During the Cold War, the United States of America was determined to act as the superior nation in the world. They believed that every country was inferior to them in regards to military power, economic stability and moral beliefs. After the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy, the Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took over in Washington. He was pressured to follow through on the late President’s programs and policies on Vietnam which entailed the demonstration of America’s strength and responsibility. It is argued that American intervention in Vietnam was caused by structural weakness in the National Security Council and inadequate attention to long- range policy planning. In addition, Johnson’s inexperience and naivety regarding foreign policy and the optimistic belief of creating a flawless world.
A main cause of American involvement was the weakness of the mechanism for determining the framework of foreign policy. The establishment of the National Security Council came about in 1947. It was to bridge the gulf between considerations of foreign policy and considerations of the military force which was to conduct external relations.1 Apparently, the U.S.A. had had no central authority that linked the organizations of the Military Services and the State Department. As a result, the government decided that in order to be successful in international affairs the two groups had to work together. The NSC ensured detailed coordination of all major factors of U.S. foreign policy decisions.2 It was odd that both President Truman and Eisenhower had success with this organization and when Kennedy came to office he decided to change it. He preferred to rely on small groups to be responsible for policy formation and execution therefore, he was more “comfortable…with a broad knowledge of foreign affairs and a strong distaste for being hemmed in by too much organization”.3 This informal system carried serious dangers of insufficient coordination, as the travesty at the Bay of Pigs soon showed and Johnson was unfortunate to inherit it.4 Lyndon Johnson had many vital decisions to make when he was in office. The fragmented NSC was not an efficient instrument since he had to conclude whether or not to continue supporting Vietnam militarily and economically.
Our large-scale military entry into the Vietnam War in early 1965 reflected the piecemeal consideration of interrelated issues, and that this was the natural consequence of a fragmented NSC and a general inattention to long-range policy planning. Consultation, even knowledge of the basic facts, was confined to a tight circle of presidential advisors,and there appears to have been little systematic debate outside that group.5
The White-House was primarily for action or reaction and not a place for reflective thought on difficult long-term problems, this was a result for an absence of comprehensive policy analysis.6 The Policy Planning Staff, during the years of 1961- 1966 tried to figure out a possible solution through the National Policy Papers. These papers set down responsible lines of policy for the U.S. government to follow. Apparently, the principal department heads, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, were unwilling to spend the personal time required to reach any agreement and furthermore, no one would take the time to read or endorse the Papers. The general inattention to long-range policy planning is demonstrated by the decisions and actions that marked the largescale military entry into the Vietnam War in early 1965 which reflected the piecemeal consideration of interrelated issues.7
The United States was determined that bombing North Vietnam was a tactic of maintaining the conflict within boundaries. Hanoi was believed to surrender shortly after bombing and during the pauses, negotiations would take place. North Vietnam was convinced that bombing would not affect their behaviour and “if they prolong the war…their forces will grow stronger, the enemy forces will be weakened. Protracted negotiations…would erode its adversary’s will.”8 This illustrates the poor planning on U.S. government’s behalf since they were convinced that their military force would have a great impact on Hanoi’s decisions.
Johnson’s inability to effectively enforce leadership commands were evident during his term in office. This president portrayed no central guiding philosophy in foreign policy and there was confirmation of slackness in coordinating disparate elements. This was the result of little background and uncertainty in foreign affairs.9 Johnson lacked moral courage in the Vietnam conflict which illustrates his incapabilities to lead a country of great power. Even presidential aides were sceptical about Johnson’s ability as a Vice-President. Kennedy had sent him on a special investigative mission to Saigon and the story was spread that Johnson,
…fearing he would be killed, had argued for two weeks against the journey: “I don’t want to embarrass you by getting my head blown off in Saigon.” The young president supposedly answered: “That’s all right Lyndon. If anything happens to you out there, Sam Rayburn and I will give you the biggest funeral in the history of Austin, Texas.” Kennedy’s aides…noted that the vice-president agreed to go only if Kennedy’s sister…went along to prove there was little danger.10
Johnson inherited a loose and flexible organization which his personal existing characteristics did not match. “His galvanic temperament, irregular administrative habits, and passion for secretiveness could or would have used a more formal structure to good advantage”.11 It appeared that Johnson was incapable to deal with such an intricate dilemma in comparison to the previous presidents.
He lacked the kind of confidence in his own judgments that permitted Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy to overrule their principal foreign policy and military advisers on major issues. In matters of was and peace he seemed too much the sentimental patriot, lacking Truman’s practical horse sense, Eisenhower’s experienced caution, Kennedy’s cool grasp of reality.12
There was no indication that Johnson gave the subject of foreign policy much serious attention before 1964, until finally he had no other recourse. Americans were aware of this type of presidential leadership and apparently they were displeased by this. Philip Geyelin, in his perceptive book of mid-1966, said of President Johnson that,
…by political background, by temperament, by personal preference he was the riverboat man…a swash buckling master of the political midstream-but only in the crowded well-travelled familiar inland waterways of domestic politics. He had no taste and scant preparation for the deep waters of foreign policy, for the sudden storms and unpredictable winds that can becalm or batter or blow off course the ocean-going man. He was king of the river and a stranger to the open sea.13
Johnson failed to win the favour of Americans since he did not portray a man of intense determination and alertness.
Well into l965, the United States was still concerned with communist invasion all over the world. It seemed that the Russians and Chinese were still in full pursuit of warlike, expansionist policies across the globe and were quite able to manipulate weaker governments.14 All the former presidents of the States had no desire to allow the Communists rule every nation for they thought it was in the interests of the world that anti-communism was a means of freedom. Kennedy inherited a still untempered Cold War and in his Inaugural Agreement he states,
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty. This much we pledge-and more.15
The determination of the U.S. was incredibly strong since they were willing to fight at every level of armed forces in order to defend interests that had no geographical limit.
Kennedy and the rest of the States were alarmed that Communist expansionist efforts would move toward a concentration on stimulating prolonged conspiracy and guerrilla warfare throughout the underdeveloped world.16 It appeared that the U.S. believed that military intervention was to stop the Communists who were professing radical doctrines which led to violent and dangerous activities.17 When Johnson took over office his principal foreign policy advisers were Kennedy men.
They all carried in their veins the implicitly unlimited commitment to global struggle against Revolutionary Communism which had grown out of our total immersion in World War 11…hold the view of what the world “ought” to be and of how it “ought” to be organized.18
Advisors in the U.S. were convinced that the situation prevailing in Vietnam was not to be taken lightly since it resembled World War One and Two. Dean Rusk’s thesis stated that Communist China was promoting aggression in Vietnam, Asia seemed to be Europe and China seemed to be either Hitler Germany or Stalinist Russia.19 Johnson’s response to this theory was, “if we don’t stop the Reds in South Vietnam tomorrow, they will be in Hawaii, next week they will be in San Francisco.”20 According to Secretary McNamara, “the U.S. role in South Vietnam is…to prove in the Vietnamese test case that the free-world can cope with communist ‘wars of liberation’ as we have coped successfully with communist aggression at other levels.”21 Due to the situation in South Vietnam the U.S. decided to enhance their military force and eventually provide the President with tailored responses for any level of warfare. The purpose of this new military capability was to arrest or restore those nations deteriorating situations in the world where U.S. interests were judged. McNamara felt that it was logical for U.S. to enter a military conflict against anyone who was spreading erosion in Vietnam. With a promising note he said, “in the end all will be well”.22 In his speech in late March 1964 he stated,
When the day comes that we can safely withdraw, we expect to leave an independent and stable South Vietnam, rich with resources and bright with prospects for contributing to the peace and prosperity of Southeast Asia and of the world.23
This led to the bombing in North Vietnam and the increase of combat strength from 75,000 to 125,000 and that additional U.S. forces would be sent when requested.24 This would hopefully force Hanoi to pay for cruelties in the South. President Johnson responded,
“We will stay because in Asia-and around the world-are countries whose independence rests, in large measure, on confidence in America’s word and in America’s protection. To yield to force in Viet-Nam would weaken that confidence, would undermine the independence of many lands, and would whet the appetite of aggression. We would have to fight in one land, and then we would have to fight in another-or abandon much of Asia to the domination of Communists.”25
It appeared that the United States were determined to defeat any force attacking South Vietnam and use their own forces in order to prevent Communist victory in impoverished countries.
American intervention in the Vietnam War stemmed from previous conflicts which they were involved in. The Cold War was unresolved since the States were determined to prevent Communist invasion over the world. It was ironic that a country with such a powerful reputation had weak organization. The fragmented National Security Council contributed to the poor strategy planning for Vietnam War. An attempt to combine the Military Services and the State Department was not successful during Johnson’s term in office since it was proved to be an ineffective informal structure. As a President, Johnson had little background in foreign affairs and his lack of confidence contributed to the failure within the Vietnam conflict. Taking all matters into account it is apparent and predictably obvious that the United States had no concrete plan to win the War.
Berman, Larry, Lyndon Johnson’s War., New York, 1989.
Brown, Weldon A., The Last Chopper., New York, 1976.
Goodman, Allan E., The Lost Peace., Stanford, 1978.
Hoopes, Townsend, The Limits of Intervention., New York, 1973.
Turner, Kathleen J., Lyndon Johnson’s Dual War., Chicago, 1985.
The Pentagon Papers., Boston: Beacon Press, vol.3&vol.4.
1.Townsend Hoopes, The Limits of Intervention. (New York,1973),p.2.
5.Weldon A. Brown, The Last Chopper. (New York, 1976),p.6.
7. Hoopes, p.7.
8.Allan E. Goodman, The Lost Peace. (Stanford, 1978), p.12.
10. Brown, p.7.
11. Hoopes, p.5.
12 Hoopes, p.8.
13. Hoopes, p.8.
14. Hoopes, p.12.
15. Hoopes, p.13.
16. Hoopes, p.14.
17. Hoopes, p.15.
18. Hoopes, p.16.
19. Hoopes, p.17.
20. Hoopes, Op.cit., p.17
21. The Pentagon Papers. (Boston:Beacon Press) vol.3,p.715.
22. Hoopes, p.18.
23. Hoopes, Op.cit.,p.19.
24. Larry Berman, Lyndon Johnson’s War.(New York,1989),p.9.
25. The Pentagon Papers.(Boston:Beacon Press) vol.4,p.641.