As supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower led the massive invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that began on D-Day (June 6, 1944). In 1952, leading Republicans convinced Eisenhower (then in command of NATO forces in Europe) to run for president; he won a convincing victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson and would serve two terms in the White House (1953-1961). During his presidency, Eisenhower managed Cold War-era tensions with the Soviet Union under the looming threat of nuclear weapons, ended the war in Korea in 1953 and authorized a number of covert anti-communist operations by the CIA around the world. On the home front, where America was enjoying a period of relative prosperity, Eisenhower strengthened Social Security, created the massive new Interstate Highway System and maneuvered behind the scenes to discredit the rabid anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy. Though popular throughout his administration, he faltered in the protection of civil rights for African Americans by failing to fully enforce the Supreme Court’s mandate for the desegregation of schools in Brown v. Board of Education
Soon after taking office, Eisenhower signed an armistice ending the Korean War. Aside from sending combat troops into Lebanon in 1958, he would send no other armed forces into active duty throughout his presidency, though he did not hesitate to authorize defense spending. He also authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to undertake covert operations against communism around the world, two of which toppled the governments of Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954. In 1954, Eisenhower decided against authorizing an air strike to rescue French troops from defeat at Dien Bien Phu, avoiding a war in Indochina, though his support for the anti-communist government in South Vietnam would sow the seeds of future U.S. participation in the Vietnam War.
Eisenhower sought to improve Cold War-era relations with the Soviet Union, especially after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953. In July 1955, when Eisenhower met with British, French and Russian leaders in Geneva, Switzerland, he proposed an “open skies” policy, in which the United States and Soviet Union would conduct air inspections of each other’s military programs; the U.S.S.R. rejected the proposal, though it won international approval. Under the rising threat of Soviet nuclear weapons technology, Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles did succeed in strengthening NATO and in creating the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to combat communist expansion in that region.
Though U.S.-Soviet relations remained relatively cordial throughout his presidency, including a summit meeting with Premier Nikita Krushchev in 1959, the Soviet shooting of a U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane in May 1960 dashed Eisenhower’s hopes for a treaty before he left office. In his farewell address of January 1961, Eisenhower spoke of the dangers inherent in what he called the “military-industrial complex.” Due to the combination of national defense needs with advances in technology, he warned, a partnership between the military establishment and big business threatened to exert an undue influence on the course of American government. His warnings would go unheeded, however, amid the ongoing tensions of the Cold War era.