The centennial of Dwight David Eisenhower's birth on October 14, 1890, has been marked by a wide range of commemorative observances throughout the year. He has been honored at a joint meeting of Congress and in the White House, at D-Day ceremonies in France and at events in more than a dozen foreign capitals as well as throughout the United States. These ceremonies have recalled to us many of the qualities and accomplishments of our 34th president, the leader of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II.
But there is further opportunity for reflective thought about Eisenhower going far beyond nostalgia in the historic events the world has seen during the past 12 months, including in particular both the collapse of the communist regimes in the eastern bloc and the present crisis in the Persian Gulf.Such events and the responses they require can be better understood through an examination of Eisenhower's own contributions in these same areas. And we in turn gain a better appreciation of the enduring relevance of the work of this man from Abilene, who came from "the very heart of America" to lead us in dealing with such problems.
East-West relations were of prime concern to Eisenhower. Early in his administration in 1953 he initiated a careful study, the "Solarium" project, to define a basic line of policy toward the Soviet Union given three major possibilities: "containment," "roll back," and "drawing a line."
The outcome - containment accompanied by continuing programs to keep alive the hopes for freedom behind the Iron Curtain, but only by non-military means - served as a basic guideline throughout his term in office.
Eisenhower promoted efforts to project abroad the values of freedom and democracy that undergird our own society. Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America were Eisenhower programs responsive to his policy of "non-military means."
The long-term view that he took is now being rewarded and he would be gratified indeed to see the opportunities now open to the citizens of newly liberated Europe to whom these programs were directed. As he said, "the current of world history flows toward freedom. In the long run dictatorship and despotism must give way. We can take courage in that sure knowledge."
Eisenhower also initiated substantive relations with the Soviet leadership to begin a Cold War thaw. He repeatedly rejected the proposals of "brush-fire war" advocates while finding ways to avoid being drawn into such conflicts. He sought to shift away from military confrontation with the Soviet Union, and the 1955 summit at Geneva, where he presented his "Open Skies" proposal - lately revived by President Bush - was an important step in this direction. Concerned over the world's growing thermonuclear arsenals, he established the office of Special Assistant for Disarmament and entered into serious dialogue with the Soviets on this issue.
Throughout the Berlin Crisis of 1958-59, Eisenhower moved through diplomacy while holding fast to our support for West Berlin, finally obtaining Khrushchev's agreement at Camp David to lift the "ultimatum" the Soviets had earlier imposed.
Unhappily, the shoot-down of the U-2 on May 1, 1960, brought to a standstill for the rest of his time in office any further efforts to improve relations with the USSR; nevertheless, enduring groundwork had been laid.
During these years, although he assigned "highest national priority" to developing intercontinental ballistic missiles as a mainstay for deterrence, he repeatedly rejected proposals and public pressures - military, industrial and Congressional - to convert that effort into "crash programs" to fill a "missile gap" he knew never existed.
And while supporting NATO, he pressed for European moves toward integration and for their assumption of greater responsibilities for Europe's own defense. His grasp of the interplay of international relations and adequate - not excessive - military power provides helpful guides for the days ahead as a new world order emerges.
Before that new order has had a chance to evolve, however, we face the crisis in the Persian Gulf. President Bush has received deservedly high marks for bringing international diplomatic pressure to bear against Saddam Hussein. In 1956, a key Eisenhower decision was to work through the United Nations to end the Suez Crisis.
His efforts were hailed by the world community and rewarded with a cease-fire, a withdrawal of forces and a strengthened United Nations. We can hope that President Bush and the world will realize a similar success in the present circumstance.
In other areas as well, Eisenhower's methods and results merit attention today. Proponents in the legislative and political arenas might select particular issues on which to concentrate their attention, but his was a wider concept of responsibility, reflected in the term "balance" that he came to use more and more in his last year in office as he weighed conflicting needs and goals.
His characteristic method for conducting security affairs, for example, put heavy emphasis on orderly organization and systematic process. While he often stressed that "organization cannot make a genius out of a dunce, nor make decisions for its head," he added that national security issues are so broad and complex that the president's role must take the form of directing and guiding the operating departments and agencies. Hence, his National Security Council and its supporting committee and staff structure were primarily concerned with policy and long-range plans.
As for fiscal responsibility, that is a subject for another time and another author. Suffice it to say that deficits were anathema to him (he balanced the budget three times), and John Kennedy's secretary of the Treasury, C. Douglas Dillon, credits Eisenhower's anti-inflationary policies for "(making) it possible for the Kennedy administration to pursue policies of non-inflationary growth that gave our country one of its most prosperous and healthy periods of economic growth during the years 1961-65."
I saw the other day a historian's comment that Americans voted for the grandfatherly Ike and were lucky instead to get the tough-minded Eisenhower. It is appropriate, 100 years after his birth, that we pay tribute to both - by looking to our future, grounded in the principles of freedom, liberty and enterprise that found expression in all that he did, and which resonate today louder than ever.