The Wisdom of Eisenhower
friendship, diplomacy, perspective
I remain firm in my stance that Ike Eisenhower is one of the most impressive leaders this nation every produced and deserves to be in any Top-5 lists of great Americans.
Perfect? No. Great? Yes.
"To be well read..." - how often have you heard this phrase used? It is usually used as a way to make sure a curious mind does not - through conscious acts of commission or omission - put itself in a echo chamber. It has a secondary benefit; you find jewels you may not have found otherwise.
Classic case last night when I found myself digging around for news the new German government and a whole host of problematic decisions. There happened to be an intersection with yesterday's nod to diplomacy that out of the blue brought in two of the most important people in the West; Eisenhower and Churchill.
In the first year of Ike's Presidency there was regular correspondence between him and Churchill who two years earlier found himself back as Prime Minister after 6-years of Labour governance. Their correspondence eventually led up to the "Big-3" conference in Bermuda at the end of 1953 that included the French. I hope someone has compiled it in to one document or used it as a basis to get their PhD. If anyone knows, let me know. I has to represent a masterclass in personal diplomacy between allies.
Let me just pull one letter out of that year to demonstrate the remarkable political, personal, and diplomatic skill of Eisenhower. The letter is clear, efficient, and gloriously free of buzzwords, lingo, and posturing - but it is crafty.
It is so good - and nutrient rich - that I am going to do a sentence by sentence fisking. I would encourage you to read it in full first at this link. If that does not work, I’ve screen shot’d them below. Give it a read and come back.
Now that you're back, let's go back to May 5, 1953 in a letter from Ike to Winston. Their relationship dated back to 1942 and was mostly businesslike. They both had complicated views of each other as persons and leaders with a history of disagreements - but the respect for the importance of their partnership is clear, even as the relative power positions changed after a decade.
There is something to learn in each sentence. Here's my take ... if I miss some nuance, please share in comments.
Thank you for yours of May fourth giving me the lines of a message you are thinking of sending to Molotov.
Always reference the last correspondence and thank the author for it. First, it is simply good manners, second it establishes a reference point for your comments to follow. The receiver may think your comments are based on a previous correspondence or something that followed. This is a critical detail. Never forget to include it early so as to avoid misunderstandings. With today's faster correspondence, I would include the time if by email, etc.
Foster and I have considered it deeply and since you sought my views l must say that we would advise against it.
Note that "Molotov" in the previous sentence - an opponent - is referred to by his last name only. That is familiar to both, but "Foster" as in "John Foster Dulles" who even among friends was referred to as "Dulles" but here, is simply among friends "Foster." Never underestimate the power of personal relationships between allies and friends. They should always be nurtured, even when the people in question may not be personally liked ... you should pretend to like them anyway. It isn't about "you" it is about the position you hold. Nations have friends, and their servants need to align as such.
You will pardon me, I know, if I express a bit of astonishment that you think it appropriate to recommend Moscow to Molotov as a suit-able meeting place.
Get to the point, and be clear about it. There is no question that Ike is, politely, asking, "What the hell are you thinking?" It is OK for friends to directly confront each other when they think the other is in error, especially when it can affect mutual efforts. As a matter of fact, that is a sign of friendship. No reason to be squishy about it - also there is no reason to be rude. Friends can be blunt without being insulting. Insults just make people dig in. Done the way Ike has, no one loses face.
Once you tell your friend he is off, you owe them an explanation why;
Uncle Joe used to plead ill health as an excuse for refusing to leave territory under the Russian flag or controlled by the Kremlin.' That excuse no longer applies and while I do not for a minute suggest that progress toward peace should be balked by mere matters of protocol, I do have a suspicion that anything the Kremlin could misinterpret as weakness or over-eagerness on our part would militate against success in negotiation.
"Uncle Joe" is of course Stalin who just died 8-months earlier. Note the use of "Russian" and "Kremlin." That is not a mistake. Ike was of the same generation as my grandparents and I recall being a pedant to my grandmother in middle school when she was telling a story about raising a family in WWII. She was discussing all the talk about "aid to Russia" when I mentioned, "They were the Soviet Union Mawmaw..." She just gave me that look, "Call them what you want, but we called them Russians, they are Russians, and they will always be Russians." Boy, was she right. Anyway, "Kremlin" is simply whoever is running the Russia/Soviet Union - not solidified in to a specific person at that time after Stalin's death, but the surviving Communist nomenklatura.
I think it is important to pull out something in this sentence again that applies as much today as it did then;
...anything the Kremlin could misinterpret as weakness or over-eagerness on our part would militate against success in negotiation.
I am not confident our present State Department or Executive Branch fully understand that centuries old constant in diplomacy in general, and dealing with the Russian mind in particular.
In my note to you of April twenty-fifth I expressed the view that we should not rush things too much and should not permit feeling in our countries for a meeting between heads of states and government to press us into precipitate initiatives.
