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My Testimony to Congress on the “Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Completion Act”

March 20, 2013

On March 19, I testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on the proposed legislation H.R. 1126, the “Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Completion Act,” which calls for a new design for the Eisenhower Memorial. My testimony reflected my family’s desire to see an Eisenhower Memorial that is “simple, sustainable, and affordable”:  

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee,

The U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands

The U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation

I wish to express our thanks to Chairman Bishop and the Committee for the opportunity to testify today. I would also like to echo the appreciation we have for everyone—Congress, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, and architect Frank Gehry—for their commitment to a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, D.C.

My sister, Anne, is with us from New York. On behalf of the Eisenhower family, we are grateful to Chairman Bishop for introducing a bill to sustain the momentum on the building of an Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C.

On hearing the news of this bill, Eisenhower Memorial Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano said in an email reported in the press: “I am saddened by Congressman Bishop’s attempt to thwart the memorialization of one of America’s greatest generals and presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

My family and I respectfully, but emphatically, disagree:

Congressman Bishop’s legislation is designed to assure a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower, not to thwart it. From the moment the current design was adopted, some members of the Commission and the staff were determined to link the proposed Frank Gehry design to the very future of the memorial itself. This is unprecedented in the history of presidential memorials. This rigidity has damaged the effort to build a memorial. The approach has made adversaries out of stakeholders and alienated even the greatest supporters of this process.

Mr. Chairman, you and Chairman Issa have been the first to address the impasse that has unfortunately developed.  We applaud you both for your efforts. We would also like to thank the co-sponsors of your bill. Continuation of the status quo, as you have pointed out, will doom the prospect of building a memorial. You are right that no consensus on the memorial design has emerged and that it is time to go back to the drawing board, with an open process for a new design of the memorial.

Significant stakeholders believe that the Gehry design is, regretfully, unworkable. My family – as well as countless members of the public and the media – thinks the design is flawed in concept and overreaching in scale. The recent durability study notes the limited lifetime of the metal scrims, as well as the potential ice and snow hazard to the public. It also notes that the current design, to meet presidential memorial specifications, would require a duplicate set of scrims to be furnished—with the additional costs that would entail. Yet despite all this, the Commission’s approach is to plow ahead with a design that has virtually no support outside of a percentage of the architectural community—which has understandably rallied more in defense of architect Frank Gehry than for the specific memorial design itself.

For more than ten years my family raised concerns and objections that were ignored. We believe they were never adequately communicated to all the Commission members. Any disagreement we had with them was criticized as an attempt to scuttle the building of the memorial. This could not be farther from the truth. The president’s only surviving son, our father, John S. D. Eisenhower, has been clear about his desire to see a memorial, but one which reflects his father’s values and enjoys national consensus. More than once this year he has weighed in, most recently this fall in a letter to the late Senator Daniel Inouye.  I am providing a copy of the letter today, but the key points he writes are this:

  • Though “creative, the scope and scale of it [the Gehry design] is too extravagant and it attempts to do too much. On the one hand it presumes a great deal of prior knowledge of history on the part of the average viewer. On the other, it tries to tell multiple stories. In my opinion, that is best left to museums.”
  • “Taxpayers and donors alike will be better served with an Eisenhower Square that is a green open space with a simple statue in the middle, and quotations from his most important sayings. This will make it possible to utilize most of the taxpayer expenditures to date without committing the federal government or private donors to pay for an elaborate and showy memorial that has already elicited significant public opposition.”
  • “Though the members of the Eisenhower family are grateful to those who conceived of this memorial and have worked hard for its success, we have come to believe that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has no intention of re-examining the concept, even though there would be ample historic precedent for it. It is apparently interested only in convincing us of the virtues of the present design, ignoring my objections as articulated by my daughters Anne and Susan.”
  • “I am the first to admit that this memorial should be designed for the benefit of the people, not our family…You may or may not agree with our viewpoint. However, we as a family cannot support the Eisenhower Memorial as it is currently designed – in concept, scope or scale.”
  • ”We request that lawmakers withhold funding the project in its current form and stand back from approving the current design.”

The Eisenhower family does support the effort to revitalize this process. Among the first steps might be to defund the current design, including zeroing out money for staff expenditures, except to provide services related to an open and transparent financial accounting of monies used to date, as well as those already committed. A thorough review of the fundraising studies commissioned in the past should also be undertaken, as well as the current efforts underway so that we can assess financial needs going forward.

To expedite this process, perhaps an effort should be made to establish a neutral, non-partisan group to review the elements mentioned above. They could propose the needed organizational changes required for building a strong, responsive commission that can manage an open competitive design process and succeed in building a national consensus on a new memorial design.

