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Leaders at WarHow Presidents Shape Military Interventions$

Elizabeth N. Saunders

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449222

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449222.001.0001

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Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson

(p.132) 5 Lyndon B. Johnson
Leaders at War

Elizabeth N. Saunders

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter begins by begin by tracing Lyndon B. Johnson's beliefs about the origin of threats to him during his years in Congress through the vice presidency. It then turns to his intervention decisions. Johnson was certainly concerned about communist takeovers. But his concern fell closer to that of Eisenhower: Johnson worried principally about externally driven takeovers by small, elite groups rather than the internal, popularly driven path to communism that often concerned Kennedy. The chapter examines decisions Johnson made in Latin America, where he first handled the relatively minor Panama crisis of 1964 without intervention but later intervened using military force in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

Keywords:   foreign policy, intervention decision making, military intervention, Lyndon Johnson, causal beliefs, Latin America, Panama, Dominican Republic

Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency with far less interest in or experience with foreign policy than his predecessor. But his record on national security and foreign policy issues is more complex and multifaceted than previously understood, as a wave of scholarship has shown.1 His long career in the House and Senate brought him into contact with many of the same national security and foreign policy issues with which Eisenhower and Kennedy grappled.

Johnson is a particularly difficult figure to classify. The theory developed in this book identifies ideal types, which by definition cannot perfectly reflect reality. But his pre-presidential record indicates that he is best characterized as externally focused.2 Johnson would seem to be an unlikely case for an externally focused leader, given his support of transformative domestic policies in the United States such as the New Deal and the Great Society, and the similarities between Kennedy’s administration and his own. But Johnson tended to keep track of how strongly other states supported the United States in the bipolar struggle with the Soviet Union and otherwise largely ignored what went on inside those states. Moreover, unlike Kennedy, Johnson focused on the international aspects of Cold War issues such as maintaining credibility and countering aggression, and he rarely connected these issues to the domestic institutions of other states. To be sure, as with Eisenhower and Kennedy, there are complicating factors in compiling a portrait of Johnson’s beliefs. Johnson expressed genuine sympathy for the plight of the poor in other countries and showed some interest in economic development programs. But he often viewed these domestic issues as largely parallel to, rather than intertwined with, U.S. national security.

(p.133) Following the pattern of the previous two chapters, I begin by tracing Johnson’s beliefs about the origin of threats from his years in Congress through the vice presidency, using the indicators discussed in chapter 2. The documentary record from Johnson’s pre-presidential years is vast, but unfortunately does not contain the same rich collection of private documents and diaries that are available for the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras.3 Nevertheless, the evidence from Johnson’s career in Congress, where he served on several defense-related committees, as well as his time as vice president, reveal him to be externally focused. Since Johnson took over from Kennedy abruptly, he did not have an initial period in which to make significant policy investments. But his choices during the transition are still illuminating. Most importantly, Johnson did not continue Kennedy’s top-down pressure to build transformative capabilities.

I then turn to Johnson’s intervention decisions. Johnson was certainly concerned about communist takeovers. But his concern fell closer to that of Eisenhower: Johnson worried principally about externally driven takeovers by small, elite groups rather than the internal, popularly driven path to communism that often concerned Kennedy. I examine the decisions Johnson made in Latin America, where he first handled the relatively minor Panama crisis of 1964 without intervention but later intervened using military force in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Johnson’s policies in Latin America contrasted with Kennedy’s emphasis on political and economic reform, a contrast that culminated in Johnson’s nontransformative intervention in the Dominican Republic. In sharp contrast to Kennedy’s statement of preferences ranging from a “decent democratic regime” to a “Castro regime,” Johnson would articulate his own statement of preferences during the 1965 crisis, stating, “We will have one of 3 dictators: 1) U.S., 2) Moderate dictator, 3) Castro dictator.”4 Finally, I consider how Johnson handled Vietnam, where he employed a nontransformative strategy for the initial escalation. Examining his choices in Vietnam is difficult because Johnson faced a very different situation in South Vietnam than Kennedy, thanks in part to the coup against Diem (an action Johnson had opposed) and because he sought to show continuity with Kennedy’s policies. Nevertheless, I argue that changing conditions within Vietnam are not sufficient to explain the differences between the Kennedy and Johnson approaches.

Methodologically, Johnson’s service in Congress alongside Kennedy during the Eisenhower presidency provides an important window of comparison among the three leaders as they faced similar and ongoing challenges. Johnson often supported Eisenhower’s policies to such an extent that he drew the ire of fellow Democrats, suggesting that he was not entirely constrained by his party.5 It is also particularly useful to examine his vice presidential term, during which he took issue with many of Kennedy’s policies, including those related to foreign (p.134) aid, Latin America, and Vietnam. When Johnson assumed the presidency, there were important elements of policy continuity; to find otherwise would be surprising. But given that Johnson inherited many Kennedy advisers and programs and felt a strong need to emphasize the stability of U.S. policy to the public, his differences with Kennedy and his shifts in policy after taking office are all the more remarkable.

Johnson’s presidency also provides an opportunity to assess alternative explanations, from structural and material conditions such as credibility concerns to the role of other domestic actors. Johnson retained many Kennedy advisers and interacted with many of the same military figures, allowing me to assess how he dealt with a similar cast of characters and the relatively consistent preferences of the military. But Johnson was not a prisoner of others’ ideas.

The evolution of Johnson’s policies in Vietnam also allows me to examine arguments about learning, although it is difficult to assess whether a leader’s beliefs truly changed in the middle of an ongoing intervention. His reemphasis on pacification operations represented a policy shift, but Johnson never fully integrated pacification into the overall strategy for Vietnam. Thus Lyndon Johnson’s career, during which he dealt with many of the same issues and crises as his predecessors, provides leverage in understanding how leaders shape military interventions.

Johnson’s Beliefs

Many portraits of Johnson highlight his inexperience with and lack of interest in foreign policy.6 But to dismiss Johnson as lacking experience with or convictions about national security and foreign policy would be to gloss over a more complex record, especially in the pre-presidential period.7 For Johnson, as for Kennedy, building up his foreign policy and national security credentials while in Congress was a politically advantageous move, and Johnson enthusiastically exploited issues for his own political benefit. Even given the electoral motive, however, Dallek argues for greater attention to Johnson’s substantive record. Dallek highlights Johnson’s “role in the rise of the national security state,” particularly his sustained advocacy of greater defense spending and his role in shaping foreign and defense policies.8 As Thomas Gaskin notes, foreign and defense issues were central in the extremely close race that sent Johnson to the Senate in 1948.9 In Congress, he served on the House Naval Affairs and Armed Services Committees, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he chaired the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee. As the Democratic leader in the Senate beginning in 1953, Johnson fought several (p.135) foreign policy battles alongside Eisenhower.10 Political gain mattered, but politics alone cannot explain the form that Johnson’s focus on national security took.

The Nature of Threats

Johnson’s view of threats in the international environment focused with remarkable consistency on the risk that the Soviets or their allies would engage in outright aggression against Third World states, either directly through an attack or through subversion directed from the outside, to which all states were susceptible regardless of their institutions. Occasionally, he discussed the importance of raising living standards as part of the Cold War struggle, but he concentrated more frequently on externally driven aggression directed at small states, or externally driven subversion that aimed at a small group of elites within these countries. In this sense, like Eisenhower, he was concerned about keeping other states’ domestic institutions out of communist hands, but he saw the danger resting with a Soviet-directed elite takeover of these institutions rather than arising from the nature of the institutions themselves. Most importantly, he did not connect the nature of other states’ political institutions to the threat that the states would fall under communist control and thus harm U.S. interests. Admittedly, it is the relative dearth of statements about other states’ domestic institutions that provides the best evidence for his lack of attention to domestic issues. But this relative inattention, combined with his strong public and private statements about aggression and the evidence on other dimensions, forms a coherent picture of an externally focused leader. As Doris Kearns Goodwin argues, World War II impressed on Johnson a worldview centered on deterring aggression. This focus on aggression came at the expense of an understanding of the internal dynamics of conflicts. As Goodwin puts it, “In every war, Johnson believed, the enemy is an alien force that ‘invades’ the allies’ house. Such a view does not facilitate an understanding of civil war.”11

Johnson tended to see other states, particularly in the Third World, in external terms, as relatively undifferentiated targets of potential communist attack. In October 1953, for example, he told the Pan American Round Table in El Paso, Texas, that the “communists are eager to obtain a beachhead on the American continents. Once it is gained, it will gradually be extended and widened in preparation for a major assault.” Echoing Eisenhower, he argued, “Good neighbors are independent neighbors who live in friendship but who keep their own yards tidy. … Each holds himself responsible for his own homestead.” He asserted that there was little danger of a communist takeover “through the voluntary desire of our neighbors. But a neighborhood divided is easy prey for (p.136) burglars.”12 Nearly five years later, after Vice President Nixon’s disastrous trip to Latin America, Johnson asserted on the Senate floor, “We are faced by a common peril—an unthinking force directed by coldly thinking men in Moscow and Peiping. … It is not mere coincidence that the dispatches from Latin America, from Lebanon and from North Africa should all be bleak. … Those areas of the world are widely separated in terms of geography. But they are not widely separated in terms of plans for world domination.” While blaming communists was politically expedient—as most politicians, including Kennedy, were well aware—Johnson still provided a distinct and externally driven diagnosis of the problem. Arguing that the world had entered an “era of ‘brush fires’ which can spring out at unexpected points in the world,” he asserted that the attacks on Nixon were “manifestations of temporary conditions which are being exploited,” and that the “bad economic conditions in Latin America are a direct reflection of the recession in this country.”13 Johnson made no mention of the repressive regimes—and U.S. policies supporting them—against which many of the demonstrations aimed. Instead, he argued that “there must have been some antagonism against the United States for the hysteria to generate the way it did.”14

A recurring manifestation of this focus on external aggression was Johnson’s tendency to emphasize drawing lines against aggressors and maintaining U.S. credibility, without much attention to exactly where the lines were drawn. Johnson did not focus on whether the domestic characteristics of the front-line states might make them more or less vulnerable to communism, or whether successful line-drawing might require shoring up the target state’s domestic institutions. As discussed in chapter 4, Kennedy had also seen the need to draw lines but was far more concerned with the internal conditions within states that might serve as test cases for U.S. firmness. For Johnson, line-drawing had few, if any, internal criteria.

An early example of Johnson’s focus on line-drawing came in correspondence with former Texas state senator and Austin attorney Alvin J. Wirtz, a Johnson mentor. In April 1947, amid the debate on the Truman Doctrine, Wirtz sent Johnson a copy of a letter in which he argued that if Franklin Roosevelt confronted the situation, he would first work on “quarantining the aggressors,” knowing that “you cannot appease a bully.” Second, if Roosevelt wanted to stop aggression, and “if he decided that the place to stop it is Greece … he would announce a firm policy to the effect that the United States proposes to go into Greece and do whatever the situation requires.” And third, Roosevelt “would see that the Greek economy is rebuilt.”15 In his reply, Johnson wrote, “I think, although the President did not spell it out so bluntly, that he should say, and the people should support him in saying, ‘This is it. We will not tolerate (p.137) prima donna, high-handed, sulking, thieving forces who seek to gobble up helpless peoples in order to become the dominant power and rule the world.’ As you well said, Truman chose to say that the place is Greece, the time is now.”16 Johnson’s reply did not mention economic reconstruction.

In his subsequent House floor speech on the Truman Doctrine, Johnson played up the theme of standing up against aggression. “Human experience teaches me,” Johnson asserted, “that if I let a bully of my community make me travel back streets to avoid a fight, I merely postpone the evil day. Soon he will try to chase me out of my house.” The bully metaphor would recur throughout his career. Johnson’s analysis did not pay much attention to Greece or Turkey, except to note that they were far from American soil. “Whenever security of this country is involved,” Johnson said, “we are willing to draw the quarantine line—and we would rather have it on the shores of the Mediterranean than on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay or the Gulf of Mexico.”17 Truman’s own speech, in contrast, placed significant emphasis on the internal problems in Greece and Turkey and the necessity of economic reconstruction to U.S. security interests.18 Kennedy’s remarks on the Truman Doctrine also emphasized line-drawing and invoked Munich but devoted several paragraphs to Greece and Turkey.19 For Johnson, it seemed to matter only that a line be drawn; precisely where the line fell or whether domestic institution building might help the line hold was of little consequence.

Johnson continued to emphasize drawing lines against aggression into the 1950s. For example, in the 1954 Guatemala crisis, while Eisenhower was using the CIA to oust Arbenz from power, Johnson introduced a resolution supporting action to reaffirm the Monroe Doctrine and to stop external interference in the Western Hemisphere.20 The resolution passed 69 to 1—and Kennedy voted for it—but Johnson was its main sponsor. Johnson pressed ahead with the resolution, despite a warning from aide George Reedy in late May that “as a practical matter, the Monroe Doctrine simply does not apply.” Reedy also pointed out that “the native government of Guatemala has bought the arms. There is not the slightest evidence that Soviet forces have moved into the nation and taken over by strength of arms.”21

Nevertheless, Johnson persisted in his view of the crisis as an externally driven takeover by a small cadre of communists and having little to do with Guatemala itself. On the Senate floor, he described the “blueprint for Communist conquest”: first, “the victim nation is infiltrated by small groups which struggle for a base of political power,” then “Communist advisers in the Kremlin decide it is time for a show of force,” and finally “the victim nation becomes another member of the terrorized ‘family’ behind the Iron Curtain.”22 A day after Arbenz resigned, Johnson even continued to push for the House to pass his (p.138) resolution. In a telephone call with Secretary of State Dulles, Johnson argued, “If we can really nail down this principle of the Monroe Doctrine applying to communism here … if we can begin to show it in deeds and not words, a lot of these boys won’t be so keen about accepting communist support for leadership in these South American countries.”23 In letters, Johnson called the situation in Guatemala “the first overt attempt of world communism to establish a military beachhead in the Western Hemisphere.”24 He argued on the Senate floor that his resolution would provide bipartisan support for drawing “a line into which the Communists cannot penetrate.” He also pledged that the United States had “no intentions whatsoever of interfering in [Latin America’s] internal affairs. The force of this resolution is directed solely against external aggression.”25 He exhibited little interest in the problems and issues inside Guatemala itself, writing to a constituent that he did not “know the names and the characters of the rebels in Guatemala,” which was significant primarily “as an entering wedge of communist penetration.”26 While there is little direct evidence of Kennedy’s particular stance on the Guatemala issue apart from his vote supporting Johnson’s resolution, Kennedy was generally more inclined to look at whether the conditions inside a country made it ripe for communist penetration and whether transformative policies might be required to address these conditions. Johnson’s focus on stopping beachheads required no such attention to internal details.

On a few occasions, Johnson expressed concern that domestic problems, particularly economic conditions, could be a threat to the United States. There were early hints in Johnson’s rhetoric that his concern for poverty, hunger, and other domestic issues might carry over into his threat perception. In a speech in Austin in 1947, for example, he used the language of stopping aggression but later urged the United States to “act the role of the good samaritan” lest it “fan the flames of envy and [jealousy] in the hearts and minds of the 94 per cent” of people outside America.27 Over a decade later, in the spring of 1958, he argued, “We have preached freedom but patted the foes of freedom on the back. We have accorded our friendship to leaders of other governments who stood in those lands for what we oppose at home. We have trafficked in expediency and sold ourselves down the river for doing so.”28 And in a somewhat uncharacteristic public statement, in the form of a column in the Dallas Times Herald, Johnson argued,

It seems rather strange that the destiny of our country can depend upon street mobs in Baghdad and Beirut and upon burnoosed Arabs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but there is the stark and simple fact. The people of the Middle East have been hungry and ragged for several centuries. … They are angry and they are resentful at what they consider unjustified (p.139) treatment by other powers. … They are insisting on a better way of life which can come about only through modern methods of agriculture and through industrialization. We must help them—not with gifts but with loans and with technical assistance. If we do not, they will follow the Communist road because they will feel there is no place else to turn.29

But these statements are less frequent in Johnson’s pre-presidential record than his focus on outside aggression. Furthermore, the emphasis Johnson placed on better economic conditions was hardly ever accompanied by calls for political or institutional reform, and he was somewhat skeptical of foreign aid, as discussed below. More frequently, Johnson tended to limit the connections between his genuine concern for the world’s poor and his view of international threats. In his speech announcing his Senate candidacy in May 1948, he again came close to calling poverty a threat, asserting, “War thrives on squalor and poverty, hunger and disease. The nations of the World can overcome these war-breeding conditions only by restoring their internal prosperity.” But echoing Eisenhower, he immediately argued that the situation “demands a free flow of goods in the channels of international trade.”30 World poverty might be an important issue, but responsibility for it rested with poor countries themselves rather than with U.S. national security institutions. He continued the speech by reemphasizing the need to meet aggression: “Firmness with international bullies is an essential ingredient of the peace. … Always we must stand up to war-makers and say, This far and no farther.”31

Alliances and America’s Sphere of Influence

Johnson weighed in on a variety of foreign policy crises and controversies during his years in Congress. But although his comments on alliance issues are rare, there is little evidence that his views on relationships with allies and the American sphere of influence were influenced by domestic considerations within the states in question. In 1951, he echoed Eisenhower’s sentiments about taking any available allies, defending aid to Yugoslavia and Spain to a constituent critical of U.S. policy. “Both governments have indicated a strong desire to resist Communist aggression,” Johnson wrote. “Our only real enemy in the world is Communism, and it seems to me that we should utilize and befriend any and all anti-Communist nations that we can.”32 Johnson was also far less interested in or sympathetic to the question of nationalism, although Reedy warned him of the “rising tide of nationalism in Asia.”33 While Johnson condemned imperialism, in general there was little in his writing or rhetoric to parallel Kennedy’s view of nationalism as an unstoppable domestic force with which the United States (p.140) had to align. In July 1957, as Kennedy spoke out forcefully against the continued French effort to maintain control of Algeria, Johnson did not comment (despite receiving an advance copy of the speech).34 In one of his very few direct references on the subject, Johnson warned in May 1958 that the “Middle East is aflame with the bright fires of nationalism,” but as discussed below, he would soon couch the crises in Lebanon and Iraq in terms of aggression.35

On the question of neutralism, there is little direct evidence with which to assess Johnson’s views. But (as discussed in more detail below) some of his letters on foreign aid indicate that his primary concern was with winning the Cold War competition for allies by getting Third World states to sign up with the West rather than ensuring their long-term internal sustainability. As discussed in chapter 4, Kennedy believed that U.S. interests might not be particularly well served by forcing Third World states to “vote the Western ticket” and concentrated instead on the domestic health of these states, potentially rendering them more valuable allies later. In his approach to allies and America’s sphere of influence, Johnson was mainly focused on keeping Third World states solidly in the U.S. camp and standing firm in the face of challenges to the pro-Western orientation of these states. Beyond this, he showed little interest in the domestic politics of the Third World. Johnson’s approach to foreign aid would follow a similar pattern.

Foreign Aid

Johnson’s views on foreign aid are somewhat complex. On the one hand, there is the image of Johnson attempting to export the New Deal (and later the Great Society) to the Third World.36 On the other hand, there is his discomfort with foreigners and his relative inattention to Third World politics and institutions. The key was that for Johnson, economic and social issues such as poverty and underdevelopment, in which he had a long-standing interest within the United States, were problems with only a limited connection to national security threats. Burton Kaufman makes a similar argument, noting that Johnson “had a real interest in eliminating hunger and in providing adequate nourishment worldwide” but that “many of Johnson’s own views on the foreign-aid program were narrowly circumscribed.”37 Johnson’s preferred forms of aid—such as aid for infrastructure, following the example of the rural electrification program he supported in the United States—constituted clearly delineated projects to help the world’s poor and improve living standards rather than reform institutions. This view contrasts with that of Kennedy, for whom significant investment in the domestic institutions of states he deemed promising candidates for reform was an essential dimension of U.S. national security.

