I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, when Eisenhower was president. His was an avuncular image: benign, sunny, hands-off. Defiantly middle-of-the-road, Ike infuriated those eager for a more overtly progressive leader like Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate he trounced in 1952 and 1956. Eisenhower was not a favorite of intellectuals, but Nichols shows he was very much a thinker.
He also posits Eisenhower as a highly effective leader deathly afraid of nuclear disaster. Not only did he keep the United States from war in Egypt – and Hungary, which the Soviet Union crushed in its short-lived revolution of late 1956 – he made the US the key world power, supplanting colonial Britain and France in the Middle East and effectively legitimizing Nasser.
One of the most fascinating tracks of Nichols’ narrow but deep account is the fall of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and Guy Mollet, his French counterpart, as their scheme to regain control of the Suez Canal from Egypt collapsed. Because Ike wouldn’t side with them and Israel, his former allies had to dupe him, mustering for a fake war with Jordan until they began bombing Egypt, forcing the issue into the United Nations and forcing Eisenhower to make economic threats against them. On another, simultaneous front, Eisenhower was battling the Soviet Union over funding for the Aswan High Dam, a key Nasser goal.
As an example of his leadership, Ike got the British and French to agree to leave the canal so a United Nations force could keep the peace.