Members of my family wish to thank, again, Chairman Rob Bishop and the Committee for holding this hearing, for their commitment to finding a way to resolve this impasse, and for the opportunity to participate. We are deeply grateful to all of Congress for their effort in building a lasting memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

To learn more about Tuesday’s congressional hearing and the Eisenhower Memorial controversy, please see Robin Pogrebin’s piece in the New York Times and Chip Reid and Bob Schieffer’s report with CBS News.

The Most Important Foreign Policy “Secret” of All

March 7, 2013

Earlier this week North Korea threatened to break the 1953 ceasefire with South Korea, citing the probability of new international sanctions and U.S.-South Korean military exercises scheduled for later this month and next. Secretary of State John Kerry responded by saying Pyongyang continues to make “belligerent and reckless moves that threaten the region, their neighbors and now directly the United States of America.”

Rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula are one more stunning reminder that U.S. foreign policy must be supported by the international perception that America has its act together. Unwillingness or inability to find a well-ordered approach to our fiscal and budget issues has flagged to the world that in Washington political acrimony is at an all-time high. Don’t fool yourself: overseas they see our domestic and international approaches as part and parcel of the same thing. For that reason, great effort was made, especially during the Cold War, to try and put a good face on our internal political differences. For the most part, we consigned much of the rough and tumble to “behind closed doors”—lest the USSR see a vulnerable America that couldn’t agree on or advance its national interests. And when we failed—amid the discord of the 1960s, for instance—our divisions were exploited abroad though propaganda and manipulation.

Today, the overt demonstration of a dysfunctional political system allows our adversaries to see openings where once they did not.  As much as we think we are talking to ourselves and each political machination is for internal consumption only, there is no such thing as a domestic conversation within the confines of a country anymore. Technology today assures that dirty political laundry gets left out to dry and, given its ubiquitous nature, an international breeze picks up the scent.

That’s why the last eighteen months have been especially hard to watch. The international community – including many of our bond holders – has observed the way we handle unfolding events. What many of them have concluded is that our two political parties are intent on putting their ideological fortunes ahead of our national interest.  This impacts them. That’s why we, as global leaders, should have provided predictability and cooperation in dealing with these sensitive issues.

At the same time, a number of prominent GOP senators attacked the president’s choice for secretary of defense—a Republican— knowing full well that former Senator Chuck Hagel had the votes to be confirmed. It was an unprecedented display of political grandstanding. I predict that Secretary Hagel will prove his critics wrong.  But did those senators, who purport to be national security hawks, really believe that only Americans were listening to their personal slurs of a former colleague?

It appears that our politicians don’t know the difference between politics and policy anymore, which has brought us to a leadership crisis at the very point in our history when our country’s future depends on our capacity to find compromise. Political leadership is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, putting the country first, and demonstrating moral courage. That sense of moral bravery, seemingly absent in recent times, would have required both sides to engage in a series of intensive closed door sessions until they had hammered out a comprehensive deal—which would have averted other rounds of crises. Instead, over the last eighteen months they “negotiated” with each other via Twitter, Facebook and friendly 24/7 cable programs. This wasn’t a serious effort to find a solution for the country; it was only an attempt to talk to their supporters. Guess who was listening and watching?

News just in tells us that President Obama is now reaching out to the Republicans to see if  a compromise is possible. This is a welcomed move. We need to reverse our image overseas that the federal government is hobbled by paralysis and dissension. If we don’t, our nation’s rivals and adversaries may have all the information they really need to know. Appearances of acrimonious gridlock or a failure of “collective will” can be more important intelligence for a foreign power than any specific security breech. 


Many Americans are deeply concerned about this country’s crisis of governance. I am pleased to have been asked to serve on The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform. Over the coming year we will be engaging the American public on issues of concern, and providing recommendations that may help create an impetus for change. Follow our activity hereThey have put together an impressive program that deserves your attention.  You may also be interested to read of the Commission’s kick-off event, which was held earlier this month. 

The Road Ahead

February 21, 2013

The sun rises slowly in southern Pennsylvania, ushering in a day full of promise and potential. Dawn near my country cottage is not the same call to pulse-raising political warfare as it is in the nation’s capital – where adrenaline starts pumping with the morning headlines. There in the quiet of the countryside, silence and space allows one to ease into the day’s challenges.

From that perspective it is possible to look back at Washington and wonder if the nation’s policymakers really understand what they are doing. This morning, like so many other ones these days, the newspaper has catastrophe written all over it. Our morning read is full of struggle, fight and alarm. Who will be blamed for the sequester? How long will the fight go on? Are you the only Washington organization that has not been hacked by the Chinese? According to reports, any institution or computer of any importance here has been the subject of an attack. (I wonder how many status-conscious Washingtonians would be disappointed to discover that the Chinese didn’t deem them important enough to bother.) And I will not even go into the nuclear tests in North Korea and all the other things happening around the world…

Where are our “leaders” who should be grappling with these delicate and potentially damaging developments? The House of Representatives was in session only eight days in January. And the Senate plans to be together only 194 days the entire year. Between their absences from the city and Obama’s perpetual campaign tours to persuade the population that his opponents are wrong, it is no wonder that nothing gets done. No one is in Washington at the same time. So how could they possibly even talk, let alone reach compromise?

With the impending sequester and a debt ceiling crisis looming, the stress level for many people in this city is palpable. Columnists are wrong if they think the consequences can be contained and that the major impact will be confined to furloughs and lay-offs. Many of us who have some dealings with the federal government can say that the ripple effect has already started. For some time, government agencies have been deferring decisions because of the uncertainty, directly impacting companies that are poised to provide even the most basic of services. Other government entities are cancelling events and other activities out of concern for what they think would be unfavorable “optics.” Many important projects have been shelved, even some that serve the vital interests of this country as we reinvigorate our economy and strive to retain our competitive global edge. The uncertainty that has spawned this anxious withdrawal, and the deterioration of trust that has gone with it, speaks poorly of our elected officials and political parties. This has not happened because the nation is divided. It has happened because we don’t have leadership.

Long walks in the countryside can be physically restorative and mentally reinvigorating. This time of the year, the cold, dry bite in one’s nose sharpens the senses and affirms the glory of being alive. Why are we doing this to ourselves? What are our politicians saving themselves for? Why won’t they spend more of their prestige to find some common-sense solutions that will benefit the country as a whole? These are the kinds of questions that come to mind in the silence and the space of a long unpaved road.

Only in Washington

February 12, 2013

Earlier this month I arrived in Santa Monica to participate in a Milken Institute Forum with Evan Thomas, former Newsweek columnist and political biographer. After a long and arduous trip, marked by severe turbulence and delays, I poured myself into a comfortable chair at my hotel’s rooftop restaurant. “Long journey today? Where are you from?” the waiter asked. When I replied Washington D.C., the tall young man’s eyes danced. “Washington D.C.? That place is hilarious!!”

Hilarious? Harry Truman once remarked that if you want a friend in Washington you’d better get a dog. And John F. Kennedy quipped that “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” But hilarious? That’s a new one. Then I got to thinking about what this place must look like to young people outside of the city.

Only in Washington would a man of Chuck Hagel’s stature be put on the defensive, for being deemed right by the American people in his opposition to a war in Iraq that had no post-conflict plan. Why aren’t the promoters of the flawed strategy called to account instead of the guy who got it right?

Only in Washington would the CEO of the National Rifle Association go about his daily routine with a small army of bodyguards – while simultaneously defending his organization’s advertisement that blasts the country’s elite for having armed guards while the public does not.

Only in Washington would our country’s legislators hold the American economy hostage with an artificial fiscal cliff they themselves constructed and defined. This long-term problem was intentionally turned into a short-term crisis—to save them from themselves. The trouble is it could plunge the country back into a recession – and Congress knew this.

Finally, only in Washington, on the eve of the State of the Union speech and amid a national conversation on gun control, would a freshman Republican congressman feel comfortable inviting Ted Nugent, outspoken right-wing gun rights advocate, as his guest to the State of the Union address. Last year, Nugent was interviewed by the Secret Service for incendiary remarks he made about President Obama’s physical safety.

All of this would be funny or maybe even ironic, if it weren’t so scary. What does this say about this city? What does it say about us?

My Interview with Andrea Mitchell on the NRA’s Ad

January 29, 2013

Last week, I was asked to appear on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports to discuss my concerns with an NRA web video that compares school security to the protection requirements of the president’s daughters. The widespread outcry over the ad may have prompted even some at the NRA to question the judgment of running it. As small a step as this may seem, there appears to be growing sentiment that it is inappropriate for people – on either side of this issue – to involve any children in this debate.

Reflections on the President’s Inaugural Address

January 23, 2013

During the Reagan years, one of my politically attuned daughters always refused to voice her opinion on the president’s speeches until she’d read the full text in the newspaper the next day. Smart girl. On Monday, minutes after President Obama gave his Second Inaugural Address, my take on it was more positive than it was after I had read the written copy.

Inaugural addresses, given every four years, are opportunities for a president to make history by articulating a vision for the country that will resonate now and possibly through the ages. President Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Speech got off to a good start, but ultimately fell short. Rather than helping to unite the country, by speaking to all Americans, he chose to energize primarily his party. He did not speak to the Republicans he will have to negotiate with in the coming months and years, nor did he focus much on global security issues. I wanted the president to outline the grand strategy he will advance in leading this country and the world through the perilous times ahead. But his remarks were mostly domestic in nature. And the only time he alluded to leadership was in the context of clean energy.

What President Obama did do was demonstrate energy and resolve. These are welcome attributes, which will serve him well if he remembers that his job performance and his legacy will depend on moving all Americans forward, not just constituents of his own political party.

Interviewed within minutes of the speech, I spoke to Jeremy Thompson in London on Sky News:

A Personal Perspective on the NRA’s Fight with Obama

January 17, 2013

In 2008, just after Barack Obama was elected president, I gave a television interview regarding what the Obamas might expect on becoming the new first family. I was asked specifically how Malia and Sasha’s lives would change. For a start, I said, they won’t play outside anymore without armed guards.

To continue reading this piece, please click here to visit The Washington Post

Chuck Hagel: A Turning Point for the GOP

January 9, 2013

On hearing of the birth of his granddaughter, President Herbert Hoover was reputed to have said, “Thank God she doesn’t have to be confirmed by the Senate.”

In that regard, perhaps not much has changed in Washington since the 31st president’s time, although the whole process seems more fractious than ever before, especially in today’s media-drenched environment.

In the past month we have seen an unprecedented public vetting, a virtual “trial in absentia” of two potential cabinet nominees: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state and former Senator Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. These searing spectacles were painful to watch, and they will make more than a few future public servants think twice about subjecting themselves to such battles.

Last week, President Obama did the right thing and finally nominated Senator Hagel for secretary of defense. Whatever happens, President Obama is in a no-lose situation. If Hagel is confirmed, the president gets his choice—a brave and seasoned foreign policy and defense expert. If Hagel is rejected—and this move would only be led by Hagel’s own party—President Obama will likely watch the inevitable weakening of the GOP, as disgusted Republican moderates think yet again about the direction of their party.

Most of the opposition to Hagel’s nomination has been centered around his views on Israeli security and his attitude toward gay public servants. By now the country’s A-list of elder statesmen and analysts have refuted the accusations against the former senator. Additionally, both AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel interest group, and the Human Rights Campaign, the influential gay-equality group, have indicated that they will not oppose Hagel’s confirmation.

Despite what should be a resolution of these concerns, there are still those who charge that Hagel’s thinking on military policy is “outside the mainstream” on defense spending and nuclear developments in Iran. Ironically, even the Defense Department has acknowledged that it is “bloated,” and while some policymakers have blasted Hagel for seeking direct negotiations with Iran over its contested nuclear program, they would do well to look to the past. Throughout the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike met repeatedly with their Soviet counterparts, even though the Communist ideology and the Soviets’ possession of the hydrogen bomb were existential threats to the United States.

On the issue of sanctions, Hagel’s approach also has its place in our national security traditions. All thinking politicians have grappled with finding the right balance between diplomatic pressure and the threat or use of military force. Unilateral measures, without an international agreement to impose them, can potentially have counterproductive results—which might range from reducing the U.S.’s maneuvering room to producing an indigenous groundswell of support for a besieged authoritarian regime. Hagel has been right to think in a nuanced way. In policy terms this has always been, apparently until recently, a highly prized attribute. This also happens to be where most ordinary Americans stand today.

I have known and worked with Senator Hagel for decades now, first when he served as a board member of the Eisenhower Institute, later during his time in the Senate, and then again when we both served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. He is a man who has always put his country first. Like those of the greatest generation before him, he knows of the cost and unpredictability of war. He is ready to wage war if necessary, but not until other measures have been tried.  He is a veteran, a pragmatist and a staunch supporter of this country’s allies, including Israel. The smear campaign that has been underway is the work of a small group of people in pursuit of their own power. A vocal minority should not be allowed to derail his nomination.

At the end of the day, however, the impact of the Hagel nomination could well be about the future of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party is now at a crossroads. Over the last decade moderate Republicans have felt increasingly out of place in its ranks. If the GOP confirms Hagel, it could bolster the idea of a “big tent” Republican Party. A GOP-led rejection of a Republican war hero with impeccable centrist credentials, however, could well be a fatal blow to that concept, along with some of the party’s longest and most successful traditions.

