- - Sunday, February 19, 2017


By Bret Baier

William Morrow, $28.99. 368 pages

Bret Baier’s new book, “Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission,” highlights Ike’s passing of the torch as commander in chief to Jack Kennedy as the key to opening the door to a better, more accurate understanding of Ike. Change of command in military units, large and small, is always arresting, and from president to president is unique, as we just saw again on Jan. 20, 2017.

Ike, the last general to serve as president, had as his lifelong role model the first general to serve as president, George Washington. Eisenhower admired much in Washington’s leadership and his achievements, and that included Washington’s farewell address. Mr. Baier uses Ike’s farewell address, and the associated transition in presidential office and power, to enable him to probe successfully and effectively the many dimensions of Eisenhower’s leadership and psychology.

Mr. Baier discovers and illuminates Ike through the potent lens of a seasoned journalist. Most important, his experience as chief White House correspondent for three years enables him not only to assess Eisenhower independently and authentically, but also to share his genuine excitement in discovering Ike for himself. His superb communications skills sustain interest and entertain the reader with the journalist’s sharp eye for the human dimension of a story.

The first third of the book is devoted to a graceful aerial view from 10,000 feet of Ike’s life before the presidency through the conclusion of his two administrations. This prepares the reader to accept and understand the true strategic significance of Eisenhower’s leadership as civilian president and commander in chief. Mr. Baier describes and analyzes Ike’s methodical, carefully planned and purposeful transition of power in a democracy, from Ike to Jack, the first being the oldest president at the time to be elected and the second having been the youngest to be elected — both given strong mandates of change for America.

Mr. Baier gets Kansas — and Ike as a Kansan — right. He correctly identifies the “hardscrabble existence” of the loving and disciplined Eisenhower family as the formative crucible out of which Eisenhower’s extraordinary character and personality were shaped and imbedded. This supports history’s eventual development of Ike as a world historical hero after he left Kansas at the age of 21. In Mr. Baier’s telling, Ike emerges as a very complicated personality grounded in traditional principles and values, possessing an exceptional, foresightful intellect. Mr. Baier describes the thread of consistent underestimation that runs through the whole of his life, including the presidency. There is a cold, purposeful calculation, which enabled Ike to successfully manipulate his contemporaries, both rivals and subordinates.

The motivating drive and desire for this intense and successful pursuit of the true Ike lies in Mr. Baier’s avid pursuit of an answer to the question, “What made him great?” He shares his excitement of discovery with the reader as he peels the onionlike layers of Eisenhower’s personality. It is after all a quintessential American story of transcending dignity and success, of personal humility and enormous self-confidence, and unique achievements of which all Americans can be proud.

For Mr. Baier and for all of us interested in Ike, the difficulty of accurately assessing Eisenhower’s true historical significance is complicated by the role of multiple paradoxes in his life. Mr. Baier shows us that the central transforming paradox of Eisenhower’s public life, as a professional military officer and civilian commander in chief, was his commitment to peace, not war, that will be symbolized in the forthcoming Eisenhower Memorial. Raised and nurtured in a pacifist family, Ike became paradoxically both a professional soldier, mastering the weapons and the organization of modern warfare, and also a passionate champion of peace, an extraordinary duality in a soldier who believed that war was not a solution to the nation’s or the world’s problems. This became the professional soldier’s final and ultimate passion — to ensure and to enable global peace, thereby making possible the maximum amount of freedom for America. Ike knew that freedom cannot exist without peace.

Mr. Baier dedicates his superb book to his sons, with his eye on their future, perhaps because he discovers that Ike’s leadership was focused on the future. This did not conflict with Ike’s traditional leadership style, values and principles nor with his pragmatic, problem-solving conservatism. His cold-eyed, impressive intellect was focused on America’s future in a time of accelerating change in a globally threatening world. The Farewell Address eloquently presents Ike’s carefully crafted concerns, described and analyzed by Mr. Baier and excerpted for the Eisenhower Memorial.

Many have tried to assess Ike. Few succeed. Mr. Baier does, with the inspired selection of the closing event of Ike’s presidency as a touchstone in a passionate search for the diverse, complex and energizing “spirit of Ike.”

• Pat Roberts, a Republican senator from Kansas, is chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

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