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April 22, 2012

Re-Evaluating Ike

The New York Times reviews Eisenhower in War and Peace noting author Jean Edward Smith makes the "startling claim" that apart from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower was "the most successful president of the 20th century."

Smith carefully traces Eisenhower's "preparation for the presidency, and that's what this biography is really about. (Only a quarter of the book is devoted to the White House years and beyond.) From it, Eisenhower's own views on success in leadership emerge reasonably clearly. To reduce them to the length of a tweet -- an exercise my students recommend, and which Ike might well have approved -- they amount to achieving one's ends without corrupting them."

"Ends, Eisenhower knew, are potentially infinite. Means can never be. Therefore the task of leaders -- whether in the presidency or anywhere else -- is to reconcile that contradiction: to deploy means in such a way as to avoid doing too little, which risks defeat, but also too much, which risks exhaustion. Failure can come either way."


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