Press Release

NEW REPORT: The Coldest Days of the Cold War

Lessons from Two American Presidents

By John Gans, Rudy deLeon, Winny Chen

Read the full report (pdf)

WASHINGTON, DC—On Friday, September 26, the Center for American Progress released a report, entitled “The Coldest Days of the Cold War: Lessons from Two American Presidents.” The report examines Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy and their respective approaches as the United States faced mounting challenges not unlike those today: an unpredictable Soviet Union, limited American leverage, questions of strategy among allies, rising new powers, and shrinking old ones.

The report’s authors, John Gans, Rudy deLeon, and Winny Chen, discuss how both men were willing to take risks. At home, both leaders faced critics who, not unlike those in current American politics, argued that talking with enemies would be a grave mistake and, worse, a sign of appeasement and weakness. In spite of these criticisms and a number of partisan attacks, Eisenhower and Kennedy each chose to hold summits with Chairman Khrushchev. Those conversations gave them the perspective and relationship to defuse ongoing dangerous crises like the U-2, the Berlin Crisis, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The conversations were not always easy, but the efforts of Eisenhower and Kennedy to speak, communicate, and relate with Khrushchev prepared them to deal with the most dangerous days of the long conflict. The two presidents relied on the wisdom from their experience and responded in tempered ways to limit the overheating of events.

The authors also write about how the next U.S. president can learn much from looking at that time and the approaches of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Their pragmatism and willingness to talk not only allowed them to manage those crises-riddled years, but demonstrate to today’s leaders the value of diplomacy and provide the lessons needed to overcome today’s challenges.

Read the full report (pdf)