(p.141) Johnson certainly saw a connection between foreign aid and the Cold War. But he focused on aid as an instrument to induce countries to align themselves with U.S. interests rather than a tool to build or reform their institutions. In a speech on the Marshall Plan in April 1948, he said that hunger and poverty fed a “sinister and ruthless evil” moving across Europe, and that aid would help “contest with the evil in a battle for peace.”38 Johnson used similar language in a March 1958 letter, arguing that foreign aid might help “as a means of battling for the cooperation of the one-third of the world’s population that is not at present committed to the United States or Russia.”39 He frequently justified his support for aid in these terms, targeting those who “live in parts of the world that are backward and poorly developed, [and] are trying to make up their minds as to which course offers them the brightest future—democratic capitalism or dictatorial communism.”40 In a 1957 speech in which he sounded skeptical notes on foreign aid generally, Johnson argued,

The United States can maintain its security in a world in which the individual nations are free. We need fear only the situation in which the other nations are tightly controlled by an enemy. … We cannot “create” freedom for another country nor can we “buy” its friendship. The people must create their own freedom and must be at liberty to decide for themselves their friendships and their enmities. … We can, however, help other people to help themselves. We can supply them with technical knowledge, with loans, and with other forms of aid that will release their own productive energies and enable them to determine their own destinies.

Johnson went on to warn, “We cannot—by ‘sharing’ our prosperity—keep the rest of the world on standards of living to which they would like to become accustomed.” He cited technical assistance such as showing “a farmer in India how to improve his productivity” or “set[ting] forth for the people of arid regions the techniques of soil and water conservation. … And when they are self-supporting, we need not fear communism. They will not succumb.”41

Thus, though he warned against trying to “buy” the friendship of other countries, Johnson’s version of a “hearts and minds” campaign did not have much depth in terms of its long-term commitment to the development of other states’ institutions. In 1951, in the context of Asia and aid to India, Johnson wrote to a constituent of “the hazards which would face any effort on our part to improve the world situation along the lines of our own beliefs. … In our efforts to overcome the threats of would-be world conquerors, we must be realistic in appraising our own limitations as well as the difficulties confronting us.”42 He defended his votes for aid and called it beneficial to U.S. interests, but he often (p.142) highlighted the loan-based nature of the programs he supported or what the United States would receive in return. In a 1953 letter, for example, he argued that he had “stressed … the need for insisting that these countries regard the aid program as truly mutual in character. In accepting assistance from us, it seems to me they take on certain responsibilities toward us. In some cases, I think, they have not been meeting those responsibilities.”43 This approach contrasts with Kennedy’s willingness to aid countries even if they had not “voted the Western ticket.”

More generally, aid to the Third World did not have nearly the significance for Johnson that it did for Kennedy. In Congress, in keeping with his “watchdog” image, Johnson pushed to cut costs. He was a consistent supporter of military assistance, and only in his last few years in the Senate did he begin to talk more frequently about poverty and underdevelopment.44 As the leader of the Senate Democrats, he often helped marshal support for Eisenhower’s foreign aid bills in an increasingly skeptical climate. But he also displayed ambivalence and even his own skepticism about foreign aid, writing in March 1958 that he sometimes “felt that we should eliminate foreign aid completely.”45 In the late 1950s, Johnson began to speak more about the need to help underdeveloped nations. But Kaufman concludes that “in a number of respects, Johnson was more in sympathy with the [aid] program’s critics than with its defenders.”46

Johnson frequently emphasized a more externally oriented solution for economic growth abroad: increased trade. He was sympathetic to Eisenhower’s notion of “trade not aid,” specifically urging that the United States “should seek to translate the slogan ‘trade, not aid’ into a meaningful program” and should “encourage the economic health of free nations through sound trade policies from which we would all profit.” “It is only by unfettered exchange of goods and services,” Johnson asserted, “that the free world can be built up into a healthy economic unit.”47 In the late 1950s, as Eisenhower began to increase aid, Johnson was still arguing for the United States to “try to shift the emphasis away from ‘aid’ to ‘trade.’ “48 In 1959, maintaining that “economic warfare” was a “vital front” in the Cold War, Johnson called for “bold, imaginative programs to open new markets” as well as “new patterns of distribution” in trade.49 His approach—viewing economic warfare in external terms and thus seizing on an externally oriented solution like trade—contrasts with Kennedy’s tolerance of neutralism and emphasis on the domestic restructuring of aid recipients in the interest of promoting long-term stability and prosperity.

As vice president, Johnson took issue with Kennedy’s foreign aid policies, not because Johnson opposed aid in general, but because he disagreed with the form of Kennedy’s program. Although Johnson sympathized with the world’s poor, he did not support the emphasis on political reform that undergirded the (p.143) Alliance for Progress, deeming the program a “thoroughgoing mess.”50 In 1960, given what he saw as his extensive knowledge of the hemisphere, Johnson identified Latin America as an area where he might contribute. But as Philip Geyelin summarizes, “Lyndon Johnson could not have been John F. Kennedy’s man for Latin America.”51

All this is not to suggest that Johnson opposed aid entirely or was unsympathetic to Third World problems. He simply viewed these problems as largely separate from the ongoing Cold War struggle. On his 1961 tour of Asia as vice president, Johnson talked publicly about the benefits of aid, though he was also under instructions to carry that message on Kennedy’s behalf. He also spent considerable time mingling with ordinary people on his foreign travels, and he continued to show interest in improving infrastructure.52 Yet going directly to the people and focusing on discrete local development projects suited Johnson’s genuine, but limited, interest in Third World development. While Kennedy was pushing for far more invasive forms of economic aid as a preventive tool for building up the domestic strength of other states, Johnson saw aid as useful for humanitarian purposes or as a security tool only insofar as it won over the uncommitted or helped the United States exert leverage.

Strategy and Policy Investments: Pre-presidential Evidence

Johnson’s externally oriented beliefs about the nature of threats translated into a nontransformative view of strategy in his pre-presidential years. To deal with aggression, Johnson concentrated his efforts in Congress on conventional (i.e., nontransformative) military preparedness. In April 1948, he wrote Truman that his “shoulder always has been and always will be at the wheel of preparedness.”53 Staffmemos to Johnson in 1948 show him making inquiries on many issues that would later become themes in his Preparedness Subcommittee work, such as manpower strength, stockpiling, and particularly air power.54 Dallek notes the “advantages to Texas and himself” in the air power push, but also Johnson’s “genuine anxiety about the communist threat.”55

Once in the Senate, Johnson continued to promote preparedness while reaping its considerable political advantages. He pushed air force expansion and preparedness in 1949 and 1950.56 In July 1950, shortly after Truman’s commitment of troops to Korea, Johnson persuaded his colleagues to set up a watchdog subcommittee for preparedness and to make him chairman.57 Although many, including Truman, viewed his enthusiasm as political showmanship (since Truman himself had made his name in the Senate during World War II through work on a similar watchdog committee), Johnson nonetheless had what Dallek describes as “a genuine commitment to advancing the war effort with little regard (p.144) for partisan considerations.”58 Johnson’s Preparedness Subcommittee issued a series of unanimous reports on topics such as manpower, air power, stockpiling of critical raw materials, and conditions at military facilities, with no discernible interest in unconventional warfare.59

Johnson’s preparedness work undoubtedly had political motivations and was inconsistent in its intensity. But it dovetailed with his belief that apart from nuclear war, external aggression was the major threat facing the noncommunist world. Furthermore, the Preparedness Subcommittee gave Johnson significant pre-presidential exposure to important security issues. Thus in the period when Kennedy began to focus on the Third World’s domestic problems as a source of threat and called for investments in capabilities to address these problems, Johnson simply saw territory that might be grabbed by the Soviets and prepared to defend it accordingly. Kennedy by no means discounted the importance of conventional preparedness. But Kennedy called for both conventional and unconventional preparedness whereas Johnson’s work on military affairs did not take up the problem of countering unconventional threats that emerged from within other states.

Johnson’s externally focused views also informed his response to the intervention decisions of his predecessors, providing a baseline for measuring how his beliefs translated into policy preferences in the pre-presidential period. In the 1954 Indochina crisis, as the French faced defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Johnson was well informed through high-level briefings.60 John Prados notes that Johnson is often credited with helping to prevent a U.S. intervention in Indochina in 1954 because in a key meeting with Dulles and other congressional leaders, Johnson asked which allies supported the intervention (to which Dulles had to reply that none did).61 But Prados concludes that Johnson was sympathetic to intervention and merely asked his question in a “pro forma” way, “doing exactly what the Eisenhower administration expected of him.” Indeed, Prados notes that “Johnson had acquired a stance on Vietnam at the time of Dien Bien Phu.”62

By this time, as Jon Western argues, there were competing strands of opinion on Indochina. In this context, Western categorizes Kennedy as a “liberal”: an anticommunist, but one who believed that “instability in the Third World was the product of internal inequalities, perpetual poverty, and social and political forces.”63 Johnson arguably falls closer to what Western calls a “selective engager,” a category in which he places Eisenhower. In a letter to a constituent on May 18, 1954, Johnson argued that it would be a mistake to “fight alone,” implying that he opposed unilateral U.S. intervention in Indochina, without the backing of allies.64 But he saw a need to stand firm, writing a constituent that the “real question involved here, of course, is where, when and how to take a stand.”65 He repeatedly wrote constituents—the overwhelming majority of (p.145) whom opposed intervention, as Prados notes—that America had been “caught bluffing,” and that the “only language [communists] understand and respect is the language of strength.”66

Aside from expressions of anticolonialism, Johnson did not seem especially concerned with the domestic affairs or conditions of Indochina.67 As Prados observes, in the absence of diaries, notes, or interviews, Johnson’s newsletters to constituents are the most “authoritative sources” on his position on Indochina, and they “consistently and repeatedly make the case for U.S. intervention.”68 In the April 24, 1954, newsletter, for example, he invoked the domino theory, arguing that “if [Indochina] should be captured by the communists, they would be in a commanding position to take over the entire continent of Asia.” Johnson’s only discussion of the internal situation in Indochina was to note that the “French have refused to grant full independence.”69 His letters on Indochina vacillated between the need to stand firm and the hope of avoiding intervention. In a letter to a friend on April 23, Johnson wrote that the threat to Indochina was “very grave” and that it was “a threat we must resist.”70 After the fall of Dien Bien Phu, he called the defeat a “stunning reversal” for the United States, saying “we have been caught bluffing by our enemies,” but arguing that sending U.S. troops “would be a tragedy of great magnitude.”71 In another letter, he explicitly wrote that he was “opposed” to sending U.S. troops.72 But in other letters, Johnson continued to emphasize the language of toughness and avoiding appeasement.73 Publicly, in a speech on May 6, 1954—the day before Dien Bien Phu fell—Johnson painted a “picture of our country needlessly weakened in the world.”74 Prados concludes that Johnson favored intervention and only softened his stance when Dien Bien Phu was “on its last legs.”75

Johnson’s vice-presidential years, in which he suffered diminished power but had access to high-level information, illustrate both the continuity of his views on the conflict in Southeast Asia and his differences with Kennedy. This record is very helpful in establishing that Kennedy and Johnson approached Vietnam differently under similar circumstances. In 1961, Kennedy persuaded a very reluctant Johnson to go on a goodwill trip to Asia with the particular aim of demonstrating support for South Vietnamese president Diem.76 Parsing Johnson’s views on the trip is somewhat difficult because he was Kennedy’s agent and spokesman. Johnson’s pretrip briefing included material on U.S. economic aid and hopes for internal reform.77

Although his discussion with Diem in Saigon covered military, economic, and social issues, Johnson’s primary message was the need to stand up to communist aggression rather than a focus on domestic strength and reform. In his speech at the farewell dinner in Saigon, Johnson used a familiar formulation, asserting, “If a bully is loose in the world, and can come in and run you off your (p.146) lawn today, he’ll be back tomorrow to drive you from your porch.” He saw Diem as someone who would say, “Don’t cross this line.”78 Johnson’s private reports on his return placed the most emphasis on shoring up U.S. credibility and holding the line in Southeast Asia. His classified report to Kennedy opened with the damage to U.S. credibility inflicted by the Laos crisis. “If these men I saw at your request were bankers,” Johnson wrote, “I would know—without bothering to ask—that there would be no further extensions on my note.”79 Only after a discussion of the regional implications of the crisis, the potential need for U.S. troops, and the need for any help to be mutual, did Johnson add, “In large measure, the greatest danger Southeast Asia offers to nations like the United States is not the momentary threat of Communism itself, rather that danger stems from hunger, ignorance, poverty and disease.”80 He then immediately returned to discussing credibility in primarily international terms, arguing that the United States “must decide whether to help these countries to the best of our ability or throw in the towel in the area and pull back our defenses to San Francisco and a ‘Fortress America’ concept. More important, we would say to the world in this case that we don’t live up to treaties and don’t stand by our friends.”81

There were other elements to Johnson’s report. For example, a paper that may have been an annex or even a draft version of the report called for a “simultaneous, vigorous and integrated attack on the economic, social and other ills of the Vietnamese peoples.” But there was little sense that such an effort was a prerequisite for securing Vietnam—in fact, Johnson argued only that Viet Minh “terrorism” was disrupting development.82 In terms of Asia more broadly, his report to the House Foreign Affairs Committee went so far as to note that “such military strength as we can provide can be only a shield behind which free governments provide the economic and social progress that the masses of people are demanding passionately. Either these economic and social reforms are pushed or we shall find that our military men have built iron fortresses on foundations of quicksand.”83 Another report on the trip, attributed to Johnson but with no drafting information available, argued that in Vietnam, the “new aid commitment plunges us very deeply into the Vietnamese internal situation. The attitude of our mission people must begin immediately to reflect that depth.” The United States “must attempt to strengthen the National Assembly and other democratic institutions in Viet Nam,” in part to ensure continuity in case something happened to Diem.84 In large part, however, Johnson was uncritical of Diem. In his farewell dinner speech in Saigon, Johnson compared Diem to George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, and publicly, Johnson hailed Diem as another “Winston Churchill,” thereby deepening the U.S. commitment to Diem, whom Johnson later called “the only boy we got out there.”85 In his statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Johnson was (p.147) clear: “This certainly is no time for nit-picking where Diem is concerned,” he argued. “We either decide that we are going to support him and support him zealously or that we are going to let South Vietnam fall.”86 Just two years later, Kennedy would do far more than “nit-pick.”

In terms of the other crises and interventions that occurred during his predecessors’ tenures, Johnson was usually a staunch supporter of presidential action to stop what he perceived to be external aggression. For example, despite his wrangling with the administration over the legislation related to the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1957 (during which he secured some limitations on the aid provisions, among other moves), Johnson supported Eisenhower’s intervention in Lebanon in 1958.87 His view of the crisis was predictably focused on aggression. In a speech on the Senate floor on July 15, 1958, he declared that the United States would “make it clear to the aggressors that this country is determined to maintain freedom in this world, at whatever the cost.” As the New York Times noted, Johnson “did not specify what ‘aggressors’ he was referring to.”88 And while Kennedy wrote a constituent that the Lebanese crisis was not “a clear case of outside aggression,” Johnson diagnosed the crisis in external terms, writing that the United States had “not become involved in a country which is engaged in civil strife in the ordinary sense” because “all of the evidence seems to indicate strongly that external influences, as well as military assistance, have provoked the uprisings in Lebanon.”89

But perhaps Johnson’s most interesting statements—and omissions—came on the subject of guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. As Lawrence Freedman observes, “Johnson was less inclined to the political theory behind counter-insurgency strategy.”90 During his years as vice president, Johnson had exposure to the Kennedy administration’s counterinsurgency program (with its links to modernization theory) but largely ignored it. Johnson attended several NSC meetings dealing with strategy, including the first postinaugural Vietnam meeting, at which the new counterinsurgency plan was discussed.91 In his report to the House Foreign Affairs Committee following his 1961 trip to Asia, Johnson paid lip service to the special nature of guerrilla warfare, calling the Viet Cong onslaught a “new kind of assault which never involves direct attack but whose stock gambit is treachery by night.”92 In his reports to Kennedy and to the House, however, Johnson argued that the “most important thing is imaginative, creative, American management of our military aid program.”93

While Johnson put forward Kennedy’s proposals as a loyal lieutenant on the 1961 trip, his rare but forceful comments in the meetings on managing the ongoing Laos and Vietnam crises found him falling back on the framework of outside aggression. During the Laos crisis, he was a frequent, if mostly silent, participant in both NSC meetings and small group meetings with Kennedy. Johnson attended (p.148) the March 9, 1961 meeting, discussed in chapter 4, in which Kennedy demanded to know what the political dimension of any military campaign in Laos would look like.94 At the NSC meeting on May 1, 1961, around the peak of pressure from the military to intervene in Laos, Johnson spoke up when Kennedy asked for “current thinking” on whether or not the United States should intervene. Johnson “suggested that a more careful analysis be made of the impact of going into Laos. He suggested consideration be given to more immediate action if movement into the area were contemplated at a later date.” At the end of the meeting, Johnson “suggested that the JCS, while considering involvement of U.S. forces, also evaluate the effects of [a] pull-out of forces with the possible creation of greater chances for war eventually.”95 The effects of pulling out, as well as domestic and congressional opinion, were at the forefront of Johnson’s concerns. These concerns continued into 1963, when Johnson made handwritten notes on a memorandum detailing diplomatic and political efforts to boost noncommunist forces in Laos and to prevent the fall of neutralist forces in the Plain of Jars, a critical test of the Geneva Agreement on Laos. Next to these recommendations, Johnson wrote comments such as “in effective,” “Effect NIL,” and “Wholly inadequate & in effective. Plays directly into hands of Commie obstructionists.”96

Thus Johnson’s pre-presidential statements on strategy and policy investments reflect his emphasis on standing firm against conventional aggression and his tendency to separate military and international considerations from the domestic conditions within target states. Johnson’s views of Kennedy’s decision making on Vietnam, discussed below, are consistent with these general tendencies.

In sum, Johnson saw threats primarily in terms of outside aggression, with domestic concerns largely separate. He focused on the international dimension of alliances and the U.S. sphere of influence. Although he sympathized with the poor in the Third World, he viewed foreign aid not as an investment in local institutions but rather as a short-term way to sway the uncommitted. And he saw strategy in conventional terms, largely ignoring the issue of guerrilla warfare and preparedness for transformative strategies. Johnson would bring these views with him to the presidency.

Johnson as President: Strategy and Policy Investments

The unique circumstances of Kennedy’s assassination meant that Johnson had less flexibility than most new presidents in making policy investments at the outset of his administration; indeed, he went to great lengths to emphasize continuity with Kennedy’s policies at home and abroad.97 A direct comparison with (p.149) the policy investments of Kennedy or Eisenhower is therefore difficult. This section does not discuss budgets because in the early Johnson administration they largely reflected Kennedy’s priorities. Nevertheless, Johnson’s staffing decisions, strategy and defense posture, and institutional creation and change are useful to examine.

