Friday, July 29, 2016

Eisenhower and the Budget

There is a wonderful book by Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon, where he states: 

Although a former Army general—and, therefore, a man might be expected to support extravagant defense budgets—Eisenhower was a penny pincher, perhaps especially when it earns? to overseeing the military establishment that he knew so well early as 1946, he frequently lectured fellow officers on the need to pay close attention to what “the economy can stand.” During the 1952 Presidential campaign, he declared that “the foundation x military strength is economic strength” and that a “bankrupt America is more the Soviet goal than an America conquered on the field of battle.”

Eisenhower had an almost mystical attachment to the unfettered free market and a loathing toward any tampering with Like most Republicans, he despised taxation, debt and inflation feeling that if they were allowed to spiral out of control, the free economy, and with it, the free society, would collapse.

On May 4, not quite four months after taking office, Eisenhower wrote a confidential letter to his good friend General Alfred Gruenther, Chief of Staff of SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. “As you know,” he began, “we are trying * bring the total expenditures of the American Government wither reasonable limits. This is not because of any belief that we can afford relaxation of the combined effort to combat Soviet communism. On the contrary, it grows out of a belief that our organizer effective resistance must be maintained over a long period of years and that this is possible only with a healthy American economy 1 we should proceed recklessly and habitually to create budget deceits year after year, we have with us an inflationary influence that can scarcely be successfully combatted. Our particular form of economy could not endure.”

Two and a half months earlier, Eisenhower’s Budget Director, Joe Dodge, had produced a report that must have disturbs: Eisenhower greatly. The size of the federal debt, Dodge noted, was $267.5 billion, more than five and a half times the debt held just before World War II. If the spending policies of the Truman Ac- ministration were continued, the debt would reach $307 billion by 1958, $33 billion beyond the statutory limit. Thirty percent of national income was currently being snatched by government; more than two-thirds of that revenue was being taken by the federal government, and two-thirds of that went toward foreign aid and military spending. Foreign aid had the full support of Eisenhower; he considered it the program in which “the United States is getting more for its money than in any other.” Therefore, given the statistics and given Eisenhower’s economic philosophy, holding the line on military spending seemed mandatory. And since a huge conventional force of troops, tanks, ships, fighter planes, artillery and so forth needed for large-scale combat was most expensive of all, Eisenhower was determined to cut back on this nonnuclear side of the military.

There was something else besides economic concerns that drove Eisenhower to this position, however, and that was Korea. The Korean War had been trudging along for nearly two and a half years when Eisenhower took office, and it seemed to be heading nowhere, toward neither victory nor defeat. By the following July, when an armistice would finally be signed, more than 33,000 Americans would have died in the war, and for a purpose that few back home could figure out. "No More Koreas” became a popular slogan, especially among politicians who liked to boost the Air Force, whose philosophy of Air Power saw no need to slug things out in a messy ground conflict, at the expense of the Army, whose mission involved precisely that. Retired Army General Eisenhower certainly had no favoritism toward the Air Force, but, perhaps with convictions more sincere than most, he joined in with the “No More Koreas” cry.

Eisenhower’s hesitation to get involved in small, distant battles, especially battles fought in Asia, antedated Korea by many years. In the early-to-mid-1920s, Eisenhower was an Army major assigned as chief aide to General Fox Conner, commander of U.S. forces in Panama. Conner taught him how to think about military decisions systematically, according to the logic of the standard five-paragraph field order—assessing Mission, Situation, Enemy Troops, Our Troops, Plans, Logistic Support and Communications, in that order.

It is worth reading this again in the context of today.