during the following decades" (p. 3). Second, they claim the process that Eisenhower used to obtain advice played a fundamental role in the success of his strategy in the 1950s and beyond. In arriving at these conclusions, they briefly examine the legacy of President Harry Truman, the pre-1952 views of Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, and then systematically explore the modification of the decision making process and the strategy Eisenhower implemented. There will probably never be a closer examination of what became known as Eisenhower's New Look policy.

The authors bring unique perspectives to this study. Bowie served as the director of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department and on the National Security Council [NSC] Planning Board from 1953 to 1957. Immerman has spent most of his career analyzing the Eisenhower administration. Among his best-known studies are John Foster Dulles and _The CIA in Guatemala. Together, Bowie and Immerman combine the advantages of an insider's account with the expertise of an accomplished historian. This approach is quite successful and lends validity to their conclusions, especially concerning Eisenhower's policies in 1953 and 1954.

According to the authors, Eisenhower inherited from Truman a" confused and much less coherent strategy" than had existed prior to the Korean War (p. 39). Although NSC 68 provided the basic objectives of Truman's strategy, Bowie and Immerman claim his actual policies did not support them. In their minds, this inconsistency bothered Eisenhower. In fact, aside from his concerns about the Republican Party's possible nomination of Robert Taft, Eisenhower believed he had to run for president in 1952 to provide more careful and systematic planning in the development of the country's national security policies. Bowie and Immerman contend,"Eisenhower intended to modify and improve upon Truman's foundation, not obliterate it" (p. 73).

Once elected, Eisenhower set out to reorganize the decision making process and to begin his administration's reexamination of America's policies. He believed more than any other president in the need for and value of systematic planning. He thought this approach would facilitate active discussion, provide a canvas for a variety of opinions, sharpen advice, and once decisions had been made, forge a consensus. As Bowie and Immerman conclude,"No president began his tenure with greater experience and firmer convictions than Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet no modern president was more sensitive to his need for help" (p. 257). He achieved this system by reorganizing and raising the stature of the NSC, and by creating the Planning Board to develop papers for discussion before the fu ll council and the Operations Coordinating Board to coordinate its decisions. Although the process never worked completely to Eisenhower's satisfaction, it did offer him carefully conceived advice.

As Eisenhower reorganized the decision making process, he began a reexamination of the policies he inherited from Truman. Bowie and Immerman meticulously describe the process Eisenhower followed and how decision making can be complicated by unexpected events. In March 1953 Joseph Stalin died, and Eisenhower had to respond to changes in the Soviet leadership. Eisenhower sought advice from the NSC and offered a very tentative olive branch to the Kremlin. He believed, however, that the Soviet Union was not likely to change very much; therefore, he continued his reexamination of U.S. security policies based on the same basic assumptions. To obtain a thorough appraisal of U.S. strategic options, he organized several task forces to examine current U.S. policies and make recommendations for the future.

Project Solarium, as the study became known, provided the foundation for NSC 162/2, Eisenhower's basic national security program. The consultants associated with Project Solarium developed reports that dominated Planning Board and then NSC discussions in the summer and fall of 1953. Bowie and Immerman argue,"No president before or after Eisenhower--ever received such a systematic and focused briefing on the threats facing the nation's security and the possible strategies for coping with them" (p. 127). Ultimately Eisenhower and the NSC determined that"The aim was to keep spending for national security on a scale that could be sustained indefinitely without impairing the vitality of the economy" (p. 187).

Bowie and Immerman spend the last half of the book exploring Eisenhower's formulation of polices using NSC 162/2 as a guide. While at times it is unclear just how much a guide the NSC paper provided, it was at the center of most discussions. Although there were disagreements within the administration especially from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NSC 162/2 discounted aggressive rollback as a policy option and instead, recommended the continued pursuit of containment. It also called for the maintenance of a strong nuclear deterrent force, sufficient conventional forces to meet limited conflicts, the strengthening of the non-communist world, and arms control negotiations under certain circumstances. The authors conclude that this basic strategy"although modified in detail, continued to govern Eisenhower's security policy throughout his tenure" (p. 247).

Bowie and Immerman have written an excellent book. They provide an insightful view into Eisenhower's decision making concerning national security policies in 1953 and 1954. Without question, this is the strength of the book. However, there are a few problems that stem from their assertions that Eisenhower's basic strategy guided his polices for the remainder of his presidency and those of the United States until the end of the Cold War. Bowie and Immerman assert,"this Eisenhower strategic legacy justifies the conclusion that it set the basic lines for implementing the containment concept that underlay the course of the West for three decades until the collapse of the Soviet empire" (p. 256). Their assertions, especially concerning the remainder of Eisenhower's presidency, are arguably true, but they are not proven in this book. Their study basically ends in 1954 after Eisenhower completed the formulation of his basic national security policies. For the next six years, Eisenhower struggled mightily to keep the United States on a course to wage the Cold War for the long haul. It would have been beneficial for Bowie and Immerman to provide some specific examples and evidence of the continuation of Eisenhower's basic national security strategy during these years.

Beyond the Eisenhower administration, the authors' conclusions become even more tenuous. Again, this is not to deny a strong element of truth in their arguments. However, Bowie and Immerman provide no evidence of the continuity of Eisenhower's strategy. Students of U.S. foreign relations might recognize some, but the authors do not provide any direct or, for that matter, indirect connections. Instead, they rely on sweeping statements like those cited previously. The United States did prevail in the Cold War as Eisenhower always assumed it would, however, he probably would have been horrified by the ultimate economic and human costs.

Bowie and Immerman's final assessment of Eisenhower's decision making system is quite important. Without question, they admire Eisenhower. He modified and used an advisory system in a way unlike any other president before or since. The system provided a means to obtain well-crafted advice, build consensus, and implement policy. John F. Kennedy rejected this system once he came into office and no other president has come close to adopting the one used by Eisenhower. The irony is the president who was the most experienced and best informed to make decisions received the highest quality of advice, while the least informed and experienced did not. Bowie and Immerman persuasively conclude,"future presidents would do well to consider the Eisenhower system in their effort to shape a new order for relative peace and prosperity in a complex world of interdependence and instability" (p. 259).

In many ways, the unfortunate events of September 2001 reveal the importance of Bowie and Immerman's conclusions. Without an effective advisory system, presidents will face grave difficulties. It would be a great service for George W. Bush and future presidents to study and learn from Eisenhower's approach. The authors clearly show that Eisenhower's system produced carefully considered advice and offered him the opportunity to clarify his thinking. While Bowie and Immerman may have made some assertions that were not supported by the evidence provided in the book, without a doubt, Eisenhower made a strong and lasting impact on the strategy followed by the United States during the Cold War.

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