Staffing Decisions

There was both continuity and change in personnel. Johnson deliberately tried to retain Kennedy personnel, yet as Freedman notes, there were subtle but critical shifts.98 The top level remained largely intact: Rusk at State, McNamara at Defense, Bundy as national security adviser. There would be important changes below this group, however. Notably, midlevel officials who favored a politically oriented approach to Third World conflicts became increasingly peripheral.

Strategy, Defense Posture, and the Use of Force

Johnson did not officially alter Kennedy’s strategy of “Flexible Response.” But there were shifts in emphasis that would be magnified in Johnson’s intervention choices. Johnson did not continue the top-down presidential pressure to build up counterinsurgency forces, for example. In February 1964, a National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) dealing with counterinsurgency training programs superseded two related Kennedy NSAMs. It was worded as a presidential directive, but a memo from the NSC’s Michael Forrestal—one of those who pushed for a politically oriented approach in Vietnam and supported Kennedy’s efforts to expand counterinsurgency—makes clear that the impetus for the NSAM came from the bureaucracy and that Johnson may never have read it.99

Johnson also differed from Kennedy in the role he saw for foreign aid. Johnson counted among his favorite books economist Barbara Ward’s The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations (published in 1962), which argued for helping the world’s “havenots.”100 Nonetheless, Robert Packenham notes that despite much continuity with Kennedy’s aid program, Johnson “never spent a large share of his political capital for development-oriented aid” and demanded something in return for it, usually “support for his anti-Communist objectives.”101 Johnson “would hope for economic development,” but whereas Kennedy had employed a mixture of what Packenham calls the “economic approach,” the “Cold War approach,” and the “explicit democratic approach” to political development, Johnson prioritized the Cold War approach “over any other.”102 Kaufman goes further, calling “Johnson’s approach to economic development … a throwback to the early years of the Eisenhower administration” and the “trade not aid” policy.103 For (p.150) Johnson, the Cold War came first and separately, whereas for Kennedy, economic and political development had been a way to fight the Cold War itself.

Institutional Creation and Change

Johnson was an institution builder at home, but he was far less active in building institutions for foreign and security policy, and he allowed some of Kennedy’s policy investments to lapse. The Special Group (CI) continued to exist at first, but as CIA director John McCone noted in a meeting with Rusk in March 1965, “its position had eroded away,” and McCone argued vigorously that it should be “revitalized.”104 In March 1966, after a review of U.S. counterinsurgency activities led by Maxwell Taylor, the Special Group was abolished and its functions subsumed into a new State Department–based group with much wider-ranging responsibilities, including general foreign policy and intelligence matters.105 Bundy’s deputy, Robert Komer, wrote Bundy to say he was not impressed with Taylor’s report and that “putting this new machinery in State will not result in greater attention to the problem, but probably less.”106 The timing of this debate is somewhat odd given that at nearly the same time, as discussed in more detail below, the White House was searching for a way to give civil projects in Vietnam special priority. Just a few weeks and two NSAMs after the abolition of the Special Group (CI), Komer himself was appointed to coordinate “peaceful construction” in Vietnam, perpetuating the separation of military and civil action in the war.107

But perhaps Johnson’s most controversial moves with respect to a Kennedy institution came with the Alliance for Progress. Historians continue to debate whether Johnson’s policy toward Latin America and the Alliance was merely a continuation of trends already under way before Kennedy’s death or a sharp break with the Kennedy philosophy. On the one hand, by 1963 Kennedy himself recognized the significant problems and contradictions plaguing the Alliance.108 In October 1963 Kennedy approved a statement by Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Martin lamenting that democracy might be unattainable in certain Latin American countries and recognizing the important role of the military in Latin American society.109 Kennedy went so far as to proclaim the Kennedy Doctrine, stating that the United States would not tolerate another communist regime in the region. Johnson’s policies in Latin America, in this view, should be seen as an extension of Kennedy’s.110 On the other hand, several scholars see Johnson’s moves as a departure from the principles underpinning the Alliance.111

The change in approach to the Alliance was significant. Although Johnson pledged support for the Alliance and continued to press for Alliance-related funds, he also moved quickly to change its underlying philosophy. He appointed Thomas C. Mann, who had “little enthusiasm” for the Alliance, to serve simultaneously (p.151) as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs, special assistant to the president, and coordinator of the Alliance.112 Stephen Rabe asserts that Kennedy “would not have named Thomas Mann his ‘Mr. Latin America.’ ”113 In a familiar formulation, Johnson remarked to a group of reporters, “I know these Latin Americans. … They’ll come right into your yard and take it over if you let them. And the next day they’ll be right up on your porch. … But if you say to ’em right at the start, ‘hold on, just wait a minute,’ they’ll know they’re dealing with somebody who’ll stand up. And after that you can get along fine.”114

The Mann—and Johnson—approach to the Alliance differed significantly from that of Kennedy. Gone was the idea of gradual domestic transformation to stave off a communist takeover. Instead, the Alliance was to emphasize the role of private investment, cooperation with the U.S. business community, and the pursuit of stability.115 During a March 1964 conference in Washington, this shift would become awkwardly public when Mann’s private comments to a group of U.S. diplomats in Latin America appeared in the New York Times. According to the Times, Mann said that the United States would no longer distinguish between “good guys or bad guys,” and he stressed four main purposes for U.S. policy in Latin America: fostering economic growth, protecting U.S. investments, non-intervention in Latin American internal affairs, and opposing communism.116 The elements of the speech quickly became known as the Mann Doctrine. While Kennedy recognized the need for pragmatism and even occasional Cold War cynicism in the hemisphere, the Mann Doctrine illustrated that the two presidents held different preference orderings. As Joseph Tulchin argues, democracy did not disappear from the U.S. agenda under Johnson, but it was a lower-priority goal.117 Johnson favored internationally successful outcomes—stable, anticommunist regimes.

The precise extent to which Johnson departed from Kennedy’s approach is still a matter of debate. Furthermore, Johnson and Mann were arguably far more realistic in their assessment of what the Alliance could and could not accomplish. But given how much Kennedy had emphasized reform in Latin America and the congruence between Johnson’s policy and his earlier beliefs, it seems that the shift in emphasis in the Alliance’s goals and strategies can be attributed at least partly to presidential leadership.

Summarizing Johnson’s policy investments (adjusting for the circumstances surrounding the transition), we can see elements of continuity and change. While many Kennedy advisers stayed on after the assassination, Johnson made important shifts. Johnson emphasized countering threats and combating aggression. He placed much less weight on capabilities to address threats from within other states, lessening the pressure on the military and civilian bureaucracy to build up counterinsurgency forces, for example. He shifted the goals of Kennedy (p.152) programs such as the Alliance for Progress so that they prioritized stability and internationally favorable outcomes. At the same time, however, he inherited the commitments Kennedy made and pledged that America would honor those commitments.

Intervention Choices in Latin America: Panama

Johnson may not have enjoyed dealing with foreign policy as much as domestic affairs, but the international environment did not provide him the luxury of avoiding engagement. Johnson inherited the ongoing crisis in Vietnam and faced several new crises, including one in Panama just weeks after Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson’s choices during these crises reflected his long-standing beliefs. The theory posits that all leaders are concerned with international imperatives such as the need to demonstrate credibility, but differ on the extent to which they connect these issues to the domestic institutions of other states. Johnson’s consideration of the costs and benefits of intervention was usually confined to international factors such as the effect on U.S. credibility or potential U.S. gains in the long-term struggle with the Soviet Union. He saw far fewer potential security benefits from successfully transforming other states’ domestic institutions. Though the blame for the shortfall in transformative capabilities by no means rests with Johnson alone, his inattention to building such capabilities left him at a deficit when he tried to emphasize nonmilitary aspects of strategy, for example late in the Vietnam escalation. Thus Johnson’s beliefs informed his intervention decisions and left their mark on the interventions themselves.

In January 1964, Johnson faced a crisis in Panama, where long-simmering hostility over the treaty governing the Panama Canal and the U.S.-controlled Canal Zone flared. The crisis never quite developed into a full-blown decision over whether to deploy troops, but Johnson’s handling of it is nonetheless illuminating as a case of nonintervention. Johnson made clear throughout the crisis that his overriding concern was U.S. credibility and the appearance of standing firm. Despite some prodding, he expressed little interest in strengthening Panama’s domestic institutions or addressing the long-standing political and economic tensions between Panamanians and Americans living in the Canal Zone.

Several historians have argued that Johnson handled the episode in nontrans-formative terms that are consistent with his actions in other Third World crises. For example, Michael Latham, who traces the roots of the crisis to the U.S. imperial legacy in Panama and the pattern of political and economic inequality stemming from the Zone arrangement, concludes that Johnson saw the crisis as a “symbolic struggle” that challenged American credibility, but he did not understand (p.153) “the roots of Panama’s economic or political structure” and “never recognized the deeper, historical sources of the conflict.”118 Johnson’s strategy for demonstrating credibility did not include addressing the underlying problems that triggered the crisis in the first place. Furthermore, according to Mark Lawrence, in the end Johnson compromised in Panama only because of a “peculiar set of circumstances,” namely, that he could manage the political risks, that conceding some rights in the Canal Zone might actually strengthen the ruling oligarchy in Panama, and that the bureaucracy would not stand in the way of concessions. Thus Johnson’s willingness to compromise was “the exception that proves the rule,” since his actions were “rooted in the same caution and conservatism that characterized Johnson era policymaking toward the third world more generally.”119

Kennedy had negotiated an agreement with Panamanian president Roberto Chiari over how U.S. and Panamanian flags would be flown in the Canal Zone, a sensitive issue given resentment over the continued U.S. presence in the area. But on January 7, 1964, American students raised the U.S. flag outside a high school in the Zone, in violation of the agreement, leading to rioting that killed four U.S. soldiers and twenty-one Panamanians.120 Johnson and his aides quickly assumed that although the provocation had come from the United States, communists had started the riots.121 Chiari called for an end to the violence but also suspended diplomatic relations with the United States, insisting on “a complete revision of all treaties which affect Panama-U.S. relations.”122

In the ensuing weeks, Johnson and his advisers worked to achieve some sort of diplomatic agreement. But negotiations stalled when the two sides haggled over the wording of a communiqué: the United States asserted that the parties “have agreed to begin discussions” on matters relating to U.S.-Panamanian relations while Chiari insisted that the text meant there would be negotiations rather than simply “discussions.”123 Johnson balked at any suggestion that he was committing to a renegotiation of the treaty, and the deal collapsed. The crisis dragged on for the next few months, and Johnson ordered contingency plans for U.S. military intervention in Panama if the Chiari government came under threat from, or was overthrown by, communists. The request for plans called for “minimum force” to “establish sufficient control … to permit a non-Communist government to exercise power,” with “the earliest possible withdrawal of U.S. forces.”124 Finally, after the parties had exchanged draft after draft and haggled over virtually every word, the United States and Panama reached an agreement on April 3. The United States agreed only to “discussions,” a formula that Chiari, under pressure to settle the crisis, accepted. In December 1964, Johnson announced that he was prepared to negotiate a new treaty.

Two features characterized the way Johnson managed the crisis. First, he consistently focused on the international aspects of issues that affected U.S. interests, (p.154) paying much less attention to domestic Panamanian affairs and treating them as separate from resolving the crisis itself. While he was willing to acknowledge the necessity of discussing the underlying treaty issues, he repeatedly refused to accept draft language that included any hint of “negotiations” and consistently invoked the need to stand firm with the Panamanians. On the treaty revision, Johnson told his Senate mentor Richard Russell in a telephone conversation, “It seems to me that we’re kinda givin’ in there and respondin’ at the point of a pistol.”125 Johnson then called Bundy and said he would instruct Mann that “under appropriate circumstances, we’ll be very happy to discuss any troublesome problems with them, but we’re not goin’ to do it at the point of a gun. We’ve got the rest of the world to live with.”126 While expressing some sympathy for Zone issues, he did not connect them to the crisis itself. Johnson saw the riots as a Panamanian attempt to renegotiate the canal treaty rather than viewing all the issues as intertwined. In a conversation with Mann and Ralph Dungan of the NSC on January 14, in one of his few references to the underlying social and economic disparities between Panamanians and American citizens in the Zone, Johnson said, “I want to be fair and want to be reasonable and want to be just to these people, and if we’ve got problems with wage scales or arrogant military people or Zonites that cause these troubles, or any improvement or changes we can make, we’re anxious to do it—wage scales, or whatever it is. But if they think that all they gotta do is to burn a USIS and shoot four or five soldiers and then we come runnin’ in and—hat in hand—well, that’s a different proposition.”127 At several points during the ensuing months, Johnson haggled with aides over the wording of draft language. In March 1964 he called Mann and objected to the words “negotiations,” “Panama Canal,” and “international” in the latest draft, adding, “I want to resist somebody somewhere, some time.”128

As Latham notes, Johnson’s diagnosis of the problem centered on the idea that “the violence remained Chiari’s sole creation and personal bargaining tool” rather than an expression of institutional problems. The “dynamics of Panamanian politics … largely were lost on a Johnson administration unfamiliar with the local context.”129 Thus while Johnson expressed some willingness to talk about “issues” within Panama, his diagnosis of the problem meant that standing firm internationally was paramount, with discussion of domestic issues at best a secondary concern to be dealt with later and not a principal means of solving the crisis. Indeed, after the crisis had passed, Johnson wondered in a telephone conversation with Mann whether “we could make some adjustment in wages and show a little social consciousness” to help the postcrisis talks along.130 Yet others urged Johnson to connect the crisis to domestic conditions within Panama even as it was still unfolding. On January 31, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield wrote Johnson that the United States had only one “fundamental national interest (p.155) to protect”: the canal. But he also asserted that the “pressure for social change is just short of violent revolution in Panama and in much of the rest of Latin America. The pressure comes primarily from the inside, from the decay and antiquation of the social structures of various Latin American countries. … We may have something constructive to contribute to the form and pace of the change if we play our cards carefully and wisely.”131

But though he was quick to react to any hint of communist encroachment, Johnson saw the crisis almost solely in terms of credibility and did not pay much attention to the domestic dynamics within Panama, apart from a general willingness to talk about issues and a few references to wage disparities. Indeed, Johnson used an Alliance for Progress anniversary event to reiterate his willingness to discuss issues with Panama but with no commitment to renegotiating the treaty.132 If he could achieve his international (and electoral) goals, Johnson saw little additional benefit to peering beneath the surface of Panama’s domestic problems, though an internally focused leader might have seen these problems as a potential threat to U.S. interests such as the canal.

A second feature of the Panama crisis was Johnson’s repeated overruling of aides. At the end of February, Johnson told Russell that he was under tremendous pressure from his top advisers—including Rusk, McNamara, and Bundy—to accept a new draft agreement but “overrode all of them” and stuck to the same position he had held from the beginning.133 In March, Mann brought another agreement to Johnson, who again rejected it, telling Russell on March 9 that he told Mann, “No I won’t sign that; I just won’t do it,” despite the urging of Rusk, McNamara, and Bundy.134 A few days later, Johnson lost patience with Mann. Bundy told Johnson that the Organization of American States (OAS) had proposed yet another draft, and Mann was “very eager” to get Johnson’s approval. Declining to accept the draft, Johnson said, “Tom [Mann] capitulates easier than I thought. He was the strongest guy you ever saw when he started.”135 Later in March, Johnson took the initiative himself, proposing to Rusk that he make a presidential statement emphasizing the positive aspects of U.S.-Panamanian relations and his willingness to talk about—but not “negotiate” over—the issues between the two countries.136 The statement helped break the deadlock, and the crisis was resolved in early April. Though Johnson was still very early in his presidency, he was willing to stand up to his advisers and take control of the crisis.

Panama never reached the urgency of other crises Johnson faced—military intervention was on the table only briefly—and throughout the crisis, Johnson showed a willingness to compromise. And as Dallek notes, the crisis “would probably have frustrated Kennedy as well.”137 But the episode is significant because it illustrates many of the principles Johnson employed in other conflicts: an external focus and a willingness to become personally involved and to overrule his (p.156) own advisers. As Lawrence notes, American domestic politics (particularly pressure from the right to stand firm) and Johnson’s need to build a reputation for toughness also played important roles.138 The unique circumstances of the case allowed Johnson to choose compromise, once he was satisfied he had made his firm stance known. The outcome would not be as favorable in his next Latin American test.

Intervention Choices in Latin America: The Dominican Republic

In April 1965, with the Vietnam escalation already effectively in progress, Johnson faced a crisis in the Dominican Republic that would culminate in a U.S. military intervention involving 24,000 troops and a year-long occupation.139 The democratically elected regime of Juan Bosch had been overthrown in a military coup in September 1963. On April 24, 1965, “constitutionalist” rebels, including some in the army, staged a countercoup that overthrew the military-backed regime of Donald Reid Cabral. The countercoup quickly evolved into a civil war between the constitutionalist rebels and “loyalists,” who backed the military regime. Although hoping to avoid direct military involvement, the Johnson administration almost immediately began to worry about “another Cuba.” On April 28, at the embassy’s request, Johnson ordered more than four hundred Marines to land in Santo Domingo to evacuate U.S. citizens. The next day, the embassy requested full-scale military intervention. Over the next few days, Johnson authorized steady increases in the number of U.S. troops deployed in support of the junta, stabilizing Santo Domingo. After tense negotiations over several months, the crisis finally concluded with the installation of a provisional government and, ultimately, elections that returned Joaquín Balaguer, the former puppet president under Rafael Trujillo, to power. Despite the electoral outcome and an American military presence that lasted more than a year, however, the intervention was nontransformative, using the smallest footprint possible to replace one acceptably anticommunist, military-backed government with another.140 In the end, the intervention in 1965 had more in common with Eisenhower’s intervention in Lebanon than with Kennedy’s actions in Latin America or Southeast Asia.141

Some commentators argue that Johnson’s options in the crisis were limited.142 But Johnson’s handling of the crisis was consistent with his own causal beliefs. Like both Eisenhower and Kennedy, Johnson worried about communist encroachment in Latin America and maintaining U.S. credibility. But unlike Kennedy, Johnson did not connect the nature of the crisis to the Dominican Republic’s institutions to any significant degree. Johnson also pushed beyond (p.157) what even his own advisers recommended and was clearly the man in charge: George Ball remembers that Johnson “assumed the direction of day-to-day policy and became, in effect, the Dominican desk officer.”143

As discussed in chapter 4, Kennedy also had confronted instability and change in the Dominican Republic. After the assassination of longtime dictator Rafael Trujillo, Kennedy used U.S. power to try to facilitate a transition to a more democratic regime. Although we lack evidence as to what Kennedy might have done in the 1965 crisis, his policy toward the Dominican Republic—a policy no less influenced by fears of “another Cuba”—involved a wider range of options than Johnson considered and, at least for a time, prioritized a domestically successful outcome. When Juan Bosch was elected president in 1962, Kennedy sent Vice President Johnson to Santo Domingo for the inauguration, to express the administration’s support and to tell Bosch that Johnson and Kennedy were “keenly interested in the success of your campaign to build democratic institutions, to foster economic stability and prosperity and to secure social justice for the Dominican people.”144

When Bosch was overthrown, the United States protested but did little else, at a time when Kennedy was increasingly frustrated with the Alliance for Progress. Indeed, the Kennedy administration was moving toward recognizing the new Dominican regime, a step Johnson took shortly after taking office.145 Thus many observers see Johnson’s handling of the 1965 Dominican Republic crisis as a continuation of Kennedy’s policy toward Santo Domingo. Notably, Kennedy’s support for internal security and counterinsurgency efforts within Latin American countries bolstered local armies, prompting historian Piero Gleijeses to lay a large share of the blame for the events of 1965 at Kennedy’s door.146

But within his decidedly anticommunist framework, Kennedy made clear that his first preference was for reform and democracy, not simply for the sake of idealism but also because he saw danger in both a communist takeover in Santo Domingo and a return to a repressive Trujillo-type dictatorship, which he feared would lead to a communist revolt anyway. In the wake of Trujillo’s assassination, Kennedy argued that the crucial element was “the emergence of … a liberal figure who can command popular support as against the military and who will carry out social and economic reform. … The great danger in the next six months is a take-over by the army, which could lead straight to Castro.”147 In October 1963, a cable sent to the embassy in Santo Domingo transmitting guidance on U.S. objectives referred to controlling “communist and Trujillo threats.”148 Kennedy thus saw danger from the left and from the right. Within the limits of feasibility and the overriding concern to prevent “another Cuba,” he did not want just any anticommunist government—the form that anticommunism took mattered.

