By Bruce Lemkin
Perhaps, my earliest memory is wearing an “I Like Ike” button in 1952.
I first observed Eisenhower’s leadership as a young boy, watching the flickering black and white television images and listening to his confident, Kansas-tinged syntax. While Ike had led our military forces — my own father and uncle, among them — to victory in Europe in World War II, to me he was the model of Presidential leadership and decorum.
It was the example of General Eisenhower and many other proud, heroic Americans who had served and saved our nation — and, indeed, the world — that inspired me to aspire to a career of military service, though, as the son of a naval officer, my path was to the U.S. Naval Academy and a career as a nuclear submarine officer.
Following my first assignment as the commanding officer of a nuclear attack submarine, the Navy sent me to serve for a year as the Navy Fellow at a Washington foreign policy think tank. I was most fortunate this “career broadening” assignment was at The Atlantic Council of the United States, where the Chairman was retired General Andrew Goodpaster. Gen Goodpaster’s extraordinary career included lengthy service in The White House as President Eisenhower’s Staff Secretary — Perhaps, no one knew more about Ike’s execution of the duties of President, than did Goodpaster — and to my great fortune, he decided that the Navy Fellow for that year (1990–91) would serve as his assistant in developing strategies for the new era following the end of the Cold War. During my time working with this great man, I also benefited from his recollections of Eisenhower’s leadership and decision-making process as President. Not surprisingly, considering Ike’s accomplishments as a Five Star Army General, as President, Eisenhower carried out his immense duties in a highly organized and efficient manner, ensuring that his advisors provided him accurate, highly detailed information and briefings. Ike’s method of reaching a final decision, I was told, was to gather all the key advisors and experts on the matter at hand, and to listen carefully while each one around the table briefed him. At the conclusion of each advisor’s briefing, the President might ask several questions, and, then turn to the next advisor for that individual’s briefing. Ike would not offer an opinion during this briefing process. When all around the table had spoken their piece, the President would summarize all he had just heard and, then, explain the decision to which he had come — which became the course of action.
The dedication of the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC, this month, brought me back to those lessons of Eisenhower’s leadership that I had been taught during that assignment as a Navy Fellow — and how starkly they contrast with the disorganized, inexplicable blather that we all too often hear from the highest office of the land today.
The thing that sticks in my mind most is Eisenhower’s genuine, innate decency, underlying that thorough and effective means of making the best decisions for our great nation. Why can’t we have that today? Doesn’t our great nation — the until recently inspiration and example for much of the people on this planet — deserve such character and deliberate, even-handed, and effective leadership?
It is, therefore, time for a change in leadership, is it not? We have the opportunity to make a shift to competence and fact-based decision-making, that is undergirded by decency and humility. Ike’s imposing caricature at his long-overdue memorial will be watching — Let it guide us.
The author is a retired career naval officer who also served as a senior government official and international negotiator