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Evan Thomas Compares Ike and O

By    |   Friday, 11 April 2014 11:36 AM

On April 5, Evan Thomas and Dan Klaidman appeared before a modest audience at the Annapolis Book Festival to discuss their respective books, Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World and Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, which explore the somewhat strained premise that these two presidents have much in common.

Klaidman offered as parallels Obama's travails with the CIA and Eisenhower's with the U-2 and Obama's struggle with the Crimea crisis and Eisenhower's with Hungary.

Thomas ventured that both confronted the great humbler of presidents — reality. (I would quip that of the two, Eisenhower was humbled by the "great humbler," but Obama hasn't been humbled by anything. In a conversation after an AEI event during the 2008 campaign, I suggested to University of Chicago Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, who later joined the administration, that Obama brought nothing to the campaign but narcissism and self-regard. Sunstein replied that as a fellow member of the same faculty, he could assure me this was not the case, but I rejoined that I would stick to my version.)

It was a bit of a stretch for Klaidman to suggest that both men became president after a long war.

For me, Thomas is by far the more articulate, but this is the view of an admitted fan of one of the most honest and engaging journalist-historians in Washington. I also had an opportunity to chat with Thomas before I learned that his grandfather was Norman Thomas, the perennial socialist candidate for president whom I had dined with many years before while acting as part of the host committee for a campus speech. By that time, Norman Thomas was convinced that his socialist agenda had virtually been enacted, and he would doubtless be even more convinced today.

The younger Thomas' Wikipedia entry refers to a controversy over a remark he made by referring to Obama as "sort of a god." He defended it as a reference to rising above parochialism; I would call it narcissism and self-regard.

While certainly both presidents were/are dedicated golfers, one can think of significant differences between them. For example, Eisenhower was clearly one of the most accomplished people of his generation. Like Hoover, he had established himself as a leader, and both parties sought to recruit him to lead their tickets. Obama, on the other hand, became president at the behest of a handful of people, mainly the Kennedy family.

A highlight of Thomas's discussion was his introduction of the audience to Richard Bissell, an example of the sort of can-do liberal aristocrats, such as Allen Dulles, who rose to the top at the CIA. Thomas told the dramatic story of Eisenhower's acquiescence in Bissell exercising the authority to schedule U-2 flights. Eisenhower had started out by getting his hands on every mission, but Bissell gradually eased him aside to the point where Eisenhower didn't realize that the Russians had the capability to shoot the plane down, and he assumed that the pilot would either be killed or commit suicide in order to confer what was called "plausible deniability."

In the event, Francis Gary Powers was captured, and Premier Khrushchev was forced to cancel the pending summit at which Eisenhower planned to pursue a rapprochement with the Russians. Thus, if Eisenhower was engaged in a "secret plan to save the world," that was the end of it.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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On April 5, Evan Thomas and Dan Klaidman appeared before a modest audience at the Annapolis Book Festival to discuss their respective books that explore the somewhat strained premise that Presidents Eisenhower and Obama have much in common
Thomas, Eisenhower, Obama, president
Friday, 11 April 2014 11:36 AM
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