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The Universe UnravelingAmerican Foreign Policy in Cold War Laos$
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Seth Jacobs

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780801445477

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801445477.001.0001

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“No Place to Fight a War”

“No Place to Fight a War”

Washington Backs Away from Laos

(p.235) Chapter 7 “No Place to Fight a War”
The Universe Unraveling

Seth Jacobs

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines John F. Kennedy’s decision against U.S. military intervention in Laos during his April 27, 1961 meeting with congressional leaders. When the National Security Council (NSC) presented its report on Laos, Kennedy summoned prominent legislators to receive the intelligence. He began by reading aloud a recent cable from Winthrop Brown—American ambassador to Vientiane—who requested intervention by the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) to stop a communist advance on the Lao capital. The president then stressed deployment difficulties, quoting a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) estimate that “the communists could put into Laos five men to our one,” which made U.S. victory in a limited war unlikely. However, his assent to Lao neutralism did not grow out of a nuanced foreign-policy doctrine or recognition of American limitations; policymaker disgust with the Lao intensified after Kennedy assumed office.

Keywords:   John F. Kennedy, U.S. military intervention, National Security Council, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, communism, Lao neutralism

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