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Eisenhower's insights: More papers released at Abilene presidential museum

  • Associated Press
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011, at 3:30 a.m.

TOPEKA — Newly released documents show President Eisenhower expressed great faith in the capabilities of Earl Warren to serve as U.S. Supreme Court justice.

In fact, the Kansan Republican wrote in October 1953 that he was willing to leave the GOP and form his own party should the U.S. Senate balk at Warren.

The same diary entry shows the president had grave concerns about the implications of U.S. efforts to restore the Shah of Iran to power through covert operations.

"If knowledge of them became public, we would not only be embarrassed in that region, but our chances to do anything of like nature in the future would almost totally disappear," Eisenhower wrote.

The new materials were released from the vaults of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Ike's boyhood home of Abilene. In all, some 300,000 pages of documents still contain potentially sensitive materials and have classified status.

"When you read the whole entry, it's amazing how a small number of pages can have so many topics and so many of them are relevant today," said Karl Weissenbach, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. "Anybody who is interested in the study of the presidency would enjoy going through these papers."

Eisenhower went on to write that the exploits of the CIA operative who helped carry out the mission read more "like a dime novel than an historic fact." Eisenhower said all elements of surprise in organizing the coup to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh were lost in the first hours, only to be successful thanks to the CIA agent — who isn't named — who was able to reverse the situation.

Eisenhower also said it would be difficult for Iran to restore its oil economy because while the industry was in shambles other countries found markets for their crude. But, the president noted, "this is a problem that we should be able to help solve."

Weissenbach said the diary entry was one that archives staff decided to see about declassifying after the 2009 speech in Cairo by President Obama. During that address, he referenced the coup in Iran when speaking to the Muslim audience.

Weissenbach described the diary entry as a "starting point" for study of U.S. involvement in Iran. The story begins with Eisenhower and ends with President Jimmy Carter and the taking of 52 Americans hostage in 1979 at the U.S. Embassy.

"I find it interesting that the CIA officer gave a verbal report to the president," Weissenbach said. "We know there is a lot more to this story than is here. We don't know what that story is at the moment."

A common theme throughout the documents is Eisenhower's concern about holding off the influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. He also was worried that U.S. interests in the Middle East could suffer during the 1960s and 1970s if resources were diverted to other pressing matters, namely the war in Vietnam.

Regarding Warren, Eisenhower said he selected Warren for the nation's high court because of his qualifications and demeanor that would restore credibility among the American public. He rejected other potential suitors, including New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, who lost the 1948 presidential race to Harry S. Truman.

He settled on Warren and made him an interim appointment while Congress was in recess so he could participate in cases. Eisenhower was convinced Warren would be confirmed come January 1954 "overwhelmingly." And, Ike was willing to stand behind his choice to the end.

"If the Republicans as a body should try to repudiate him, I shall leave the Republican Party and try to organize an intelligent group of Independents, no matter how small," Eisenhower wrote.

Weissenbach said that over the years, despite his hope that he would restore confidence in the Supreme Court, Warren found himself on the other side of many decisions with Eisenhower during his administration.

"They were both strong-willed individuals," he said.

The presidential archives has released between 75,000 and 100,000 pages of classified documents in recent years. Weissenbach said the staff is aggressive in trying to get as much material as possible into the public domain so researchers can understand more about the Eisenhower administration.

Documents selected or requested for declassification must go to federal agencies for approval, he said. The process can be time consuming if more than one agency is involved, such as the CIA, Department of Defense or National Security Agency.

"The historical value of these documents will only increase," Weissenbach said. "They're not just about the presidency, it's a story about democracy and how our democracy works."

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