Topeka President Dwight D. Eisenhower grappled with topics like relations with Iran and stability in Iraq during an era that was far more complex than thought, newly declassified documents show.
The papers illustrate that the 1950s, long viewed as an idyllic time of “I Love Lucy” and cars with tail fins, were fraught with delicate policy challenges.
“What’s ironic is that the issues that Eisenhower was dealing with 50 or so years ago are the issues that the Obama administration is dealing with today,” Eisenhower Presidential Library director Karl Weissenbach said Wednesday.
“The records show the U.S. has long been concerned over its relationship with the Muslim world.”
Weissenbach cited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent call for President Barack Obama to apologize for hostility against Iranians, including the U.S.-backed coup in 1953 that toppled the elected government of Prime Minister Mohamed Mossadegh.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 pages of documents about Eisenhower’s 1953-1961 presidency were recently declassified by the library in Abilene, Eisenhower’s boyhood home. Weissenbach said more than 250,000 pages remain classified, many containing sensitive national security material.
The new documents from Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and the National Security Council show “not everything was rosy,” Weissenbach said. The administration was concerned about Cold War relations with the Soviets, tensions in the Middle East over access to the Suez Canal, the possibility of Iraq turning communist and unrest in Southeast Asia.
“He was a strong internationalist. Eisenhower was actively engaged in foreign policy issues,” Weissenbach said.
For example, he said the president and his advisers were developing contingency plans should the Soviets launch an invasion of Berlin and threaten Western Europe as it emerged from World War II.
Weissenbach said the library is working to get papers released from Richard Bissell, a top CIA official who led the development of the U-2 spy plane that was used, among other missions, to monitor Soviet nuclear development.
“There’s a lot of interest in that collection,” Weissenbach said.
Eisenhower lost his interest in the U-2 missions over the Soviet Union, warning that world reaction “would be drastic” if the flights were discovered. In May 1960, a U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down by the Soviets.
The process to declassify documents is lengthy. In addition to library guidelines, Weissenbach said materials frequently are sent to the State Department or other agencies to determine if they can be made public, either in part or whole.
“You have to remember that a lot of this is still highly, securely classified and could cause serious repercussions if it is released,” he said.
There are more than 28 million pages in the library archives. As many as 3,000 researchers will visit the library this year, an indication of renewed interest in the Eisenhower administration and his legacy.
“What we try to do is make the record available to the public. They will have to interpret the Eisenhower era, the good and the bad,” Weissenbach said. “We’re not going to say that everything he did was correct. You have to take a balanced view, to consider the era and issues he was dealing with.”