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Eisenhower in War and Peace

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•Conceiving and building the Interstate Highway System, the nation’s largest public works project at $101 billion ($823 billion today) when it was proposed in 1955. Eisenhower’s interstates now cover 47,000 miles across America and, of course, are essential not just for mobility and travel but trade and commerce. Smith describes the highway network as “the mother of all stimulus programs” because Eisenhower pushed it through as the economy began to wilt during his first term.

•Displaying a steady diplomatic hand on numerous occasions, an attribute that allowed the former supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe to avoid conflict during eight years as commander-in-chief.

Ike ended the Korean quagmire he inherited from Truman, avoided mutually assured destruction with the Soviets, and routinely ignored entreaties from his military advisers to send in troops or, worse, deploy nuclear weapons. As the French fell apart at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the president responded to suggestions by American strategists to consider air strikes and the atomic bomb with a swift rebuke. “You boys must be crazy,” he said. “We can’t use those awful things against Asians for the second time in less than ten years. My God.”

In similar fashion, he resolved international crises with China and over the Suez Canal by employing a poker face that leveraged the possibility of military engagement just enough to prod adversaries to choose diplomatic means.

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