(p.158) When Johnson confronted a sudden countercoup aiming to restore the exiled Bosch to power in April 1965, he began from a very different starting point that placed far less emphasis on Dominican institutions. Johnson had paid less attention to Latin America generally. Nonetheless, the new U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, W. Tapley Bennett, cabled shortly after his arrival in Santo Domingo in May 1964 that “economic misery” was a major problem and that he recommended “getting under way with [a] full-scale Alliance for Progress program.”149 Despite Bennett’s warning, Washington was caught largely by surprise when military officers sympathetic to Bosch moved against the Reid regime on April 24, 1965.

On the morning of April 26, Johnson spoke by phone with Mann. He immediately made clear his opposition to Bosch’s return and his instinct to stabilize the country. “We are going to have to really set up that government down there, run it and stabilize it some way or another,” Johnson told Mann. “This Bosch is no good. I was down there.”150 The following day, as it became clearer that the rebels would not be easily defeated, the State Department cabled the embassy in Santo Domingo that the “primary objectives are restoration of law and order, prevention of possible Communist takeover, and protection of American lives.” The embassy staff was instructed to try to contact both sides and work toward the establishment of a military junta to reestablish law and order.151

But while the administration hoped to avoid overt intervention, Johnson made it clear, as he told Mann on April 28, that he “[didn’t] want the rebels to win.”152 Shortly thereafter, Bennett cabled to say the situation had deteriorated further and that a newly declared loyalist junta reported “that without help they would ‘have to quit.’” Switching to the statement that “American lives are in danger,” he recommended an “immediate landing.”153 Johnson authorized more than four hundred Marines from ships offshore to land and evacuate American citizens. The hope, as expressed by Mann, was that the mere presence of U.S. troops would “strengthen the will” of the loyalist forces and perhaps lead to a negotiated settlement.154 Later that evening, Bennett cabled again with more bad news. Invoking the specter of “another Cuba,” he recommended that “serious thought be given in Washington to armed intervention which would go beyond the mere protection of Americans and seek to establish order in this strife-ridden country.”155

In the next few days, Johnson would home in on the alleged communist dimension of the conflict, working to ensure a loyalist victory. He was concerned above all that the island not go communist, but beyond that, he was not particularly interested in the details of how the domestic situation in the Dominican Republic evolved. The result was a decision to deploy troops without a clear plan for how to use them. Johnson also pushed for more action than his advisers (p.159) recommended. On the morning of April 29, Johnson spoke to Bundy, telling him, “We want to be very, very careful not to sit here and let them augment their forces. … I sure don’t want to wake up a few hours later and say we’re awaiting developments and find out Castro’s in charge.” Johnson still hoped to avoid taking sides overtly, but he worried there was not enough force on the ground. “Why did [Bennett] just want 400?” he asked. “It looks like to me that that’s the only weakness thing.”156 Finally, late that night, Rusk cabled Bennett that Washington was considering putting American troops between the two sides, to help the junta forces win. “This is consistent with our primary purpose,” wrote Rusk, “which is to protect American lives, and with our general policy of opposing the spread of communist controlled governments in this hemisphere.”157 Johnson approved the landing of thousands more Marines, who began to arrive overnight on April 29–30. Within ten days, there would be almost 23,000 American troops in the Dominican Republic.

To be sure, Johnson preferred a junta victory and was willing to employ military force to achieve it. But his strategy did not involve significant institutional interference; rather, the landing aimed to maintain the status quo. As Abraham Lowenthal and Peter Felten point out and the documentary record makes clear, despite the landing of thousands of troops, Johnson did not yet have a clear idea of what the troops would do on the ground beyond staving off a communist takeover.158 On April 30, Johnson met with his senior advisers and clarified his focus on the international dimension of the crisis and his inattention to Dominican domestic issues. According to notes recorded by White House aide Jack Valenti, Johnson told the group: “I am not willing to let this island go to Castro. OAS is a phantom—they are taking a siesta while this is on fire. How can we send troops 10,000 miles away and let Castro take over right under our nose. Let’s just analyze—we have resisted Communists all over the world: Vietnam, Lebanon, and Greece. What are we doing under our doorstep. We know the rebel leaders are Communist, and we are sitting here waiting on OAS. We know Castro will hate us. We got rid of the dictator and we will now get a real dictator.” Rusk pressed Johnson to work through the OAS, but Johnson instead told McNamara, “Why don’t you first find out what we need to take that island. Rusk, why don’t you determine what it takes to make this take on the right color.” Johnson was also out in front of his advisers, as the following discussion makes clear:


  • We have done a great deal. We are talking about a division going in and we couldn’t do that several days ago.
  • LBJ:

  • I think enough leaders are there to make it Castro. … I am ashamed of the little we have done.
  • (p.160) Ball:

  • But we have done considerable; we have put men ashore without real angry response.
  • LBJ:

  • I want McNamara to get ready so that Castro cannot take over.
  • McNamara himself urged that real evidence of a communist takeover be shown and that the United States “must have some government to get behind.” Johnson concluded, “I want us to feverishly try to cloak this with legitimacy. We cannot stand with our hand in our pocket and let Castro win. Military get ducks in a row. Diplomats see if we can do anything to get observers in here or troops from other Latin American countries. We are willing to do whatever is necessary to put the pistols down. We will have one of 3 dictators: 1) U.S., 2) Moderate dictator, 3) Castro dictator.”159 Johnson had made his own statement of preferences: any dictator would do as long as it was not Castro. He expressed none of Kennedy’s concern that a dictator might also lead to communism.

    Meanwhile, on the ground in Santo Domingo, there remained the question of how to deploy the troops. Initial hopes that the mere presence of the troops would stiffen the junta and cause the constitutionalists to collapse proved unfounded. After the two sides agreed to a cease-fire on April 30, the United States still provided support to the junta while maintaining a veneer of impartiality.160 The JCS ordered Lieutenant General Bruce Palmer Jr. to take command of U.S. ground forces in the Dominican Republic. “Your announced mission is to save US lives,” JCS Chairman Earle Wheeler’s orders to Palmer read. “Your unannounced mission is to prevent the Dominican Republic from going Communist. The President has stated that he will not allow another Cuba—you are to take all necessary measures to accomplish this mission. You will be given sufficient forces to do the job.”161

    But the Johnson administration sought to ensure a loyalist victory using the smallest footprint possible. When he arrived in Santo Domingo, Palmer found U.S. forces deployed on different sides of the city with no link between them; U.S. military officers wanted to join up the troops and even sought authorization to move into the rebel areas to quash the rebellion.162 In a cable to the embassy drafted by Mann on April 30, Washington expressed alarm that the junta might think U.S. intentions were to attack and defeat the rebels directly, but added that U.S. “tactics will be designed to support Junta in the achievement of this objective.”163 At a May 2 meeting of a newly formed Dominican Task Force, Johnson’s advisers, including McNamara, Bundy, and Mann, discussed three possible options for deploying U.S. forces to ensure a constitutionalist defeat with minimal involvement. The group chose the option to cordon off the rebels—but not to the tightest extent possible, arguing that their chosen option was “quick, militarily the soundest, and, in fact, could be accomplished by less than (p.161) a division.” The group also discussed political solutions, including distancing the United States from the increasingly unpopular junta and possible names to lead a new government. But there was little discussion of doing anything more in terms of domestic Dominican institutions, apart from a relief effort, which would “make it clear that our soldiers do other things besides fire weapons at Dominicans.”164

    In the next few days, the administration’s attention shifted to the political situation, where Johnson again focused on the communist angle—amid the increasing skepticism and frustration of his advisers—to the exclusion of other internal considerations. Rival governments formed on both sides, and the White House covertly aided the junta-led Government of National Reconstruction (GNR). But the only aspect of the potential new government that captured Johnson’s attention was the participation (or even the hint of participation) of alleged communists, even as his closest aides expressed increasing doubts about the degree of communist infiltration. In a tense telephone conversation with Mc-Namara on May 12, Johnson asked if the military had contingency plans in place for any possible scenario. He felt that “the time is going to come before very long when we have to kind of make up our choice to either let Castro have it, or take it.” Telling Johnson that the United States had to get a political solution, McNamara said that waiting a few days would not reduce U.S. military capabilities. Johnson disagreed: “I believe everyday you lose it. … I think they get a good deal stronger. … Do we know they aren’t shipping them stuff?” McNamara insisted that the military balance was not changing and that a political solution was necessary. “Well,” said Johnson, “if they are controlled by the Castroites, they are not going to give it to you.” Finally, McNamara grew impatient, retorting, “I don’t think they are. … I just don’t believe the story that Bosch and [rebel leader Francisco] Caamaño are controlled by the Castroites.”165 Johnson was so focused on Castro and U.S. strength that he brushed past the political reality on the ground.

    From here the crisis proceeded along both military and political fronts. On May 13, the GNR began an offensive against the constitutionalists. As Felten states bluntly, “Washington was not neutral. … The Johnson administration continued to use armed force to destroy the rebellion.”166 On the political front, however, Johnson expressed willingness to negotiate with Bosch through a back channel. In late May, the United States very nearly accepted a deal to allow Bosch’s preferred man for the presidency, Antonio Guzmán, to lead the new government. In one of the back-channel conversations, Johnson referred to the need to “deal with” both communists and “Trujilloistas,” a rare reference to potential problems with the Dominican right.167

    But his need to be tough on communists, and to be seen doing it, ultimately led Johnson to reject the “Guzmán formula” and to focus more closely on the (p.162) participation of alleged communists in the new government than any other aspect of the settlement. The sticking point was the U.S. demand that Caamaño and the rebels leave the country. Johnson’s domestic political concern with appearing tough on communists (particularly to right-wing Republicans) was evident in a telephone call with his advisers on May 18. Johnson asked, “Now, we’re not getting into any position where the people can truthfully or effectively say that we sold out and turned it over to the Commies? … What can we say to the right-wingers, up to the end that we have insured against their running the government?”168 The internal Dominican situation was an afterthought. As the two sides reached an impasse on the question of the rebels leaving the country, Johnson cabled the embassy to say that the United States “will insist upon an anti-Communist government in [the] Dominican Republic and will take all necessary measures to secure this objective.”169

    As Felten points out, the White House was more interested in the negotiations on the communists than in the “institutional act” that would establish basic law under the provisional government.170 Johnson was concerned about the Dominican government, but only in the negative sense that he wanted to block even the appearance of a communist regime. Finally, in August 1965, after several more months of negotiations, Johnson approved Héctor García Godoy, who had been a diplomat in both the Trujillo and Bosch governments and had the backing of moderates on both sides, as provisional president. OAS ambassador Ellsworth Bunker vouched for García Godoy and said he planned to send the communists “to a rocky island off the coast.”171 In June 1966, Balaguer defeated Bosch in national elections. Johnson ordered the CIA to ensure that Balaguer would win. The election was decisive and observers found it to be fair.172

    Thus Johnson used massive military force to forestall “another Cuba,” despite conflicting evidence from his advisers as to whether there actually was a communist threat to the island. Given the scant evidence and his advisers’ skepticism, Johnson may simply have wanted to avoid the perception of another Cuba, as his concerns about hard-liners in the United States illustrate. The public backed the intervention, although important fissures emerged, especially when Senator J. William Fulbright, a longtime Johnson ally, openly criticized Johnson’s handling of the crisis, calling for noncommunist reform in Latin America and accusing Johnson of misrepresenting the facts.173

    Overall, the striking element in Johnson’s decision making was his overwhelming focus on keeping communists, real or imagined, out of the Dominican Republic, to the exclusion of most other domestic Dominican concerns. As Tulchin notes, “Once it became clear that Bosch was not going to return to power, Johnson lost interest in the Dominican Republic and instructed his foreign policy people to get the OAS involved as a cover for the U.S. intervention and to get (p.163) U.S. troops out as fast as they could.”174 Johnson simply wanted an anticommunist to stabilize the situation and seemed far less interested in exactly who would fulfill that role and what might happen after a settlement was reached. There is little evidence that Johnson saw a dual threat from the left and the right. Furthermore, military and domestic political issues were, as usual, largely separate for Johnson, in the sense that he ordered troops to land without a clear idea of exactly what he would do with them or what the final political goal might be, beyond a noncommunist government like the military-backed regime that had ruled before the outbreak of the crisis.

    Of course, the intervention was political in the sense that it opposed the constitutionalists, and certainly its effect was a massive intrusion into Dominican internal affairs. In the end, however, the United States effectively reinstalled a military-backed regime without significant intended institutional change. Furthermore, there was no clear link between domestic institutional aims and military action, and little evidence that the intervention strategy was deliberately transformative. U.S. troops stayed on the island for months, first alone and then as part of a new Inter-American Peace Force, and engaged in some civic action programs and “peacekeeping” activities designed to win hearts and minds.175 But beyond humanitarian relief and fixing power, water, and garbage services, the military action was aimed mainly at keeping order until a political settlement took hold.

    Many commentators on the Dominican Republic intervention argue that the episode represented a continuation of, rather than a break from, Kennedy’s policies, or that the intervention was the logical outgrowth of Kennedy’s approach.176 As discussed above, there was indeed some continuity between the two administrations’ policies in Latin America. Johnson continued Kennedy’s obsession with preventing a second Cuba. In explaining his actions to the American people on May 2, 1965, Johnson even invoked the Kennedy Doctrine as a justification for a U.S. policy to prevent “another Communist government in the Western Hemisphere.”177

    Where Johnson differed from his predecessor was in the far smaller degree to which he perceived the internal structure of the Dominican Republic to be a source of threat in itself. Kennedy had seen danger both from communists and from the dictatorial and repressive status quo, and had at least initially aimed at reforming the structure of the Dominican state. Johnson worried almost exclusively about communists; reform was not a precondition for a successful outcome. Kennedy’s late, pragmatic shift in policy notwithstanding, Johnson’s actions constituted a significant change both in threat perception and in the nature of the U.S. response. Ironically, some observers deem the Dominican intervention a success, in the sense that it achieved Johnson’s goals at a relatively low cost in (p.164) American lives and money.178 In this sense, Johnson may have been more realistic than Kennedy. An externally focused threat perception, combined with pressure to look tough, shaped how Johnson considered the benefits of intervening and the costs of staying out and led him to choose a nontransformative intervention strategy.

    Intervention Choices in Southeast Asia: Vietnam

    No discussion of Johnson’s intervention decisions would be complete without considering his escalation of the intervention in Vietnam. It is impossible to describe the escalation decisions in full detail here.179 Comparing Johnson’s actions in Vietnam with those of Eisenhower and Kennedy is perhaps unfair. Eisenhower dealt principally with the problem of the French defeat and withdrawal, under the arguably different circumstance of deciding whether to intervene on the side of a colonial power. Full-scale formation of the insurgency occurred toward the end of his presidency. Kennedy struggled with the increasingly difficult problem of how to manage Diem, whose government had little popular support and undermined its own attempts to defeat the insurgency. Diem’s death left Johnson with a politically unstable and volatile South Vietnam. Historians continue to debate the differences—if any—between the Kennedy and Johnson approaches, as well as whether Johnson was a prisoner of inherited circumstance or instead had considerable freedom to maneuver, ultimately rendering Vietnam a war of choice.180 Fredrik Logevall concludes that Johnson himself was the most important factor in “choosing war.”181 As Dallek, biographer of both Kennedy and Johnson, summarizes, Johnson was a “different man facing different circumstances” and “charted his own course.”182

    As discussed in chapter 1, Johnson’s escalation in Vietnam is a difficult case for the theory. Not only did all U.S. presidents who dealt with Vietnam care, at some level, about the nature of its government, but Johnson also felt pressure to continue Kennedy’s commitment to an ongoing conflict in which the United States was already involved. Given that Vietnam is a difficult case for the theory, and that the theory identifies only ideal types, I therefore make a limited claim here. I argue that Kennedy and Johnson viewed the conflict in Vietnam through different prisms that reflected their causal beliefs, and that these different approaches left a discernible imprint on their choices.

    Recalling the theory’s predictions for a case like Vietnam, we would expect an internally focused leader to identify Vietnam’s domestic institutions as an important source of vulnerability to a communist takeover—either because the government might fall from within or because fragile or corrupt institutions (p.165) would weaken the country’s ability to stave off a military attack—and thus aim to shore up or build those institutions as a means to prevent the loss of the country. In contrast, an externally focused leader would be expected to focus less attention on domestic institutions, accepting any noncommunist government and perhaps concentrating more on the international or outside sources of vulnerability (such as the risk of aggression). Although both leader types worry about maintaining credibility, internally focused leaders are more likely to associate a successful demonstration of credibility with a favorable domestic outcome that would allow a victory to last, whereas externally focused leaders are less concerned about exactly where and how they make a stand as long as they do so. For Kennedy, helping South Vietnam resist communism meant countering the insurgency in such a way as to help reform South Vietnam’s domestic institutions because he saw the political and military dimensions as intertwined. For Johnson, the emphasis was on the threat of outside aggression from the North and the need to stand firm. Though Johnson made some effort to bolster South Vietnam internally, he paid generally less attention to the domestic dimension of the crisis within South Vietnam than to the international dimension.

    This focus on the international dimension of the conflict led Johnson to choose what can be considered a nontransformative strategy. Although he struggled with the instability in South Vietnam in the wake of the Diem coup, he did not connect the domestic aspects of the war to the international and military dimensions to the same degree as Kennedy. Furthermore, Johnson saw the conflict in terms of aggression from North Vietnam. He focused on fighting conventionally, aiming only to deny the North a victory, and did not see extra benefits from successfully transforming the South. Though I address the shift in U.S. policy toward an increased emphasis on pacification operations as the war dragged on, the argument applies most clearly to Johnson’s early decisions and choice of strategy.

    I discuss how other factors influenced the Vietnam decisions at the end of the chapter, but one alternative explanation deserves mention here. The structural/material conditions hypothesis would expect different leaders facing an ongoing conflict to make similar calculations depending on available capabilities and the situation on the ground. Thus a simple explanation for Johnson’s choice of a conventional, nontransformative strategy is that by governing later in time, he confronted different circumstances (another reason why Vietnam is a difficult case to explore). In this view, Kennedy had the luxury of trying a transformative counterinsurgency strategy because the situation in South Vietnam was not as bad as it would become during Johnson’s tenure. By the time Johnson considered escalation, he had only one possible strategy: a nontransformative, conventional war.183

    (p.166) The theory developed in this book does not predict that leaders ignore the logic of the situation (or the views of other domestic actors); rather, it argues that these factors are not sufficient to explain the choice of strategy. Both Kennedy and Johnson confronted proposals from within their administrations to try alternatives to their favored strategy: Kennedy faced repeated calls for a conventional, nontransformative deployment whereas several Johnson administration officials pushed for a renewed emphasis on a transformative form of counter-insurgency even well after Kennedy’s death. Thus both presidents had to consider both options. Furthermore, though we do not know what Kennedy might have done in 1964 and 1965, we have the record of Johnson’s vice presidency, when Johnson had access to information about Kennedy’s counterinsurgency program and decision making. Johnson’s statements and decisions on Vietnam in the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination also illustrate the differences in his approach when the circumstances were still close to those Kennedy confronted and at a time when many within the administration still advocated continuing aspects of Kennedy’s policies. Thus even with all the differences of circumstance and the elements of continuity between the two administrations, Johnson displayed a distinctive focus on the external dimensions of the war in Vietnam and accordingly escalated with a nontransformative strategy.

    Johnson as Vice President

    One way to disentangle the effect of the two presidents’ threat perceptions from that of the evolving circumstances within Vietnam is to look at how Kennedy and Johnson approached the problem when they confronted the same or still relatively similar circumstances, such as in Johnson’s years as vice president. As discussed, Johnson sat in on many key meetings (including those on Vietnam) during the Kennedy presidency and had exposure to debates about the nature of the war and Kennedy’s counterinsurgency approach. Air Force colonel Howard Burris, a Johnson aide covering the NSC, wrote frequent memos for Johnson on both Laos and Vietnam, including a March 1962 memo outlining the plan of British counterinsurgency expert Robert Thompson to cut off local support for the Viet Cong by focusing on the village level rather than regular conventional operations.184 Yet Johnson fit more naturally with those who placed less emphasis on the political aspects of the war and thus opposed a coup against Diem or even pushing Diem to reform. Johnson had warned Congress after his 1961 trip to Asia that the United States could not “nit-pick” with Diem.

    Johnson’s comments during the late 1963 discussion of how to deal with Diem were remarkably forthright. On August 31, 1963, amid the debate over a coup against Diem, Johnson attended a high-level meeting at the State Department. (p.167) As discussed in chapter 4, the Kennedy administration was split between those who saw the conflict in Vietnam as political and thus favored a coup, and those who saw it in military terms and thus opposed the coup. At the August 31 meeting, Johnson, who had attended several meetings at which the coup had been debated, came down in the latter camp. One State Department Vietnam expert, Paul Kattenburg, pointed to popular discontent in South Vietnam, which “made the people the unwilling allies of the Viet Cong,” while Diem had become “a petty dictator.” Kattenburg therefore felt that “it would be better to withdraw in a dignified way.”185

    But Johnson rejected Kattenburg’s proposal, saying he “recognized the evils of Diem but has seen no alternative to him. Certainly we can’t pull out. We must reestablish ourselves and stop playing cops and robbers.”186 Another account of the meeting notes that Johnson said he “had never been sympathetic with our proposal to produce a change of government in Vietnam by means of plotting with Vietnamese generals. … He thought that we ought to reestablish ties to the Diem government as quickly as possible and get forward with the war against the Viet Cong.”187 For Johnson, internal reform was distinct from moving “forward with the war,” whereas for Kennedy they were closely interconnected, despite the lack of a clear alternative to Diem.

    Johnson’s Early Vietnam Policy

    In the wake of the coup against Diem and the assassination of Kennedy, Johnson, as he did in other areas, moved to reassure the public that he was committed to Kennedy’s policies. But behind the scenes he quickly demonstrated a key difference: he was less interested in domestic issues within Vietnam or in nation building. According to notes prepared by CIA director John McCone, in the new president’s first group meeting with advisers on Vietnam, on November 24, 1963, Johnson said that he “was not at all sure we took the right course in upsetting the Diem regime. … He said now that it was done, we have to see that our objectives are accomplished.” In response to McNamara’s assessment of the economic picture and recommendation to be generous with aid, Johnson “said that he supported this, but at the same time he wanted to make it abundantly clear that he did not think we had to reform every Asian into our own image. He said that he felt all too often when we engaged in the affairs of a foreign country we wanted to immediately transform that country into our image and this, in his opinion, was a mistake. He was anxious to get along, win the war—he didn’t want as much effort placed on so-called social reforms.” McCone commented in his notes that he “received in this meeting the first ‘President Johnson tone’ for action as contrasted with the ‘Kennedy tone.’ Johnson definitely feels that we (p.168) place too much emphasis on social reforms; he has very little tolerance with our spending so much time being ‘do-gooders.’ ”188 Johnson did, however, embrace the commitment to standing firm in Vietnam itself. According to another account of the November 24 meeting, Johnson declared, “I am not going to lose Vietnam. I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went.”189 Thus almost immediately after taking office, Johnson made clear both his determination to stand firm and his aversion to a transformative strategy.

    Johnson made a point, however, of at least appearing to support Kennedy’s approach. On November 26, in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, the White House issued NSAM 273, which reaffirmed Johnson’s commitment to Kennedy’s policies.190 But U.S. officials would soon learn that the situation in the hamlets was far grimmer than previously known.

    Yet there remained important voices, inside and outside the administration, that favored sticking with something like the Strategic Hamlet Program or at least retaining a transformative strategy that would focus on connecting the population to the South Vietnamese government. As Bundy put it early on the morning of November 22, 1963, even after Diem’s death “everyone recognized that the strategic hamlets … had to remain the center of the war effort.”191 On December 7, Senator Mansfield wrote Johnson, “What is called for are political and social acts of popular benefit by the Vietnamese authorities … even if it means curtailing the present elusive and so far unsuccessful chase of the Viet Cong all over the land.”192 In a memo on December 11, Forrestal argued that the “principal difficulty remains what it has always been, i.e. bringing the government effectively to the villages in such a way as to win the peasants’ confidence and support.”193 In March 1964, McCone called for the hamlet program to be “revitalized and attacked as the top priority.”194

    In late 1964 and early 1965, Johnson wrestled with internal governance problems in South Vietnam and showed a persistent interest in finding stability. On the one hand, he did not want to make a major move on Vietnam until after the 1964 election.195 On the other hand, the administration grappled behind the scenes with growing instability in South Vietnam and a deteriorating military situation that made the measures taken to this point seem increasingly untenable. During this period, Johnson, like Kennedy before him, rejected several military proposals for escalating the U.S. response in Vietnam using a conventional, nontransformative strategy, including options to take the war to the North.196 Furthermore, he gave some significant attention to bolstering South Vietnam’s domestic institutions. For example, in a May 1964 telephone conversation with Bundy, Johnson asserted, “I think that if we can furnish the military government people that are trained in civil administration, the mayors, and the councilmen, and folks of that type … get enough of them where one good (p.169) American can run a hamlet … I think that’ll improve that situation a good deal.”197 The following week, Robert Kennedy told Johnson in a telephone call that the war could be won only through “the political war” and emphasized the need to take “political action … concurrently.” Johnson agreed, telling Kennedy, “that’s not any different from the way that I have felt about it.” Given Johnson’s tense relationship with Robert Kennedy in this period, however, such conversations must be taken with a grain of salt.198

    Still, in a December 30, 1964, cable to Maxwell Taylor (then serving as ambassador in Saigon), Johnson seemed to reference Kennedy’s buildup of counter-insurgency forces:

    I have never felt that this war will be won from the air, and it seems to me that what is much more needed and would be more effective is a larger and stronger use of Rangers and Special Forces and Marines, or other appropriate military strength on the ground and on the scene. I am ready to look with great favor on that kind of increased American effort, directed at the guerrillas and aimed to stiffen the aggressiveness of Vietnamese military units up and down the line. … We have been building our strength to fight this kind of war ever since 1961, and I myself am ready to substantially increase the number of Americans in Vietnam if it is necessary to provide this kind of fighting force against the Viet Cong.199

    Additionally, even as he considered escalation in March 1965, Johnson “expressed concern and understandable frustration” about the pacification effort, and “[kept] wondering if we are doing all we can.”200 As McNamara noted in a cable to Taylor, Johnson “is continuing to support such action against [the] North as is now in progress but does not consider such actions a substitute for additional action within South Vietnam. The President wants us to examine all possible additional actions—political, military, and economic—to see what more can be done in South Vietnam.”201 In mid-March, Johnson directed several units (including State and USAID) to craft “a program designed to match and even out-match the military efforts outlined above,” including “close control of the population,” “land reform operations,” and “intensified housing and agricultural programs”; by April, the president had approved a forty-one-point program of nonmilitary measures.202

    This attention to South Vietnam’s domestic affairs, however, must be seen in light of several considerations, as well as the larger sweep of the evidence. First, as mentioned, Johnson hoped to keep Vietnam on the back burner until after the 1964 election, especially in terms of major military decisions. Furthermore, arguably any U.S. president taking over from Kennedy and pledging to maintain (p.170) the commitment to Vietnam would have had to confront the internal instability within South Vietnam after the coup against Diem.

    More significantly, in this same period, even as Johnson discussed political and other nonmilitary measures to shore up the South, his analysis of the problem in Vietnam and his discussion of solutions for it were consistent with an external focus. The source of South Vietnam’s vulnerability to a communist takeover, in Johnson’s diagnosis, was aggression from the North. Indeed, Khong finds that Johnson was a firm believer in the analogy to the Korean War, which defined the problem in terms of external aggression, a premise Johnson did not question.203 On November 2, 1964, the day before his landslide general election victory, Johnson ordered a new NSC Working Group to study options in Vietnam, setting the escalation in motion in earnest. U.S. policymakers ultimately embraced the so-called Option C, a limited bombing campaign against the North (and rejected Option A, to “continue on present lines”).204 Khong argues that Johnson found the Korean analogy persuasive and thus a diagnosis of external aggression was crucial to his choice of Option C.205 The salience of the Korean analogy in Johnson’s thinking, in turn, may have resonated with his causal beliefs. In contrast, as Khong notes, Kennedy had been far more inclined to draw on the Greek and Malayan analogies (and had rejected the Korean analogy), although both Kennedy and Johnson had lived through all three crises.

    A second manifestation of Johnson’s external focus, even in the period in which he considered nonmilitary efforts in South Vietnam, was his concentration on the credibility implications of Vietnam without connecting the threat to its domestic institutions. In a May 1964 conversation with Richard Russell, for example, Johnson said that Vietnam was important because the United States was “party to a treaty.” Johnson also feared appearing soft on communism, asking Russell, “Well, they’d impeach a President though that would run out, wouldn’t they?”206 Later that same day, in a long conversation with Bundy, Johnson mused, “What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? … What is it worth to this country?” Then, reviving a long-standing theme, he said, “Of course if you start running from the Communists, they may just chase you right into your own kitchen.”207 Johnson’s fear of looking weak, abroad and at home, was a significant factor in his perception that he had to do something in Vietnam, even if he did not perceive it as a direct threat.

    Consistent with this pattern, in this period Johnson also displayed a tendency to separate the political and military aspects of the war. For example, on the same day he approved the forty-one-point nonmilitary program in April 1965, Johnson was, according to Bundy’s notes, “full of determination—we have set our hand to wheel. … We got to find em & kill em.”208 And as early as the late winter and early spring of 1964, before the election and the NSC (p.171) Working Group debate over options, Johnson’s focus began to shift to North Vietnam, even as Washington received increasingly pessimistic assessments of the situation in the South.209 At the NSC meeting on February 20, 1964, Johnson ordered that contingency planning for “pressures against North Vietnam should be speeded up.”210 On May 13, in a call with Bundy, he argued that “we’ve got to have some program out there from the Joint Chiefs, to start stepping that thing up and do some winning and do a little stuff up in the North some way or other. We just can’t sit idly by and do nothing there.”211 As Logevall points out, there was “a kind of logic” to the shift to an emphasis on the North, given how badly the war in the South was going, and yet Johnson’s own intelligence analysts predicted that bombing the North would not work since “the problems were political and in the South, not military and in the North.”212 As Freedman notes, Kennedy had shown interest in covert operations against North Vietnam, consistent with “his fascination with guerrilla warfare,” but he “had always resisted American involvement” in more intense operations in the North.213

    U.S. policy increasingly reflected Johnson’s external focus. In mid-March 1964, Johnson approved a major expansion of U.S. involvement in the conflict, in a report that was adopted as NSAM 288. The United States sought an “independent, non-Communist Vietnam,” without which “almost all of Southeast Asia will probably fall under Communist dominance.” Globally, “the South Vietnam conflict is regarded as a test case of U.S. capacity to help a nation meet a Communist ‘war of liberation.’ ” The report discussed at length increasing efforts to strengthen the pacification program.214 The Pentagon Papers analyst notes, however, that the document “came close to calling for war à outrance—not the centrally political war, with severe restriction upon violent means, following counter-guerilla warfare theory.” Furthermore, “pacification was to receive less comparative emphasis, in fact, in the next year or so than it had before.”215 Even as momentum built for going to the North, however, Forrestal tried at the end of March to revive concerns about the need for a different kind of military strategy, stating in a White House staff meeting that “search and clear,” the military’s favored operations, “are not the type of actions that will be most effective in achieving US objectives.”216

    Yet even in public, Johnson treated domestic issues within Vietnam separately from the war effort. On April 7, 1965, he made a highly publicized speech at Johns Hopkins University in which he offered to invest $1 billion in a program to develop the Mekong Delta region, “on a scale to dwarf even our own TVA.” North Vietnam was invited to participate. He concluded the speech by evoking his own childhood, when electricity came to his hometown.217 As Lloyd Gardner details, Johnson himself pushed for the inclusion of the Mekong plan in the speech, and for more about economic development. More broadly, Gardner sees (p.172) a link between the intervention in Vietnam and the Great Society and the War on Poverty.218 Johnson had a genuine desire to help the people of Vietnam, as he had after his 1961 trip as vice president.

    But consistent with the separation of military and civil issues in his pre-presidential thinking, Johnson’s development initiative appeared suddenly, disappeared quickly (after the North Vietnamese emphatically rejected it), and was not well integrated with his overall approach to Vietnam. Many analysts dismiss the speech as an effort to placate critics. Logevall notes that in a meeting with the JCS the day after the Johns Hopkins speech, Johnson “again emphasized the need to kill more Vietcong.”219 The speech itself did not suggest that Johnson saw reform as central to the U.S. effort to win the war. The offer of $1 billion for development came in its own section, after an opening section that addressed head-on the question, “Why are we in South Viet-Nam?” Johnson answered, “We are there because we have a promise to keep. … We are also there to strengthen world order. … We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. … The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied.” Echoing the language of the speech launching his Senate campaign nearly twenty years earlier, he told the American people, watching on television at home, “We must say in southeast Asia—as we did in Europe—in the words of the Bible: ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.’ ”220

    Thus while Johnson paid significant attention to shoring up South Vietnam in the run-up to the escalation, we cannot look at this behavior in isolation. Many other actions he took in this period were consistent with a nontransformative approach. Furthermore, the dual imperatives he felt—to continue his slain predecessor’s commitment to Vietnam while keeping the war relatively quiet until after the 1964 election—made some of his concern with South Vietnam’s domestic institutions logical.

    Late 1964: Is a Stable South Vietnam Required?

    In the latter half of 1964, after the Tonkin Gulf incident and U.S. retaliatory air strikes, there were indications that Johnson might not necessarily insist on a stable government as a prerequisite for escalating. By the end of August, instability in South Vietnam had once again given way to crisis. In a meeting on September 9, Johnson addressed the proposal to go to the North immediately, arguing that “we should not do this until our side could defend itself in the streets of Saigon.” Johnson then approved the recommendations of Taylor, by this time installed as the new ambassador in Saigon and still an advocate for nonmilitary measures to shore up the South. Johnson said he “did not wish to enter the patient in a 10-round bout, when he was in no shape to hold out for one round. We (p.173) should get him ready to face 3 or 5 rounds at least.”221 This was not a ringing endorsement of a stability-first approach, however, much less a plan to transform South Vietnam’s institutions.

    As the election drew near, another rationale for escalation emerged. In an October 1964 draft titled “Aims and Options in Southeast Asia,” Assistant Secretary of State John McNaughton argued that it was “essential—however badly [Southeast Asia] may go over the next 2–4 years—that [the] US emerge as a ‘good doctor.’ We must have kept promises, been tough, taken risks, gotten bloodied, and hurt the enemy very badly.”222 The United States had to do something—what happened in Vietnam itself was secondary. Though Logevall argues that this idea resonated less with Johnson himself than with his advisers, his conversation with Russell (noted above) suggests Johnson thought along these lines.223

    When the administration debated the options that emerged from the November NSC Working Group, the deliberations further signaled a gap between the aim of a stable South and the decision to take the war to the North. Option A—continuing the present course, including the counterinsurgency effort—had important advocates, but when the working group met on November 24, the consensus ran against this option.224 Ultimately, the group recommended a short period of Option A (perhaps as brief as thirty days) and then “Phase II,” which would escalate to Option C, the limited bombing campaign against the North.

    When the group met with Johnson on December 1 to discuss the recommendations, the president again expressed concern for stability in the South, but with a focus on finding a strong leader and demonstrating to the world that the United States had tried its best, rather than Kennedy’s emphasis on increasing the government’s base of support. Johnson at first expressed a strong sense that “basic to anything is stability. … No point in hitting North if South not together.” When the discussion turned to international views, Johnson said the United States must try everything to shore up the government, but seemed to imply this effort was intended to demonstrate to other countries that the United States had done everything it could. “Hesitant to sock neighbor if fever 104,” he said. “Want to get well first. … We want to be prepared to answer the questions.” Johnson even argued, “If need be, create a new Diem.”225 Johnson was not concerned, as the internally focused Kennedy had been, about increasing the base of support for the government in the South, concentrating instead on the narrower question of regime stability. The domestic problems Diem himself had fostered were not a prominent feature of Johnson’s thinking, and he even sought a return to rule under a Diem-like figure. At one point in the same meeting, Johnson asked McNamara whether he “shared [the] view that it’s [a] downhill slide in [South Vietnam] no matter what we do in country.” Johnson thought U.S. action would be “better if allies with us, dependents out, done all we can,” (p.174) with “conditions as favorable as we can get them.” He wanted to give Taylor “one last chance.” But he summed up, turning to Wheeler: “If more of the same, I’ll be talking to you, General.”226

    Logevall interprets this meeting as a major presidential decision to “fundamentally alter the American involvement in Vietnam” by agreeing to strike the North, albeit reluctantly, regardless of the situation in the South.227 Johnson cemented the go-without-stability rationale in a meeting on January 27, 1965, after Bundy and McNamara presented him with a paper that became known as the “fork in the road” memo. In the meeting, according to Bundy’s handwritten notes, Johnson stated that “stable govt or no stable govt,” “we’ll do what we oughta do. I’m prepared to do that. We will move strongly.”228

    To be sure, the idea behind going to the North included the hope that such action would stiffen morale in the South and thus enhance stability. But Logevall cautions against seeing the option to attack the North as inevitable. Indeed, Logevall notes that most foreign and domestic audiences, including American allies and even communist adversaries, felt that America’s stake in Vietnam depended on the situation in the South, leaving Johnson “considerable freedom to maneuver in the months following his election.”229 Though Johnson aimed for stability in South Vietnam, Logevall concludes that the “documentary record leaves no doubt as to Johnson’s determination. His seeming insistence on securing a stable Saigon government before proceeding to escalation pales in importance next to his insistence on preventing defeat.”230

    The 1965 Decisions

    In the fateful escalation decisions from February through July 1965, Johnson focused primarily on hurting the North and stopping the Viet Cong with conventional force, and there were few connections between the military strategy and changing the internal situation in the South. In February 1965, following a Viet Cong attack on U.S. advisers based at Pleiku, Johnson authorized the beginning of the air campaign, Rolling Thunder, over which he kept tight personal control.231 But resolve only increased in the North, while the situation continued to erode in the South. In March, two Marine battalions arrived to guard the U.S. base at Da Nang, at General William Westmoreland’s request.232 From this point, the escalation took on what Logevall calls an “inexorable” quality; Gelb and Betts note that Johnson was the “driving force in eliciting and approving the troop commitment.”233

    There remained a debate over exactly how the troops would be deployed. Westmoreland’s most recent estimate had already concluded that the war had moved from the “purely guerilla phase” into “more formalized military conflict”— (p.175) also known as the “third phase” of guerrilla warfare, when guerrillas shift to engaging enemy forces directly in regular, organized military units.234 By 1965, there were some North Vietnamese main-force units operating in South Vietnam, threatening to deal a fatal blow to the South Vietnamese army.235

    For my purposes, however, it is important to note that from the perspective of 1965, there were multiple possibilities for the intervention strategy. Analysts have long debated whether a conventional attrition strategy aimed at main-force units or a population-centered counterinsurgency strategy could have won the war, particularly in the later stages, or whether any U.S. strategy could have worked at all.236 This discussion does not address that debate but rather highlights the fact that policymakers at the time, as well as subsequent analysts, saw several possibilities for the ground strategy. As some of Johnson’s advisers recognized before the escalation, even if the conflict had entered the “third phase” of guerrilla warfare (which several of them doubted) and the United States successfully engaged enemy main-force units, the Viet Cong could simply revert to guerrilla tactics.237 As Andrew Krepinevich notes, “winning the big battles is not decisive unless you can proceed to defeat the enemy at the lower levels of insurgency operations as well.”238 As Guenter Lewy argues, the North’s main-force units meant that some large-unit fighting was perhaps inevitable and necessary, but it could have served to “provide a shield behind which pacification … could proceed” rather than becoming an end in itself.239 The United States thus faced both a conventional and unconventional challenge, leaving the question of intervention strategy open to debate.

    The U.S. military’s preference was for conventional, main-force fighting, a preference that reflected long-standing doctrine. Johnson was hardly responsible for this tendency, which Eisenhower and Kennedy also faced. But unlike Kennedy, who had at least tried to shift the emphasis to counterinsurgency, Johnson showed little inclination to challenge the conventional approach. Indeed, in a March 15 meeting with the JCS, Johnson said he wanted “the killing of Viet Cong intensified.”240

    In the Johnson administration’s debate over how to deploy the troops, there were two alternative strategies. The first option was to deploy troops along the coast in “enclaves,” with a primary focus on defense. As Gelb and Betts note, the adoption of this “defensive enclave concept would have represented a last cleaving to the pacification-oriented counterinsurgency strategy that had been favored by Hilsman, Thompson, and Lansdale.”241 The other alternative was to place U.S. troops in the highlands of Vietnam, in what would become the “search and destroy” strategy. The army favored search and destroy from the beginning, in line with its preference for conventional war. Furthermore, the enclave strategy required U.S. forces to interact with the Vietnamese population whereas (p.176) under search and destroy the Vietnamese troops were to take care of population security while U.S. forces chased the enemy. Search and destroy, then, sought to avoid the kind of institution building and interaction with the population associated with a transformative, population-centered counterinsurgency. Although the military favored search and destroy, the enclave strategy sought stalemate by denying the insurgents access to the population, whereas search and destroy was intended to punish the enemy enough to bring him to the negotiating table.242 The enclave strategy had its backers, however, especially Taylor.

    Amid this tension between the two strategies, the final decisions to escalate arrived in June and July 1965. Westmoreland wanted to deploy U.S. forces inland, away from the population. Yet as the Pentagon Papers analyst notes, “enclave thinking was still very much alive.”243 Much of the ensuing debate centered on a proposal from McNamara developed in late June and submitted to Johnson on July 1. McNamara accepted Westmoreland’s premise that the Viet Cong were entering the “third phase” of guerrilla warfare and thus recommended a conventional escalation. His proposal explicitly noted that the troop increase was “too small to make a significant difference in the traditional 10–1 government-guerrilla formula” but would be enough for “the kind of war which seems to be evolving in Vietnam—a ‘Third Stage’ or conventional war in which it is easier to identify, locate and attack the enemy.”244 As Larry Berman details, however, other top advisers took issue with McNamara’s proposal and specifically criticized the assumption that the Viet Cong had entered the “third phase”; they highlighted the in effectiveness of a conventional strategy and argued instead for either withdrawal (in George Ball’s case) or some sort of concentration on guerrilla warfare.245

    The final debate over escalation culminated in a series of lengthy meetings beginning on July 21 (though as Berman notes, there is some question as to whether the decision had already been made, and thus whether these meetings represented a real “debate” at all).246 According to Valenti’s notes, at the morning meeting on July 21, the issue of strategy came up quickly. McNamara stated that the U.S. “mission would be to seek out the VC in large scale units.” When Ball questioned the nature of the Viet Cong threat, Johnson showed little interest in the ensuing debate, saying, “Right now I feel it would be more dangerous for us to lose this now, than endanger a greater number of troops.” When the weakness of the South Vietnamese government came up, Johnson again brushed past the issue, letting stand Henry Cabot Lodge’s statement that “I don’t think we ought to take this government seriously. … We have to do what we think we ought to do regardless of what the Saigon government does.” In the afternoon meeting, Johnson asked whether other countries would “say Uncle Sam is a paper tiger—wouldn’t we lose credibility breaking the word of three presidents. … (p.177) It would seem to be an irreparable blow.” The only mention of nonmilitary measures for Vietnam came at the very end of the meeting, when Johnson asked about getting information out about “our economic and health projects” and the need to “constantly remind the people that we are doing other things besides bombing.”247 Johnson showed little interest in integrating these measures with the military program he had just spent most of the day debating.

    Even after this meeting, a few voices still raised the question of how best to fight the war, urging a more transformative emphasis. In a memo to Bundy following the meeting, for example, the NSC’s Chester Cooper argued that if the Viet Cong avoided direct confrontation with U.S. units, or if U.S. strategy forced the Viet Cong back to guerrilla tactics, either way the insurgency would have to be tackled head-on eventually, and thus the military plan might not lead to a “favorable outcome” without “a political-economic-psychwar program as carefully developed and as massive in its way as the military effort envisaged in the McNamara proposal.”248 In a list of suggested topics for another meeting on July 22, Bundy listed the problem of getting a “political and social effort within Vietnam that is equal in strength to the military effort,” but there was no talk of this in the meeting itself, according to Valenti’s notes.249 Even among Johnson’s military advisers, General Wallace Greene, commandant of the Marine Corps, stated that the “enclave concept will work.” Greene wanted more troops than Westmoreland requested, presumably in line with the high ratio of counterinsurgency troops to guerrillas traditionally thought to be necessary to combat an insurgency. But Johnson again showed little interest in the strategic question.250

    Finally, on July 28, Johnson announced the escalation—effectively under way for months—to the public. The main thrust of U.S. strategy, far from being sensitive to the needs of the population, damaged and even destroyed villages. On one level, such a strategy was deeply and destructively transformative, disrupting Vietnamese life at every level. Putting 500,000 troops in a small country could hardly be otherwise. As Frances Fitzgerald summarizes, by 1967 the “Americans were in control of South Vietnam.”251 But in the sense that the strategy did not involve the kind of local institution building called for in population-centered counterinsurgency, it can be considered nontransformative. U.S. soldiers would clear out insurgents from an area, but rarely did they stay to provide security and protection and thus build the population’s loyalty to the government. James Carter details how the increasingly militarized U.S. effort after 1965 physically transformed Vietnam as the Americans built infrastructure to support the war effort, but the “kind of infrastructure being put in place was explicitly military and did not aid in the development of an independent southern state.”252 While bureaucratic tendencies were partly to blame, the strategy was not inevitable. (p.178) The Marines, as Deborah Avant shows, developed effective counterinsurgency techniques in Vietnam.253

    In arguing that Johnson “was indeed exposed to dissenting views” and that “the president and not his advisors must accept most of the blame,” Berman concludes that the United States “sought no military victory of its own, no territory, nothing except the goal of convincing Hanoi it could not unify Vietnam by force.”254 Scholars have also noted that Johnson understood that a conventional escalation would most likely fail to achieve a victory over the insurgency but that he chose to fight anyway, further suggesting that transforming South Vietnam’s institutions was not the intended strategy.255 But as Krepinevich puts it, the “tragedy is that the nature of the war required that emphasis be placed … on the internal threat to the stability and legitimacy of the South Vietnamese government. Indeed, one could argue that the external, conventional threat was formidable because of the internal strife within South Vietnam.”256

    Such a prescription suggests a diagnosis of the threat that is different from the way Johnson perceived the conflict. Johnson applied a nontransformative strategy to a conflict with domestic roots, soon miring the United States in what can be considered a “mismatched” intervention. Despite some attention to South Vietnam’s domestic problems in the wake of Kennedy’s death, Johnson’s decisions during the escalation fit more naturally with the pattern of his pre-presidential beliefs, the way those beliefs translated into views about strategy in his pre-presidential career, and his early pronouncements about “do-gooding” in the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination.

    In highlighting those who raised objections to the escalation strategy, I do not claim that Johnson bears sole—or even most—responsibility for actively choosing the search and destroy strategy, although many studies note the dominance of Johnson himself, rather than his advisers, in the deliberations.257 The key point is that he was exposed to arguments for an alternative, transformative strategy yet did not question the nature of the war. The administration officials who pushed Johnson to consider concentrating on reforming South Vietnam or on pacification illustrate the alternative strand of thinking on precisely how to escalate in Vietnam. As Gelb and Betts point out, members of the “reformer group” were not doves; if anything, the “evidence suggests that they were actually hawks who wanted to do it a different way by pressuring for reforms before deepening the American involvement.”258

    Johnson’s approval of the search and destroy strategy may well have been the passive acceptance of a man with little understanding of military tactics, although we have seen that he had significant experience with defense issues by this point. Moreover, he was willing to overrule advisers and micromanage aspects of the war, famously boasting that “they can’t even bomb an outhouse without my (p.179) approval.”259 Johnson also saw his policy choice as a relatively limited one, designed to be a gradual escalation, and resisted those (including counterinsurgency enthusiasts) who urged an even bigger troop buildup. But it is important to note that Johnson had access to contrary advice, and his exhortation to “kill more VC” suggests that he did not see the need to question the strategy.

    My purpose is not to assess the debate over which strategy might or might not have worked in Vietnam, but rather to highlight that others within the administration (and subsequent analysts) identified alternative strategies. It is true that a large-scale population-centered counterinsurgency strategy might have required even more troops than Johnson ultimately committed, a move with potentially prohibitive political consequences.260 The theory does not make predictions about the size of the intervention, however; it predicts only the effect of leaders’ causal beliefs on the cost-benefit calculation they make at a given time. But regardless of whether a transformative counterinsurgency strategy would have worked with the (still significant) troop levels Johnson deployed, one can ask why he was so much less interested in using such a strategy, given Kennedy’s willingness to try this strategy at even lower troop levels, the calls for considering such a strategy within Johnson’s administration, and Johnson’s own knowledge that the escalation strategy he embraced was unlikely to work. Admittedly, Johnson faced different circumstances on the ground in Vietnam when he decided to escalate, but he had also been dismissive of transformative strategies during the Kennedy years.

    Johnson and the “Other War”

    A final consideration concerns the effort, from late 1965, to reemphasize nonmilitary programs and pacification in what came to be known as the “other war.” Although Johnson lavished significant personal attention on this effort, he continued to treat military and nonmilitary aspects of the war as separate, perpetuating pacification’s status as the “other war” even as he elevated its importance. Though it is difficult to assess learning, in the sense of a true change in beliefs, in the middle of an ongoing intervention, the increased emphasis on pacification nonetheless presents an opportunity to examine how Johnson’s thinking evolved.

    In late 1965, the Johnson administration made a push to increase nonmilitary activities, telling the embassy in Saigon in an October 1965 cable that there is “continuing concern at the highest levels here regarding need to emphasize our non-military programs and give them maximum possible public exposure both in U.S. and abroad.”261 Whereas the Pentagon Papers and others hint that the effort was largely a response to domestic war critics, Herring argues that for Johnson, “the one aspect of the war that excited him was the possibility of (p.180) improving the lot of the South Vietnamese people.”262 Such concern for the welfare of the Vietnamese even as he sent thousands of troops to Vietnam was consistent with his pre-presidential years, when he showed concern for the world’s poor even as he approached national security through an externally focused lens.

    But this genuine presidential concern with and renewed emphasis on pacification masked a continuing tendency to keep the civil and military aspects of the war separate. In early February 1966, Washington hastily convened a conference at Honolulu, with little staff work in advance, at which Johnson personally and publicly pushed for a renewed focus on pacification. In a telephone call with Rusk just two days before the conference, however, Johnson referred to “military matters” on the one hand and “non-military matters” and “pacification” on the other, treating them as separate issues for discussion.263 Out of Honolulu came a series of reorganizations of the pacification effort, including the choice of Robert Komer as coordinator of the “other war.” But while this move appeared to elevate nonmilitary aspects of the conflict, it was also consistent with the existing pattern of Johnson’s conduct of the war. Komer had responsibility only for nonmilitary programs; Johnson rejected a recommendation to create a White House–based “Mr. Vietnam” who would integrate all elements of the war, including military, economic, and political issues.264 As mentioned, Komer’s appointment occurred at nearly the same time that the Special Group (CI) was abolished. Furthermore, the lack of policy investments in transformative capabilities made shifting strategy even harder.

    Johnson continued to demand improved pacification, however. In October 1966, after a high-level debate about how to reorganize the pacification effort yet again, he decided to give the civilians ninety days to improve the program. But in 1967 he moved pacification into the military structure, with Komer as the top civilian.265 The result was the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program. Although the effectiveness of the CORDS program is controversial, it melded military and civilian pacification operations; even Westmoreland accepted it “with good grace.”266

    But within the overall U.S. military structure in Vietnam, CORDS—and thus pacification—still remained separate. It did not represent a switch to a pacification strategy, or even the integration of pacification into the overall strategy. As Herring concludes, “counterinsurgency doctrine emphasized the essentiality of integration of effort,” but CORDS merely continued to illustrate that pacification was the “other war” rather than a central aspect of the overall war effort.267 Indeed, Avant observes that CORDS “succeeded bureaucratically because it operated within the … military structure without questioning the Army’s military operations.”268 On pacification, Herring notes that Johnson (p.181) attempted to “build up pacification activities and forces without choosing between the conflicting approaches or integrating them in any effective way.”269 Thus CORDS could operate only as a limited, “other” operation, just as for Johnson, internal and external issues were largely separate.

    Analysts of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam disagree over the precise reasons why Johnson escalated in 1965. This is not the place to adjudicate the debate. But what does seem clear is that Johnson’s motivation for intervening in Vietnam had far less to do with Vietnam itself and more to do with the costs, as he perceived them, of not intervening, in terms of both American domestic politics and international politics. As Bundy recalled decades later, “LBJ isn’t deeply concerned about who governs Laos, or who governs South Vietnam—he’s deeply concerned with what the average American voter is going to think about how he did in the ball game of the Cold War.”270 His language in public and private meetings and conversations stressed following through on the commitment to Vietnam. To be sure, Kennedy had considered the costs of nonintervention as well. But in making a cost-benefit calculation about fighting in Vietnam, Johnson did not see additional benefits from transforming South Vietnam’s domestic institutions. If he had to intervene, his externally focused threat perception led him to concentrate on the international dimension of the conflict.

    The two presidents faced very different circumstances, of course, and Kennedy was not dovish on Vietnam. But one point of contrast lies in the primarily internally focused view Kennedy took of the conflict. Indeed, in considering differences between Kennedy and Johnson, Logevall—who gives Kennedy low marks for his rejection of neutralization proposals and negotiations in Vietnam—concludes that Kennedy still had a better understanding, even before his own aides, of the internal nature of the conflict and the “problems this might cause for American intervention,” as well as an appreciation of the “need for genuine political reforms in South Vietnam if there were to be long-term success in the war effort.”271 Kennedy was unwilling to use what he perceived to be a wrongly conventional strategy in Vietnam that would not address underlying political problems. Furthermore, his attempts to invest in transformative capabilities—admittedly not as successful as he might have believed—left him ready to question his military advisers when they advocated conventional strategies and to push for a more integrated politico-military strategy. Johnson, in contrast, placed far less emphasis on reform from the very first days of his presidency through the escalation decisions, when he spoke of trying to “create a new Diem.” Even when he emphasized economic development and pacification, he did not consider them central aspects of the war effort, as illustrated by his speech on the Mekong development project and his treatment of nonmilitary matters as the “other war.” Johnson’s lack of investments left him less prepared to undertake a (p.182) transformative strategy, even when he finally focused on pacification issues. Thus under difficult circumstances for the theory—a case in which Johnson felt pressure to continue Kennedy’s policies and expressed some concern about the nature of the South Vietnamese government—Johnson’s approach to Vietnam revealed a different emphasis that had consequences for the way the Vietnam intervention unfolded.

    Overall, the intervention decisions Johnson made reflected the influence of his causal beliefs. He approached the conflicts in Panama, the Dominican Republic, and to a large extent Vietnam through an externally focused lens, and he viewed domestic considerations within these states as a parallel rather than an integrated concern. In his view, transformative approaches would provide few additional benefits for U.S. national security. He did not make significant policy investments in transformative strategies and struggled to shift the U.S. effort toward pacification in Vietnam.

    Alternative Hypotheses

    As with his predecessors, Johnson made his decisions in the shadow of many other considerations that played a role but did not ultimately overwhelm his beliefs. In terms of structural and material conditions, Johnson was arguably more susceptible to outside pressures than Eisenhower or Kennedy, perhaps a reflection of his more limited foreign policy experience before taking office. But although such pressures may have provided the short-term impetus to act, they are not entirely sufficient to explain how Johnson intervened. Both Kennedy and Johnson felt the Soviet challenge in the Third World, but they chose different strategies to meet that challenge. The need to maintain U.S. credibility weighed heavily on Johnson in both the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. At a general structural level, Gareth Porter concludes that it was the global and regional balance of power, which favored the United States in the period of the Vietnam decisions, that “gave the United States such complete freedom of action to intervene militarily.”272 Yet this argument does not fully explain the evolution of U.S. strategy over time, and even Porter falls back on the argument that bureaucratic pressures, and especially Johnson’s inability to resist those pressures (where Kennedy had been more successful), ultimately led the United States into war.273

    One might argue that domestic and international politics shaped the form of intervention, particularly in the Vietnam case, since Johnson consistently chose a middle course that would neither overwhelm the American people nor invite Russian or Chinese counterintervention. A classic population-centered counter-insurgency strategy called for a high ratio of troops to guerrillas, requiring far (p.183) more troops than the United States had in Vietnam. Even Kennedy, who chose a more limited counterinsurgency effort, might have balked at such troop levels. But Kennedy also sought a middle course in Vietnam, and he rejected conventional deployments while making the consistent argument that they were ill-suited to the political nature of the war; he embraced counterinsurgency with a lower level of troops as his middle course. Johnson showed little interest in even limited counterinsurgency or transformative strategies as vice president (viewing the same circumstances Kennedy confronted) and only marginal interest as president, suggesting that even if both presidents sought to fight while minimizing their political risks at home and abroad, there was no single, obvious middle way to do so.

    As we might naturally expect, in the case of Vietnam the evolving circumstances of the conflict undoubtedly affected the decision making, but they are not sufficient to explain the evolution of U.S. strategy. The circumstances were most comparable in the late stages of the Kennedy administration and the early months of the Johnson administration. Thanks to Johnson’s service as vice president, we have a record of his views of Kennedy’s transformative policies; as discussed, these views were not favorable. Additionally, even as the circumstances evolved, many of the debates over how to fight the war remained similar. Leaving aside the debate over precisely when the Viet Cong formed main-force units, it is interesting to note that the issue of the “third phase” of guerrilla warfare concerned both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. For example, Hilsman’s original report in February 1962 advocating the Strategic Hamlet Program nonetheless noted that “the Viet Cong forces are in a transitional stage from a guerrilla to a conventional type of warfare.”274

    In terms of material capabilities and costs, as Gaddis argues, both Kennedy and Johnson were willing to spend whatever they deemed necessary, and Johnson kept steadily increasing the troop commitment to levels that had significant political consequences.275 He imposed certain limits on the military, but beyond those limits he answered demands for more resources. His externally oriented view of the war led him to ignore most of the calls to examine alternative strategies. As Gaddis notes, Kennedy and Johnson spent liberally on defense, and the increased capabilities may have made them more willing to use force. But despite their shared commitment to high levels of defense spending, their choices in terms of resource allocation and intervention strategy differed. Johnson allowed Kennedy’s investments in counterinsurgency to lapse. Later, he tried to shift the strategy in Vietnam without an underlying stock of transformative capabilities on which to draw, or even the modest increases of the Kennedy era.

    The interaction among various domestic actors has received significant scrutiny in scholarship on Johnson. Domestic politics undoubtedly played a role, (p.184) though there is disagreement about precisely how and to what extent. But it seems safe to say that electoral concerns, particularly through the 1964 election, as well as the fear of damage to his cherished Great Society program, influenced the Vietnam decisions.276 Johnson’s personal credibility was also an issue in both the Dominican Republic and Vietnam. Johnson feared looking weak almost more than he feared public intolerance of war. But these factors again are insufficient to explain how Johnson intervened.

    The bureaucracy also influenced the intervention decisions, but Johnson was a decisive factor. He pushed his advisers and frequently overruled them in all three crises. He deferred to the military’s preference for conventional war in Vietnam, but his willingness to overrule the military in other instances suggests that he was not cowed into accepting its proposals. Kennedy was perhaps more distrustful of the military and of military solutions generally,277 but both men shut down or altered military proposals at key points. In terms of partisan-ship, while Johnson’s decision making was influenced by domestic politics, it was not driven by the Democratic Party. From his career in Congress through the presidency, Johnson’s positions often put him at odds with his fellow Democrats.

    Like his predecessors, Johnson did not show much respect for international norms or institutions. He worked through international institutions to some extent in the Dominican crisis, but only after initially dismissing the OAS as a “phantom” and manipulating it to serve as a cover for the intervention.

    Finally, I have tried to highlight evidence that would show that Johnson was not an externally focused leader. Much of this evidence consists of his real concern for the plight of the poor in the Third World and the connections he saw between bringing improvements to poor, often rural areas in the United States and similar programs overseas. But Johnson rarely integrated these concerns into his view of national security. Instead, he framed his approach to national security and foreign policy questions in terms of resisting aggression and confronting bullies. He also acted in significant ways to limit U.S. transformative actions in the Third World.

    I have argued in this chapter that Lyndon Johnson’s causal beliefs about the origin of threats differed from Kennedy’s and were closer in substance to Eisenhower’s. Johnson saw threats to the United States and its clients as originating in the external actions of other states. He viewed the internal conditions of other states as a largely separate issue, though he sometimes tried to better those conditions. Johnson was deeply concerned about sweeping domestic changes within United States but was less interested in transforming other countries, and in some cases, skeptical of the consequences of more participatory or democratic outcomes abroad. Perhaps Johnson felt he had to make a choice about where to (p.185) push for transformation, and chose to focus his efforts at home. As he wrote in a newsletter for constituents in 1958, “We must rekindle those fires of liberty within ourselves before we can warm the hearts of other men in other lands to a new trust in America.”278

    Johnson’s interventions had long-lasting effects. Though the Dominican intervention was relatively small in scale, it damaged U.S.-Latin American relations because it was, of course, an intrusion into internal Dominican affairs. Vietnam underscored the tragedy of a mismatched intervention, in which the United States employed a strategy ill-suited to the conflict at hand. Johnson was perhaps an unlikely figure to preside over a war that had devastating effects on a poor, Third World country. But his long-standing beliefs contributed, at least in part, to the decisions that shaped the longest active U.S. military intervention of the Cold War.


    (1.) See especially Schwartz 2003; see also Gaskin 1989; Dallek 1991; Bator 2008, 310–313. On the evolution of scholarship on Johnson, see Brands 1999a.

    (2.) Although he emphasizes that Democrats tended to take a reformist view of Third World states during the Cold War, Macdonald nonetheless agrees that Johnson is an “anomaly” who did not see reforming other states’ institutions as a central U.S. goal. Macdonald 1992, 42.

    (3.) The Pre-presidential Papers at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, include extensive records from Johnson’s congressional career, although relatively few private documents written by Johnson himself. The record includes letters to friends and constituents, speech drafts and speech materials, and memos from staffers, particularly George Reedy, who wrote frequently on foreign policy and on issues related to the work of the Preparedness Subcommittee. The Vice Presidential Security File also contains valuable memos and correspondence, and there is a small but useful collection of memoranda of telephone conversations from his years in Congress, a few of which touch on foreign and defense policy. Johnson kept a private diary only during his brief service as an observer of military efforts in the South Pacific during World War II; there are a few comments on preparedness issues. See Lyndon B. Johnson (hereafter LBJ), World War II Diary, PPP-LBJA Subject File, Box 74, LBJL.

    (4.) Notes on a White House meeting, April 30, 1965, quoted in Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 42.

    (5.) Johnson’s support for Eisenhower also stemmed in part from his belief in the primacy of the presidency on matters of national security and foreign policy. On this point, see Caro 2002, 529.

    (6.) See, for example, Goodwin 1991, 256.

    (7.) Dallek’s two-volume biography examines the pre-presidential years in depth. See Dallek 1991 and 1998; see also Gaskin 1989; Woods 2006. Caro 2002 is a valuable study of Johnson’s Senate years but concentrates primarily on the means through which Johnson accumulated and exercised power, giving less attention to his foreign policy and national security beliefs. Scholarship on the Johnson presidency has also begun to reevaluate Johnson’s foreign policy. See, for example, Schwartz 2003; see also Brands 1995, vii; Brands 1999b.

    (p.254) (10.) As Caro notes, Johnson led a series of fights in the Senate that allowed the basic containment strategy, with its internationalist building blocks such as the United Nations and NATO, to continue. On these fights, see Caro 2002, 521–541; Dallek 1991, 433–437.

    (12.) LBJ, Address at Pan American Round Table, October 20, 1953, Statements of LBJ, Box 14, LBJL, 2–3.

    (13.) LBJ, Statement on Senate floor, May 14, 1958, Statements of LBJ, Box 24, LBJL, 2–4.

    (14.) LBJ to Joe Pacheck, May 15, 1958, PPP-SP, Box 602, LBJL.

    (15.) Wirtz to LBJ (with enclosure of Wirtz to Aubrey Williams), April 21, 1947, PPP-LBJA Selected Names File, Box 37, LBJL.

    (16.) LBJ to Wirtz, April 29, 1947, PPP-LBJA Selected Names File, Box 37, LBJL.

    (17.) LBJ, “Peace in This Day Is Not Cheap,” May 7, 1947, Congressional Record, 80th Congress, 1st session, 4695.

    (18.) Harry S. Truman, Special Message to the Congress on Greece and Turkey: The Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1947, 176–180.

    (19.) JFK, “Aid for Greece and Turkey,” April 1, 1947, Kennedy 1964, 967–970.

    (20.) S. Con Res. 91, June 25, 1954, Congressional Record, 83rd Congress, 2nd session, 8927.

    (21.) Reedy memo, May 28, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 413, LBJL (emphasis in original).

    (22.) LBJ, Speech on Senate floor, June 22, 1954, Congressional Record, 83rd Congress, 2nd session, 8564.

    (23.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Dulles, June 28, 1954, Pre-presidential Papers, Notes and Transcripts of LBJ Conversations, 1951–1963, Box 1, LBJL, 2.

    (24.) LBJ to Lynn S. Holmes, May 24, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 297, LBJL. LBJ also called Guatemala a “communist beachhead in our own back yard” in several other letters; see, for example, LBJ to PFC Henry B. Angus, June 3, 1954; and LBJ to Mrs. E. Kelly, June 8, 1954, both in PPP-SP, Box 297, LBJL.

    (25.) LBJ, Speech on Senate floor, June 25, 1954, Congressional Record, 83rd Congress, 2nd session, 8922.

    (26.) LBJ to Charles L. Scarborough, June 28, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 297, LBJL.

    (27.) LBJ, Speech to Austin Kiwanis Club, 1947, PPP-HRP, Box 332, LBJL, 2–3.

    (28.) LBJ, Address at University of Houston Commencement Exercises, May 31, 1958, Statements of LBJ, Box 25, LBJL, 4.

    (29.) LBJ, “Aid Arabs? U.S. Must—or Else,” Dallas Times Herald, August 6, 1958, copy in Statements of LBJ, Box 25, LBJL. On the genesis of the column, see LBJ to Felix R. McKnight, July 30, 1958, and McKnight to LBJ, July 24, 1958, both in PPP-SP, Box 602, LBJL.

    (30.) LBJ, “Challenge of a New Day,” May 22, 1948, PPP-HRP, Box 333, LBJL, 4.

    (31.) Ibid., 5.

    (32.) LBJ to Madeline Bynum, January 30, 1951, PPP-SP, Box 223, LBJL.

    (p.255) (33.) Reedy memo, May 11, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 413, LBJL, 1.

    (34.) See JFK to LBJ, June 28, 1957, White House Famous Names File, Box 5, LBJL.

    (35.) LBJ, Address at University of Houston Commencement Exercises, May 31, 1958, 3.

    (36.) Dallek paints Johnson’s vice presidential travels to the Third World as “a kind of New Deal crusade.” Dallek 1998, 15; see also Gardner 1995, 52.

    (38.) LBJ, “This Vote Will Be Heard around the World,” April 2, 1948, PPP-HRP, Box 333, LBJL.

    (39.) LBJ to William G. Goodrich Jr., March 28, 1958, PPP-SP, Box 601, LBJL. See also LBJ to Mrs. Robert Fitch, March 28, 1958; LBJ to B. V. Bartow, March 28, 1958; LBJ to Mark Lemmon, June 11, 1958; and LBJ to Ben W. Jackson, June 19, 1958, all in PPP-SP, Box 601, LBJL.

    (40.) LBJ to Mark Lemmon, June 11, 1958.

    (41.) LBJ, Address at Howard Payne College, April 13, 1957, Statements of LBJ, Box 21, LBJL, 3–4.

    (42.) LBJ to J. E. Brown, May 31, 1951, PPP-SP, Box 223, LBJL.

    (43.) LBJ to Davis B. Carter, November 13, 1953, PPP-SP, Box 249, LBJL. See also LBJ to J. E. Brown, May 31, 1951.

    (44.) The Legislative Reference Service found this pattern in a report, requested by Johnson, summarizing his foreign policy statements. “Foreign Policy Statements of Vice President Johnson, 1949–1962,” Legislative Reference Service Report, April 30, 1962, Vice Presidential Aide’s Files of George Reedy, LBJL, 18.

    (45.) LBJ to Mrs. Robert Fitch, March 28, 1958; see also LBJ to B. V. Bartow, March 28, 1958; and LBJ to William G. Goodrich Jr., March 28, 1958.

    (47.) LBJ, 1953 guest column, reprinted as “LBJ Deplored Foreign Aid—in 1953,” Human Events, April 28, 1961, copy in Vice Presidential Papers, Subject Files, Box 79, LBJL.

    (48.) LBJ to Ben W. Jackson, June 19, 1958.

    (49.) LBJ, “Washington News Letter,” February 3, 1959, PPP-LBJA Subject File, Box 95, LBJL.

    (51.) Geyelin 1966, 27; more generally, see 25–27.

    (52.) On Johnson’s interest in ordinary people during his 1961 trip to Asia, see, for example, Bangkok to State, May 20, 1961, FRUS, 1961–1963, I, Doc. 57. Johnson’s interest in infrastructure was rekindled after a stop in India on the 1961 trip, when he helped Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith bring small power packs to India. See Russell Baker, “Johnson Turns on a Light for India,” New York Times, July 30, 1961; Galbraith to LBJ, July 11, 1961; LBJ to Galbraith, July 24, 1961, all in Vice Presidential Papers, Subject Files, Box 79, LBJL.

    (53.) LBJ to Truman, April 5, 1948, copy in PPP-SP, Box 345, LBJL. See also Truman to LBJ, March 22, 1948, copy; LBJ to Truman, March 20, 1948, copy, both in (p.256) PPP-SP, Box 345, LBJL. As Dallek notes, this correspondence got significant press attention. Dallek 1991, 294.

    (54.) See the memos to LBJ in PPP-HRP, Box 329, LBJL. On air power, see particularly memos to LBJ dated March 17, April 17, and April 22, 1948.

    (56.) Ibid., 382; see also LBJ, “Delay-Defeat-Retreat,” July 12, 1950, PPP-SP, Box 346, LBJL.

    (57.) On the politics behind the creation of the subcommittee, see Dallek 1991, 384–387; Caro 2002, 308–311.

    (59.) See “Summary of First Thirty-Six Reports of the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee,” undated, PPP-SP, Box 346, LBJL. Johnson’s biographers differ on the value and sincerity of Johnson’s work. Caro sees a politician creating “his own little empire” whereas Dallek acknowledges the political motives driving Johnson’s work but also sees “sincere” concern for national security issues. Caro 2002, 314–327; Dallek 1991, 386.

    (60.) On April 3, for example, Johnson and other congressional leaders met with Dulles and JCS chairman Radford about Indochina. See Memorandum for the File of the Secretary of State, April 5, 1954, FRUS, 1952–1954, XIII, 1224. Johnson also attended a Dulles-led briefing for members of Congress on May 5, after the Geneva Conference. See Record of the Secretary of State’s Briefing for Members of Congress, Held at the Department of State, May 5, 1954, 5:30 p.m., FRUS, 1952–1954, XIII, 1471–1477.

    (61.) Prados 1995, 13 (referencing the April 3 meeting noted above).

    (62.) Ibid., 14, 16.

    (64.) LBJ to R. L. Lindley, May 18, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL. Prados goes so far as to argue that Johnson favored intervention even without allies. See Prados 2007, 234.

    (65.) LBJ to Paul D. Balbin, May 19, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL.

    (66.) On Johnson’s constituent mail, see Prados 1995, 15. For examples of Johnson’s letters employing the “caught bluffing” language, see LBJ to Phil Hopkins, May 13, 1954; LBJ to Omar N. Braddock, May 11, 1954; and LBJ to Gus B. Michel, May 5, 1954, all in PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL. The “language of strength” is in LBJ to Jack Burrus, May 8, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL.

    (67.) Only a small portion of Johnson’s letters address independence or colonialism. In a letter to a friend, Maston Nixon, Johnson noted that “Asia is gripped by a tremendous revolt against colonialism. … I certainly agree with you that we have got to have a policy based upon bringing independence rather than continued dependence to these people.” LBJ to Maston Nixon, May 21, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL. See also LBJ to T. E. Robbins, June 11, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1195, LBJL.

    (p.257) (69.) LBJ, “Washington News Letter,” April 24, 1954, PPP-LBJA Subject File, Box 94, LBJL, 1 (emphasis omitted).

    (70.) LBJ to Claude E. Carter, April 23, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL.

    (71.) LBJ to Omar N. Braddock, May 11, 1954. For similar language, see LBJ to Douglas Page, May 17, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL.

    (72.) LBJ to W. W. Housewright, May 11, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL.

    (73.) See, for example, LBJ to W. P. Crouch, May 17, 1954, PPP-SP, Box 1194, LBJL.

    (74.) LBJ, Speech to Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, May 6, 1954, Statements of LBJ, Box 15, LBJL, 3.

    (76.) Johnson explicitly admitted to this “reluctance” in his classified statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee following the trip, saying he “was unfamiliar with the area” and thought the mission “might accomplish little or nothing.” LBJ, Statement before House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 5, 1961, VPSF, Box 11, LBJL, 1.

    (77.) See “Papers for Vice President’s Trip,” undated, VPSF, Box 1, LBJL; Bowles to LBJ, May 8, 1961, NSF, Box 1, LBJL, 2.

    (78.) LBJ, Speech at Farewell Dinner in Saigon, May 12, 1961 (USIS Release), VPSF, Box 1, LBJL, 1–2. An account of the initial meeting between Johnson and Diem is in Saigon to State, May 13, 1961, FRUS, 1961–1963, I, Doc. 54.

    (79.) LBJ to JFK, “Mission to Southeast Asia, India and Pakistan,” May 23, 1961, VPSF, Box 1, LBJL, 2.

    (80.) Ibid., 5.

    (81.) Ibid., 6. A similar pattern emerged in his classified statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on his return. See LBJ, Statement before House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 5, 1961, 6–7.

    (82.) Paper Prepared by the Vice President, undated, FRUS, 1961–1963, I, Doc. 59. An editorial note in the FRUS volume indicates that it is “not clear whether this paper was intended to be an annex to the memorandum to the President, a draft of the memorandum itself, or the report from which the Vice President briefed the Cabinet on May 25.” Ibid., note 1.

    (83.) LBJ, Statement before House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 5, 1961, 9.

    (84.) Report by the Vice President, undated, FRUS, 1961–1963, I, Doc. 60.

    (85.) LBJ, Speech at Farewell Dinner in Saigon, May 12, 1961, 2; LBJ quoted in Halberstam 1972, 135.

    (86.) LBJ, Statement before House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 5, 1961, 14.

    (87.) Among his behind-the-scenes moves during the debate over the Eisenhower Doctrine, Johnson got the Middle East Resolution amended to require the administration to submit economic projects to Congress for advance approval. See undated memo (summarizing Democrats’ influence on the Middle East Resolution), PPP-LBJA Subject File, Box 69, LBJL.

    (88.) LBJ, Speech on Senate floor, July 15, 1958, Congressional Record, 85th Congress, 2nd session, 13767; Russell Baker, “Critics in Senate Deplore Landing,” New York Times, July 16, 1958.

    (p.258) (89.) JFK to V. Veinmayr, July 11, 1958, PPP-SF, Box 693, JFKL; LBJ to Henry Grawunder Sr., July 18, 1958, PPP-SP, Box 602, LBJL.

    (91.) Summary Record of a Meeting, the White House, January 28, 1961, FRUS, 1961–1963, I, Doc. 3.

    (92.) LBJ, Statement before House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 5, 1961, 7.

    (93.) LBJ to JFK, May 23, 1961, 6. A similar statement is in LBJ, Statement before House Foreign Affairs Committee, June 5, 1961, 7.

    (94.) Memorandum of Conference with President Kennedy, March 9, 1961, FRUS, 1961–1963, XXIV, Doc. 25. According to this memorandum, Johnson did not comment in this meeting.

    (95.) Notes, Meeting of National Security Council, May 1, 1961, VPSF, Box 5, LBJL, 2, 4.

    (96.) Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State, undated, FRUS, 1961–1963, XXIV, Doc. 451, notes 2–4.

    (97.) On this point, see Goodwin 1991, 170–178.

    (99.) NSAM 283, “U.S. Overseas Internal Defense Training Policy and Objectives,” February 13, 1964, NSF, Box 3, LBJL; Forrestal to Bundy, February 11, 1964, NSF, Box 3, LBJL. On Forrestal, see Halberstam 1972, 376–377; Gelb and Betts 1979, 81–82.

    (100.) “Lyndon’s Other Bible,” Time, September 3, 1965; Gardner 1995, 29; on Johnson’s interest in meeting with Ward, see Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, IX, Doc. 4.

    (102.) Ibid., 84, 93.

    (104.) Memorandum for the Record (dictated by McCone), March 18, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXIII, Doc. 30.

    (105.) NSAM 341, “The Direction, Coordination and Supervision of Interdepartmental Activities Overseas,” March 2, 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXIII, Doc. 56. Taylor’s report is in Bundy to LBJ, January 19, 1966, with attachment of Taylor’s letter to Johnson and full report, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXIII, Doc. 50. The memo and attachments were included with Johnson’s “Night Reading,” and as the editors of the FRUS volume note, there is a marking that indicates that Johnson saw them. Ibid., note 1.

    (106.) Komer to Bundy, January 21, 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXIII, Doc. 51.

    (107.) NSAM 343, “Appointment of Special Assistant to the President for Peaceful Construction in Vietnam,” March 28, 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, IV, Doc. 102.

    (108.) On the problems and contradictions of the Alliance, see in particular Levinson and Onís 1970; see also Wiarda 1988.

    (p.259) (110.) Rabe argues that Kennedy’s policies were shifting near the end of his life. Rabe 1999, 175; see also Levinson and Onís 1970, 86; Tulchin 1994, 240–241; Dallek 1998, 96.

    (111.) Among those taking some version of this view are LaFeber 1981; Schoultz 1998, 358; Lawrence 2005, 20. Packenham also calls the Johnson administration’s changes “a major shift in U.S. policy toward Latin American political development,” though he notes the Kennedy administration’s “gradual shift toward more realistic goals.” Packenham 1973, 97.

    (114.) Quoted in Wicker 1968, 196.

    (116.) Tad Szulc, “U.S. May Abandon Effort to Deter Latin Dictators,” New York Times, March 19, 1964. See also Levinson and Onis 1970, 88; Packenham 1973, 95; Tulchin 1994, 230; Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 10.

    (117.) Tulchin 1994, 231. It is true that, as Tulchin notes, Johnson was “deeply interested in several specific goals of the Alliance,” especially the development of infrastructure, always a favorite Johnson theme in both domestic and foreign affairs. Ibid., 218–219.

    (118.) Latham 2002, 501. On the long-term causes of the riots, see ibid., 501–507.

    (120.) On the crisis and Johnson’s response, see, for example, ibid.; Jorden 1984, chaps. 2–4; Dallek 1998, 92–97.

    (121.) This was CIA director John McCone’s assessment in the first White House meeting to discuss the crisis, on January 10. Memorandum for the Record, January 10, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 368. Johnson repeated this formulation in his call with Russell later that morning. Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Russell, January 10, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 369.

    (122.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Chiari, January 10, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 370.

    (124.) Vance to Taylor, January 22, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 381. Johnson discussed his concerns about the security situation in Panama and his request to McNamara to “get ready for the worse if something happened down there” in a telephone conversation with Mann on January 22. See ibid., note 3.

    (125.) Telcon, LBJ with Russell, January 11, 1964, Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 373.

    (126.) Telcon, LBJ with Bundy, January 11, 1964, Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 373.

    (127.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Mann and Dungan, January 14, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 378.

    (p.260) (128.) Telcon, LBJ with Mann, March 10, 1964, Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 397.

    (130.) Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation, November 18, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 419.

    (131.) Mansfield to LBJ, January 31, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 385.

    (132.) Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 399. As Eric Goldman notes, the assembled diplomats could not believe Johnson would use an Alliance anniversary to make such a statement. Goldman 1969, 76.

    (133.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Russell, February 26, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 391.

    (134.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Russell, March 9, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 396.

    (135.) Telcon, LBJ with Bundy, March 12, 1964, Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXI, Doc. 399. In a meeting later that day, there was a tense moment in which Mann threatened resignation and Johnson threatened to fire him. Jorden 1984, 80.

    (139.) For early accounts of the Dominican Republic crisis and intervention, see Draper 1968; Slater 1970; Lowenthal 1995. Gleijeses 1978 draws extensively on sources from the Dominican side. More recent accounts based on the documentary record include Brands 1995, 50–61; Felten 1999. See also Dallek 1998, 262–268; Rabe 1999, 191–193; Rabe 2006.

    (141.) Indeed, Lawrence Yates notes that the Lebanon analogy was pertinent to Johnson’s decision making during the Dominican Republic crisis. See Yates 1988, 66.

    (142.) See, for example, Brands 1995, 53. Both Tulchin and Dallek argue that the overriding goal of preventing another communist takeover in the hemisphere restricted Johnson’s options in Latin America. Tulchin 1994, 227; Dallek 1999, 15.

    (144.) Talking Paper—Vice President’s Visit to President Bosch, undated, VPSF, Box 3, LBJL, 2.

    (148.) State to Santo Domingo, October 4, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, XII, Doc. 359.

    (149.) Santo Domingo to State, May 21, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 5.

    (150.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Mann, April 26, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 22.

    (p.261) (151.) State to Santo Domingo, April 27, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 24.

    (152.) Quoted in Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 30.

    (153.) Santo Domingo to NSA (message marked “Critic Five”), April 28, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 32.

    (154.) Memorandum of telcon, LBJ with Mann, Rusk, and Bundy, April 28, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 31.

    (155.) Santo Domingo to NSA, April 28, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 36.

    (156.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Bundy, April 29, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 40.

    (157.) State to Santo Domingo, April 29, 1965, quoted in Brands 1995, 56.

    (159.) Valenti’s notes are quoted in Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 42.

    (161.) Wheeler to Palmer, May 1, 1965, Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 43.

    (163.) State to Santo Domingo, April 30, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 45.

    (164.) Memorandum for the Record, Meeting on the Dominican Republic, May 2, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 51.

    (165.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with McNamara, May 12, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 64.

    (167.) The conversation is mentioned in Memorandum for the Record (drafted on May 13, summarizing meeting at White House, May 12–13, 1965), FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 66.

    (168.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Bundy, Mann et al., May 18, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 77. On the influence of domestic politics in the crisis, see also McPherson 2003.

    (169.) State to Santo Domingo (listed as being from Johnson), May 22, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 89.

    (171.) Quoted in ibid., 121.

    (172.) As acting CIA director Richard Helms wrote to a deputy in December 1965, “the President told the Director and me… [that] he expected the Agency to devote the necessary personnel and material resources in the Dominican Republic required to win the presidential election for the candidate favored by the United States Government. … He wants to win the election, and he expects the Agency to arrange for this to happen.” Helms to Fitzgerald, “Presidential Election in the Dominican Republic,” December 29, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 151. See also Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, XXXII, Doc. 150; Rabe 2006, 56.

    (173.) On Fulbright’s criticism, see Brands 1995, 60–61.

    (174.) (p.262) Tulchin 1994, 236.

    (175.) On the peacekeeping role of U.S. forces in the Dominican Republic, see Yates 1988, chap. 7.

    (177.) LBJ, Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Situation in the Dominican Republic, May 2, 1965, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B.Johnson, 1965, 469–474.

    (179.) For comprehensive discussions of Johnson’s decision to escalate, see, among relatively recent accounts, Logevall 1999; Kaiser 2000. Earlier analyses include Gallucci 1975; Gelb and Betts 1979; Berman 1982; Herring 1996. For a review of scholarship on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, see Berman and Routh 2003.

    (180.) Those who argue that Johnson was highly constrained in Vietnam include Gelb and Betts 1979, 352–354 (arguing that all the presidents who confronted Vietnam were constrained by their perception of the U.S. commitment); Dallek 1999. Gareth Porter (2005) also sees the war as a product of forces beyond White House control but takes a more structural view, arguing that the United States enjoyed a dominant power position over the Soviet Union at the time of the Vietnam decisions, leading to a more aggressive American posture in Southeast Asia. Logevall (1999) maintains instead that Johnson had real choice in Vietnam and could have withdrawn at many points during what Logevall terms “The Long 1964”; see also Burke et al. 1989, 146–149. On Vietnam as a “war of choice” for the United States, see also Downes 2009, 11–12, 32–34.

    (183.) While not making the argument in precisely these terms, Gelb and Betts, for example, argue that “the tightening of the noose on the battlefield after Kennedy’s death tightened the range of means that could be used to uphold the objectives.” Gelb and Betts 1979, 94–95.

    (184.) Burris to LBJ, “Viet Cong Activity,” March 20, 1962, VPSF, Box 5, LBJL.

    (185.) Memorandum of Conversation (drafted by Hilsman), August 31, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, IV, Doc. 37.

    (187.) Ibid., note 7, which quotes from Bromley Smith’s summary of this meeting.

    (188.) Memorandum for the Record of Meeting (drafted by McCone on November 25), November 24, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, IV, Doc. 330.

    (189.) Quoted in Dallek 1998, 99.

    (190.) The NSAM directed that U.S. action should “include not only military but political, economic, social, educational and informational effort. We should seek to turn the tide not only of battle but of belief, and we should seek to (p.263) increase not only the control of hamlets but the productivity of this area.” NSAM 273, November 26, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, IV, Doc. 331.

    (191.) Memorandum for the Record of Discussion at the Daily White House Staff Meeting, November 22, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, IV, Doc. 322.

    (192.) Mansfield to LBJ, December 7, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, IV, Doc. 355.

    (193.) Forrestal to LBJ, December 7, 1963, FRUS, 1961–1963, IV, Doc. 360.

    (194.) Memorandum by McCone, March 3, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 68; see also Gravel 1971, 3:43–44.

    (195.) Among the accounts noting this point are Herring 1996, 121; Kaiser 2000, 289.

    (196.) On Johnson’s rejection of military options in this period, see Kaiser 2000, chap. 10.

    (197.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Bundy, May 20, 1964, McKee 2007, 781–782.

    (198.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with RFK, May 28, 1964, McKee 2007, 920; 922–924; on Johnson’s relationship with Robert Kennedy, see Dallek 1998, 56–58.

    (199.) LBJ to Taylor, December 30, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 477.

    (200.) Cooper to Bundy, March 1, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 173.

    (201.) McNamara to Taylor, March 2, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 178.

    (202.) Bundy Memorandum, March 16, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 200; McCone to Carter, April 1, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 230.

    (204.) See Editorial Note, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 403. For accounts of the policy debate surrounding the three options, see Gravel 1971, 3:206–251; Logevall 1999, 255–274; Kaiser 2000, 353–381.

    (205.) Khong 1992, 138–143. In choosing between the two options that might address this problem, Khong notes that limited intervention, or Option C, was preferable to the heavier intervention of Option B because the Korean analogy also counseled for restrained action so as not to provoke counterintervention by the Chinese.

    (206.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Russell, May 27, 1964, Beschloss 1997, 364, 369. In this vein, John Zaller argues that it was the anticipated fear of public opinion, which might not favor intervention initially but would punish the president for walking away from the conflict, that drove Johnson to intervene. Notably, he maintains that Kennedy and Johnson analyzed “latent public opinion” along similar lines. See Zaller 2003.

    (207.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Bundy, May 27, 1964, Beschloss 1997, 370.

    (208.) Personal Notes of a Meeting with President Johnson, April 1, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 229.

    (209.) Herring 1996, 131. A February 12 intelligence assessment “rais[ed] the question whether the situations in South Vietnam and Laos may be on the verge of collapse.” See “SNIE 50–64, Short-Term Prospects in Southeast Asia,” February 12, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 42.

    (p.264) (210.) Memorandum for the Record of a Meeting, February 20, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 54.

    (211.) Transcript of telcon, LBJ with Bundy, May 13, 1964, McKee 2007, 684.

    (214.) McNamara to LBJ (report adopted as NSAM 288), March 16, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 84; see also NSAM 288, “Implementation of South Vietnam Programs,” FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 87; Gravel 1971, 3:50.

    (216.) Memorandum for the Record of the White House Daily Staff Meeting, March 30, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 99.

    (217.) LBJ, Address at Johns Hopkins University, “Peace without Conquest,” April 7, 1965, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B.Johnson, 1965, 394–399. On the speech, see Gardner 1995, chap. 9.

    (218.) Gardner 1995, 190–193, and chap. 6 on the “two wars.” On Johnson and the Mekong project, see also Ekbladh 2010, 206–212.

    (220.) LBJ, “Peace without Conquest,” April 7, 1965.

    (221.) Memorandum of a Meeting, September 9, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 343.

    (222.) McNaughton draft memo, “Aims and Options in Southeast Asia,” October 13, 1964, Gravel 1971, 3:580–583.

    (224.) Memorandum of the Meeting of the Executive Committee, November 24, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 424. Option A’s advocates included Maxwell Taylor and Averell Harriman. See Taylor paper, “The Current Situation in South Viet-Nam—November 1964,” undated, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 426; Logevall 1999, 273. At the staff level, Robert Johnson of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and CIA Vietnam analyst George Carver also argued for more counterinsurgency efforts. See Robert H. Johnson to William Bundy (with enclosure of Johnson paper “The Case for Option A”), November 18, 1964, Papers of Paul C. Warnke, John McNaughton Files, Box 8, LBJL; Robert H. Johnson to Forrestal (with enclosure of George Carver paper “The Feasibility and Possible Advantages of a Continued Concentration on Counterinsurgency [Option A]”), November 19, 1964, Papers of Paul C. Warnke, John McNaughton Files, Box 8, LBJL. Both these memos are discussed in Kaiser 2000, 362.

    (225.) Notes on a Meeting, December 1, 1964, FRUS, 1964–1968, I, Doc. 432.

    (228.) Bundy handwritten meeting notes, January 27, 1965, Papers of McGeorge Bundy, Box 1, LBJL (the final two sentences are underlined in Bundy’s notes). See also Logevall 1999, 318–319. For the “fork in the road” memo, see Bundy to LBJ, January 27, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 42.

    (229.) (p.265) Logevall 1999, 292.

    (230.) Ibid., 314.

    (231.) On the period leading up to this decision, see Gravel 1971, 3:286–332; Gallucci 1975, chap. 3; Kaiser 2000, 393–404.

    (232.) Before approving the request, the president sent the army chief of staff, General Harold K. Johnson, to Saigon to find out what more “can be done within South Vietnam,” including “all possible additional actions—political, military, and economic.” State to Saigon (McNamara for Taylor), March 2, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 178.

    (234.) CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific) to JCS, March 6, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, II, Doc. 185. For a summary of the three phases of guerrilla warfare, see Krepinevich 1986, 7.

    (235.) For a North Vietnamese account of the development of main-force units in this period, see Military History Institute of Vietnam 2002, chap. 5. Porter, however, argues that the North Vietnamese were very cautious about sending main-force units, for fear of provoking a major U.S. intervention, and went to some lengths to conceal them, thereby limiting their combat effectiveness. Porter 2005, 132–137. He also suggests that the North Vietnamese themselves were influenced by their perceptions of Kennedy and Johnson, viewing Johnson as “more likely to change the character of the war from ‘special war’ to ‘limited war.” See ibid., 127.

    (236.) Those arguing for counterinsurgency and pacification include Krepinevich 1986 and Nagl 2005, chaps. 6–7; for the contrasting view emphasizing conventional warfare, see Summers 1982. For the argument that neither strategy would have worked, given the flexibility and resources of the North Vietnamese, see Lebovic 2010, chap. 2.

    (237.) Berman 1982, 82–84, 135–138. As Berman details, those who opposed McNamara’s assumption that the Viet Cong had entered the “third phase” included Bundy, Ball, and CIA director William Raborn.

    (238.) Krepinevich 1986, 268; see also 140.

    (239.) Lewy 1978, 86. Avant argues that counterinsurgency was crucial to defeating the main-force units themselves. See Avant 1994, 69–70, 77–78.

    (240.) Quoted in Kaiser 2000, 414; see also Gravel 1971, 3:406.

    (242.) On the expectations for each strategy, see Gravel 1971, 3:479–485; see also Gallucci 1975, 106–110.

    (244.) McNamara to LBJ, July 1, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 38.

    (245.) Berman 1982, 82–91, 135–138. Although Berman notes that little of the correspondence among the president’s advisers reached his desk ( ibid., 137), some of the dissents citing the lack of evidence for a Viet Cong shift to the “third phase” were addressed directly to Johnson.

    (p.266) (246.) Ibid., 99, 106, 127–128.

    (247.) Notes of Meeting, July 21, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 71. Notes of the same meeting, drafted by Chester Cooper of the NSC, report substantially the same discussion, with Johnson declaring that the “mission should be as limited as we dare make it” before Wheeler, McNamara, and Ball debated the question of large-unit operations (without input from Johnson). See Memorandum for the Record, July 21, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 72.

    (248.) Cooper to Bundy, July 21, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 73.

    (249.) Bundy to LBJ, Meeting Agenda, undated (but for July 22 meeting), FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 77; Notes of Meeting, July 22, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 78.

    (250.) Notes of Meeting, July 22, 1965, FRUS, 1964–1968, III, Doc. 76.

    (251.) Fitzgerald 1972, 476; see also chap. 12.

    (255.) For a discussion, see Downes 2009.

    (256.) Krepinevich 1986, 268. For an alternative argument, see Summers 1982.

    (259.) Quoted in Karnow 1983, 415. Others, however, have regarded Johnson as more detached on the question of strategy. See, for example, Herring 1994, 178–179; Bator 2008, 319–321.

    (260.) On this point, see Caverley 2009/2010.

    (261.) State to Saigon, October 4, 1965, quoted in Gravel 1971, 2:543 (emphasis omitted).

    (263.) Telcon, LBJ with Rusk, February 3, 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, IV, Doc. 63. On the Honolulu conference, see also Gravel 1971, 2:548–554.

    (264.) NSAM 343, March 28, 1966; Herring 1994, 71; see also Cooper to LBJ, March 5, 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, IV, attachment to Doc. 90 (sent via Komer). Bundy had recommended a new position that would coordinate nonmilitary operations only. See Bundy to LBJ, February 16, 1966, FRUS, 1964–1968, IV, Doc. 77.

    (270.) Bundy interview with Gordon Goldstein, in Goldstein 2008, 98.

    (p.267) (273.) Ibid., chap. 7.

    (274.) Roger Hilsman, “A Strategic Concept for South Vietnam,” February 2, 1962, FRUS, 1961–1963, II, Doc. 42.

    (276.) On Johnson’s concern about protecting the Great Society, see Berman 1982, 145–153; Bator 2008.

    (278.) LBJ, “Washington News Letter,” May 21, 1958, PPP-LBJA Subject File, Box 95, LBJL (emphasis omitted).