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Susan Eisenhower

Susan Eisenhower

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WHEN Susan Eisenhower penned an article for the Washington Post on 2 February, 2008 it stunned America's political class.

The granddaughter of Ike â€" former US president and commander-in-chief of the Allied forces during the Second World War â€" turned her back on her Republican colleagues to support a Democratic senator from Illinois in the race to become the next resident of the White House.Her endorsement of Barack Obama ahead of the crucial Super Tuesday contest with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination helped to give substance to his description as being the man who could unite Americans from across partisan divides.The episode also showed that, aside from her revered grandfather, Susan Eisenhower is an influential Washington operator in her own right and it revealed a willingness to step into controversy after taking a measured look at the issues.This year she will be the international star turn at Holyrood's fifth annual Festival of Politics, supported by The Scotsman.

She will be lining up alongside British politicians who have also not been afraid of causing ructions, including former Social Democratic Party leader David Owen and Clare Short, an ex-international development secretary.Eisenhower does not hesitate to delve into areas which have bitterly divided politicians this side of the Atlantic.

The former journalist is now president of the Eisenhower Group, which describes itself as providing "strategic counsel on political, business and public affairs projects" and has served on four Washington task forces looking at future energy production, nuclear disarmament, security and international relations.

For her, these areas are far from being mutually exclusive.She says: "Around 50 per cent of the electricity production in the United States is from nuclear material that used to be in Soviet missiles which were pointed at American cities.

That's enough power for one in 10,000 light bulbs, or all the energy for the state of New Jersey."After the Cold War ended there was an agreement between the former Soviet Union and America to convert weapons-grade nuclear materials into reactor-grade materials.

So disarmament and nuclear energy actually are strongly linked.

Something has to be done with the materials in those old missiles and if it is not bought for energy use then there is a much higher chance of it ending up in 'dirty' bombs."With around 30,000 nuclear missiles still thought to be in Russia there is still plenty of material out there to be accounted for.

But Eisenhower also believes that nuclear power must be in the energy production mix to tackle global warning."It is all very well to talk about renewables as the major source, but in the end it depends on the sun continuing to shine and the wind always blowing.

Maybe new battery technology will be able to store that energy better in the future.

"In America, we estimate that renewables can only produce 10 per cent of our needs at best and that leaves 90 per cent." She points to France as offering a view of the way forward for energy production, with its advances in safe nuclear power stations.For a former Republican, she also takes what might be seen as a surprising view on nuclear disarmament.

Discussing the debate in the UK on whether to renew the submarine-launched Trident missile system, she says: "In these tough economic times there needs to be a careful look at all these areas of spending.

In the last administration in the US Donald Rumsfeld started a review looking at the new priorities and wanting to be smaller and smarter.

But somehow at the end of the Bush administration we just ended up with systems to fight the Cold War and the 'War on Terror'." It was this sort of profligacy and the enormous debt built up by the Bush administration that seems to have been one of the reasons the "fiscal conservative" left the Republicans to become an independent who also gave her support to Obama.She will be addressing the Festival of Politics audience in Holyrood on Friday 21 August in an event titled: The Obama Presidency â€" Can We Believe In Change?"However, she claims to still be surprised by the impact of her backing Obama.

"I gave him my support before Super Tuesday, which is the day when many of the primaries are fought.

Hillary Clinton was expected to win easily that day and I thought if I didn't support Obama at that point it would not be worth coming out later," she says."The reason I supported him was that it was nice to be in favour of something rather than against something and, most important of all, his personality and temperament."Eisenhower was the first high-profile Republican to back Obama, and his campaign team capitalised on this by asking her to address the Democrat convention the day he accepted their nomination.She has no regrets about giving him her support, which she believes has been vindicated in the field of international relations â€" which is her primary area of expertise, mainly with Russia.

And she has some advice about the President's trip to Russia, which begins today.

"I would tell him to hold back and listen," she says.

"In the recent past America has missed many signals and opportunities from Russia and put it at a distance.

It is interesting that we have talked about bringing countries like Georgia or the Ukraine into Nato but never thought about Russia."Her experience of international relations also includes many happy memories of Scotland, which she has visited almost every year since living in London in the 1970s.This year she sees herself as one of the many "Homecoming Americans"; as an affinity Scot: "This idea of Homecoming seems to me to be an inspired one." And she adds: "Scotland really is a spectacularly beautiful country with so much history.

I always go to Culzean Castle in Ayrshire.

After the war my grandfather was given an apartment there for his use until he died.

It was a symbol of the special relationship which emerged between Britain and America out of the war.

There's a museum there now and I try to give it my support as much as I can."Despite having forged a successful career in her own right, the memory of her grandfather is still very important â€" she is a regular visitor to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations.Susan Eisenhower was ten when Ike left the White House and after that grew up next door to him.

But she also notes that, growing up, she needed to separate the public and private man: "I always managed to separate the wonderful grandfather from the person I learnt about at school.

That was important for me."But she owes much of her political values to her grandfather and in her endorsement of Obama she quoted his warning: "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.

We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."� The 2009 Festival of Politics runs from Tuesday 18 August until Saturday 22 August.

Tickets go on sale today, when the full programme is launched.

For more details, log on to: OF THE FESTIVALFORMER foreign secretary David Owen will be one of the stars of the fifth annual Festival of Politics at Holyrood from 18-22 August.The festival, supported by The Scotsman, has a theme of looking back at Scotland's history and discussing how the future can be shaped.On the final day, Dr Owen, who was one of the Gang of Four who led the breakaway from the Labour Party to form the Social Democratic Party, will be interviewed by Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson about the changing face of British politics and the influence of hubris on politicians.

On 20 August, Clare Short, the Labour MP and former Cabinet minister, will reflect on her life in politics, especially the period leading up to the decision to go to war in Iraq and her role at the time.Singer Annie Lennox will speak on 18 August about the problems of Aids in Africa and her work supporting Nelson Mandela's foundation.On the same day, Mr Fergusson will be joined by his two predecessors, Sir David Steel and George Reid, to discuss the influence of the Scottish Parliament since it was reconvened a decade ago.Historian Professor Tom Devine will discuss the impact of the Scottish diaspora on 19 August, followed by a debate about whether social networking website Facebook is a new forum for democracy.The festival will also look at the influence of Robert Burns in the 250th anniversary year of his birth, including a performance by folk singer and cellist Wendy Weatherby and storyteller Andy Cannon.

There will be a Question Time session with MSPs on 20 August and a young people's version the following day.
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