If your position has not changed, and indeed you are now even more firmly welded to it - then emphasize that fact if it appears no one really understood it. You can also see here Ike's natural caution and bias against recklessness. A serious man for a serious time. Churchill could be a bit overly aggressive - a nice feature as long as he has friends and confidents who can convince him to dial things back now and then. Ike could do that.
I feel just as strongly now as I did ten days ago that this is right, and certainly nothing that the Soviet Government has done in the meantime would tend to persuade me differently.
If something is important enough to repeat, there is nothing wrong with saying it a third time a different way. Note the first use of "Soviet." Perhaps used interchangeably with "Kremlin" as it appears.
I do not feel that the armistice negotiations are going well and this to me has been the first test of the seriousness of Communist intentions.
If you are dealing with stubborn, but fair, personalities - which Churchill was - and you are concerned that they may bully through your concerns they may not fully appreciate, then don't be afraid to point out your top reasons. In this case the "armistice negotiations" involved the Korean War. I would also point out the first use of "Communist." Russia, China and their captive nations were on a global expansion that would continue for the next few decades. Though in conflict with each other in some places but coordinated in others, there was a trans-national "Communist" threat that was part of yet distinct from "Soviet" or "Russian." A complicated time demanded nimble thinkers.
Far from there having been any communist actions which we could accept as indications of such seriousness of purpose the Pravda editorial repeats all the previous Soviet positions3 and we are now faced with new aggression in Laos.
Continue to sell your opinion in the face of what appears to be thick-headed obstinance - even from friends. We forget how little insight we had in to the thinking of Soviet leaders at the time. Not shocking considering how thoroughly they had penetrated the US and UK's intelligence and foreign services agencies. "Kremlin watchers" and "Sovietologists" were a thing ... so yes, reading Pravda editorials was one of the few ways you could see what might be going on in the minds of Soviet leaders. Also note "Laos." The problems in Southeast Asia were starting.
But in my mind the most important considerations are the results which might be expected to flow from such a personal contact and the effect of such a meeting on our allies, the free world in general and the Russians themselves. It would of course finally become known that you had consulted me, and it would be difficult for me to explain the exact purpose of the visit.
What is the diplomatic equivalent of "emotional intelligence?" Well, Ike sure had it. I'm not sure Churchill ever did. Ike was good at second and third order effects. Not perfect, but good and it shows here in spades.
Beyond this, failure to consult the French would probably infuriate them, especially when the situation in Indo-china is hanging in the balance. If they were consulted in advance, the result would almost certainly be a proposal for a four-party confer-ence, and this, I am convinced, we are not ready for until there is some evidence, in deeds, of a changed Soviet attitude.
Oh yes, the French. Are you thinking of this years clown-show roll out of AUKUS? The French were, are, and will be looking for reasons to have their honor hurt. I'm a fan of the French, but you simply have to keep this national character in mind. Ike knew this, but I don't think Churchill cared.
Many would expect dramatic and concrete achievements from a personal visit to Moscow by the Prime Minister of Great Britain. What- ever you said publicly about the purposes of your solitary pilgrimage, I suspect that many in the Far East as well as the West would doubt you would go all the wav to Moscow merely for good will.
Expectation management. This is Ike again helping Churchill understand second and third order effects. You can read the frustration Ike has with Churchill, but his understanding that frustration was to be overcome, not to dominate, their working relationship as there were simply too many important matters to attend to.
I feel this would be true in this country, and the effects on Congress which is this week taking up consideration of our Mutual Defense Program and extension of our Reciprocal Trade Act, would be unpredictable.
Is that a warning or a threat? I don't think it matters. Firm message, but not insulting.
It seems to me that in this crucial period when the Soviet peace offensive is raising doubts in people's minds, the things we must strive for above all others are to maintain mutual confidence among the members of NATO and other free nations and to avoid any action which could be misinterpreted.
NATO was still a young organization and was important to the UK as it ensured that continental Europe did not build its own military arrangements that would leave the UK out. Remember, at this time a goal was to get American ground forces out of Europe once the Europeans were able to rebuild their militaries. Well, here we are, seven decades later ...
Naturally the final decision is yours, but I feel that the above factors are so important that I should in all candor and friendship lay them before you.
Respect for national sovereignty, yet clearly outlining what to expect if your concerns are ignored.
Diplomacy is all about give and take with a goal of a net positive for your interests and those of your friends. You just can't focus on what you want, you have to consider the primary and secondary stake holders who support you, as well as those who oppose you. What leverage do you have vs. what leverage others have against you.
In this dance, personal relationships and personalities matter. This isn't math, this is something much more human.
All I know is that I need to find a good book on the relationship between these two great men. If a page and a half letter such as this is as impactful as it is on its own, then the whole body must be something grand to behold.
UPDATE: As some seem to be having problems with scribd, here are some screen shots: