Kennedy Vs Eisenhower Foreign Policy Research Paper

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The military experience that President Dwight D. Eisenhower took to the White House was largely without precedent. In sharp contrast to President Harry S. Truman’s years, some of the White House functions and structures were reorganized – with new positions being introduced in an attempt to promote the efficient running of government business. President John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, sought to ease the bureaucratic structure left by his predecessor. Just as we can compare and contrast the domestic policies of both presidents, and their approach to the conduction of government business, we can also evaluate their foreign policy perspectives with an intention of comparing and contrasting their outlook.


Like Kennedy, Eisenhower had a keen interest in foreign affairs. His liking for organization as well as staff work was largely sourced from his role a military commander. Towards this end, he sought to ensure that the integrated policy review system of the National Security Council roped in the Department of State and as Rakove (2013), points out, it was during Eisenhower’s administration that the National Security Council experienced renewal. In seeking to ensure that decision making relating to foreign policy was efficient, Eisenhower embraced a proper organizational structure. Towards this end, the National Security Council was expanded and formalized with its mandate being expanded and some responsibilities such as the preparation and proper coordination of policy papers being amongst the relevant government agencies added (Kinnard, 2012). In the words of the author, “originally the NSC was created by congress as a small advisory body over which the President was to Preside” (Kinnard, 2012, p. 154). Thus, it is important to note that unlike Kennedy, Eisenhower sought to implement a heavily formalized machinery and before making decisions on the appropriate policies to be implemented, he was fond of consulting widely – with some of his key advisors in this regard being inclusive of George Kistiakowsky (science advisor), Henry Cabot Lodge (UN Ambassador), and Lewis Strauss (Atomic Energy Commission Chairman). In basic terms, some of the changes that Eisenhower implemented to the system inherited from President Truman are inclusive of “wider representation at meetings to include the Secretary of the Treasury and the Budget Director; a Planning Board which prepared papers for Council consideration; and an Operations coordinating board which” effectively concerned itself with follow-up of the various decisions originating from the President of the United States (Kinnard, 2012, p. 154). While most believe that there was some degree of rigidity in Eisenhower’s foreign policy as a consequence of the heavily formal machinery in place, the fact that he relied on the counsel of an expanded team of advisors means that the seemingly rigid ‘organizational structure’ on this front was not as it appeared. As a matter of fact, it was during Eisenhower’s administration that a number of innovations were seen on the foreign affairs front – with some of the most relevant ones including, ‘open skies’ and Atoms for Peace (Olivia, 2018).

It would, therefore, be accurate to say that Eisenhower ushered in a new national security and foreign policy outlook in the United States. On this front, the key considerations of the said outlook were diverse. In addition to the further promotion of the United States domestic economy while at the same time gathering the energy to successfully execute the Cold War, the U.S. also sought to keep communist aggression in check using its nuclear weapons arsenal (Kinnard, 2012). Further, Eisenhower’s new national security and foreign policy outlook was inclined in the active utilization of the CIA to conduct covert operations. It is also important to note that the Eisenhower administration was more focused on establishing, promoting and sustaining good relations with governments that were deemed to be nonaligned (Kinnard, 2012).

In his inaugural speech, Kennedy sought to clearly define his foreign policy with the words: “let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty” (Dobbs, 2010). Kennedy years saw the adoption of a more informal and modest approach to foreign policy. This was in contrast from the more elaborate Eisenhower national security formation as has been described above. It should be noted that most of the closest advisors of Kennedy were of the opinion that in addition to being complacent, the foreign policy establishment of his predecessor was also suppressed, ineffective, and slow moving (Hook and Scott, 2011). In their view, as presently constituted and structured, the State Department was largely incapable of implementing and furthering their global vision. Unlike Eisenhower, Kennedy was fond of initiating direct contact with Department of State’s desk officers handling various foreign policy concerns on the operational front. In so doing, he eliminated the Operations Coordinating Board that had been established by Eisenhower to oversee National Security Council decisions and coordinate their effective execution. Essentially, “under Kennedy, informal, ad hoc interagency task forces replaced the formal NSC system as the primary decision-making unit for dealing with international problems” (Hook and Scott, 24). More specifically, Kennedy deemed it fit to rely on McGeorge Bundy in his role as national security affairs special assistant. On his part, Bundy gathered several individuals with a background in the academia and brought them together under the umbrella of the NSC that has been significantly scaled down. The role and responsibility of these individuals was to make sense of the Department of State as well as Pentagon recommendations on foreign policy (Dobbs, 2010). The experts in this case had their operational base at White House’s basement.

Upon assuming the reins of power, Kennedy appeared focused on seeing to it that foreign policy issues were coordinated by a new breed of NSC as well as White House staffers – most of whom were not only young, but also energetic. The said breed of foreign policy staffers did not have a thing…

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…case was in 1954 when French troops were encircled by Vietminh fighters in a garrison located in one of the region’s most remote parts. With the situation getting more desperate each passing day, the French made a request for US intervention through an airstrike (Kinnard, 2012). The request was turned down and the French ended up surrendering. When it comes to President Kennedy, it should be noted that with reference to America’s involvement in Vietnam to defeat communism, huge amounts of money were allocated in seeking to enlarge the army of South Vietnam. Although the monetary support was later on graduated to military support, no full-scale deployment of troops in the region was authorized up until Kennedy’s death. Instead, the most Kennedy’s administration advanced to the South Vietnamese government was military support and advise, economic support, as well as political support. The number of American advisers was scaled gradually but it still fell short of a full-scale deployment of troops in the region.

An assessment of the foreign policy of both leaders would not be complete without an analysis of their foreign policy on third world countries. It was during Eisenhower’s time that the demands for non-alignment, nationalism, as well as decolonization from numerous Third World countries became louder and well-pronounced (Hook and Scott, 2011). Eisenhower, according to Rakove (2013), did not appear keen on engaging third world nationalism and as a matter of fact appeared too focused on other competing undertakings (i.e. the Cold War) to take keen interests in third world concerns. Perhaps, it is for this reason that most regard Eisenhower as a sympathizer to strongman and European rule. Kennedy’s approach was in sharp contrast. The decolonization process continued into Kennedy’s rule and as Hammond (1992) observes, Kennedy was keen on establishing good relations with Third World leadership and its people. Indeed, in the words of Rakove (2013), “in the eyes of Kennedy and his advisors, Eisenhower had failed to meet a growing Soviet political offensive in Africa and Asia” (11). Kennedy was convinced that Eisenhower and his administration had largely relinquished or remitted to communists some of the states that were emerging in Africa as well as Asia and Latin America. Towards this end, Kennedy not only placed special emphasis on Africa, but also expanded economic aid to third world countries.


It is clear from the discussion above that both President J.F. Kennedy and President Eisenhower approached foreign policy in ways that were both different and similar in some aspects. The key foreign policy issue that appears shared across the board during both administrations is opposition to the spread of communism. Also, although both presidents sought to defend democracy abroad, Kennedy’s record is more prominent on this front than that of Eisenhower. It should, however, be noted that owing to the fact that both presidents reigned during different time periods and under a diverse set of circumstances, a side by side comparison of their foreign policies is not possible. The viewpoints presented herein…

Sources Used in Document:


Beschloss, M. (2016). Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair. New York, NY: Open Road Media.

Central Intelligence Agency - CIA (2011). Congress, the CIA, and Guatemala, 1954. Retrieved from

Dobbs, C.M. (2010). Trade and Security: The United States and East Asia, 1961-1969. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Hook, S.W. & Scott, J.M. (Eds.). (2011). U.S. Foreign Policy Today: American Renewal? Washington, DC: CQ Press.

Hammond, P.Y. (1992). LBJ and the Presidential Management of Foreign Relations. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

JFK Presidential Library and Museum (2018). Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Retrieved from

Kaufman, B.I. & Kaufman, D. (2009). The A to Z of the Eisenhower Era. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

Kinnard, D. (K). Adventures in Two Worlds: Vietnam General and Vermont Professor. New York, NY: Xlibris Corporation.

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