On the nomination of Hagel, GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who has been an admirer of Senator Hagel in the past—vowed that Hagel would get a “fair hearing” when he comes before the Senate. This is reassuring indeed. President Obama deserves to have his selection of Hagel confirmed by the Senate.  But if the Republicans block his confirmation, watch while more loyal rank and file GOP moderates flee the party for independent status.

On Gratitude: A Reflection on 2012

December 13, 2012

2012 brings to a close one of the most politically exhausting times I can remember. The presidential election was the culmination of a campaign that went on literally for years. It ended with the victory of President Barack Obama, just as the nation embarked on a harrowing ride to the fiscal cliff.

Washington is a city that lives and even thrives on stress and the emotional highs and lows that come with it. But the last eighteen months have been unusual, and often especially unpleasant. Despite this, I come to the end of a very tough year buoyed by what I will call the “magic many” – that is, the many personal and public reasons why I am feeling upbeat.

The inspiration for this blog post came from The American Jewish Historical Society’s annual dinner earlier this week. The AJHS was honoring the Monuments Men for the indispensable role these 345 uniformed men and women, from thirteen countries, played during World War II. They saved millions of priceless artistic works, cultural artifacts and documents, including the Mona Lisa. Under orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, they were dispatched across Europe — even in the heat of battle – to rescue, restore and return to their owners the treasures that the Nazis had looted.

That evening I was seated next to Carol Wall, a philanthropist and one of the Society’s supporters. “The 1950s,” she told me, “were years of gratitude…. For my family it was a time of vast relief that the loneliness and uncertainty of the war years were behind them.” She talked about the power and poignancy of being able to do simple things again, like barbequing beef on the backyard grill.

Carol’s words got me thinking. Even if there seems to be no relief in sight on the current public policy and political front (the debt ceiling fight is up next), it is never too soon to focus on gratitude. So, here is a small selection of the things that have meant a great deal to me this year. They are not necessarily numbered in order of importance.

  • The Opportunity to Interact with Rising Generations: In September I gave the opening address to the incoming class of White House Fellows, an event that has become something of a tradition. This ongoing relationship has given me considerable faith in the caliber of young leaders who are coming into positions of power. This was reinforced in early November when I took four students from Gettysburg College with me to West Point to participate in a conference designed and run by the cadets called the Student Conference on United States Affairs. What a lift it was for me to watch civilian students and cadets discuss together the myriad of issues facing this country. My students reported that the event left them with a “new sense of optimism” about the future. In watching civilian and military undergraduates together, I could only share their confidence and excitement.
  • The Help from My Friends: This year a handful of people gave me unstinting support, for which I will always be grateful. They were also part of a larger group that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and helped my family protest the design for the Eisenhower Memorial, along with hundreds of well-wishers from across the country who contacted us or wrote publically about the memorial. They provided the wind at our backs. These wonderful people know who they are.
  • The Lives of Fellow Colleagues:  I will mourn the passing but will always celebrate the lives of Greg Guroff and Spurgeon Keeney. Greg was a Russia expert, former USIA official and founder of the Foundation for International Arts and Education. Greg never stopped trying to improve US-Soviet /US-Russian relations. How fortunate I was to call him my friend and colleague. Spurgeon was trained as a Russianist, but had a distinguished career in many high level defense jobs which led him, eventually, into arms control advocacy. Spurgeon and I served on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control for many years. Throughout his career he mentored many of the leading professionals in the international security field today. Both men will long be remembered.
  • The People Who Preserve the Past: After decades of selfless service to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and then the Eisenhower Foundation, Mack Teasley is retiring. He will be impossible to replace. At other institutions, including AJHS (above), I admire the remarkable work of Kim Sajet at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Tim White at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. I spent three unforgettable days visiting that exceptional museum and roaming Buffalo Bill territory.
  • The American Voter: Despite the Super Pacs and the flood of other money, the people who flocked to the polls this November could not be “bought.”
  • The Readers of This Blog: For every person who leaves a comment on this site, many more people find a way to reach me privately. What fun I had this year, sharing my thoughts and hearing your responses. Not only did the number of readers rise exponentially, exceeding 50,000 readers on some days, but it was read regularly in 74 countries.

As the year draws to a close, I will stand back and reflect with gratitude on the many people this year who enriched my life. I hope you will, too.

Happy holidays and very best wishes for a productive and happy new year.


On December 7, 2012, Susan Eisenhower gave an interview to Sky News on Hillary Clinton’s legacy as Secretary of State: