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How Presidents Test Reality

Decisions on Vietnam, 1954 and 1965

John P. Burke, Fred L. Greenstein, Larry Berman, Richard Immerman

Publication Year: 1991

Authors Burke and Greenstein compare the Vietnam decisions of two presidents whose leadership styles and advisory systems diverged as sharply as any in the modern presidency. Using declassified records and interviews with participants to assess in depth the adequacy of each president's use of advice and information, this important book advances our historical understanding of the American involvement in Vietnam and illuminates the preconditions of effective presidential leadership in the contemporary world. "Burke and Greenstein have written what amounts to an owner's manual for operating the National Security Council....This is a book Reagan's people could have used and George Bush ought to read." —Bob Schieffer, The Washington Monthly

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This study was conducted with the support of the Ford Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Center of International Studies, Princeton University. Particular thanks go to Louis Winnick and Byron E. Shafer, the project officers of the Ford and Russell Sage Foundations who worked with us. We also thank Dean Donald E. Stokes of the Woodrow...

PART I: Framework of the Inquiry

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pp. 2-26

IN 1954 AND AGAIN IN 1965, American presidents with strikingly different leadership styles and advisory teams faced the same challenge: American-backed forces in Vietnam were in imminent peril of being defeated by Communist forces. In each year, the president and his associates engaged in intense deliberations about what to do. Within each administration some voices were raised in favor of committing...

PART II: Failure to Intervene in 1954

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CHAPTER TWO: The Question of Unilateral Intervention: NARRATIVE

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pp. 28-52

IN JANUARY 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower and his foreign policy advisers faced a prospect that Lyndon Johnson and his foreign policy team were to confront eleven years later to the month: America's non-Communist allies in Vietnam, and elsewhere in Indochina, were in imminent peril of defeat by the indigenous Communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh. In World War II American intelligence...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Question of Unilateral Intervention: ANALYSIS

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pp. 53-66

ALTHOUGH we cannot say precisely why Eisenhower decided not to intervene unilaterally as Dien Bien Phu came increasingly closer to collapse, the record of his administration's deliberations between January 1954 and the April 3 meeting of Dulles and Radford with the congressional leaders is illuminating. We see many aspects...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Card of Multilateral Intervention: NARRATIVE

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pp. 67-97

IT WOULD HAVE been politically difficult, perhaps impossible, for the Eisenhower administration to intervene unilaterally in Indochina in the period after the April 3 meeting of Dulles and Radford with the congressional leaders. Yet this did not mean that the use of American military force in Southeast Asia was now precluded. Rather, the administration moved to meet the congressmen's stipulations, developing an American capacity to intervene...

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CHAPTER FIVE: The Card of Multilateral Intervention: ANALYSIS

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pp. 98-115

DURING THE period between the April 3 meeting of Dulles and Radford with the congressional leaders and the Geneva settlement, the Eisenhower administration sought to forge a multilateral coalition that had the capacity to intervene in Indochina. As the members of the administration frequently reminded themselves, intervention per se was not their main purpose. Instead...

PART III: Intervention in 1965

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CHAPTER SIX: Crossing the Threshold: NARRATIVE

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pp. 118-133

PRESIDENT JOHNSON, like President Eisenhower, inherited a Vietnam that seemed close to falling under Communist control. The Eisenhower policy of backing the government of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam had been continued by Kennedy, but the Diem regime never developed a firm base of domestic support. In 1963, as protests against Diem mounted in Saigon, the view that the...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Crossing the Threshold: ANALYSIS

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pp. 134-149

IN THE PERIOD from late 1964 through the retaliation for the Communist attack on Pleiku in February 1965, President Johnson and his associates were in superficial agreement but underlying disagreement about how to strengthen the military effort in Vietnam. Ambassador Taylor had requested authorization for air strikes but opposed the use of ground forces. The president...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Incremental Escalation: NARRATIVE

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pp. 150-173

ALTHOUGH JOHNSON told congressional leaders on January 22, 1965, that the "war must be fought by the South Vietnamese,"l the retaliatory air strike he ordered against the North in response to the bombing of Pleiku and the decisions he and his associates made in the ensuing days triggered a sequence of events that quickly led to placing American combat forces on the ground...

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CHAPTER NINE: Incremental Escalation: ANALYSIS

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pp. 174-194

IN CONTRAST TO the rapid decision making under pressure that occurred in response to the Pleiku attack, the post-Pleiku actions did not take place under time constraints imposed by a crisis that required immediate decisions. The decision makers were not forced to take drastic cognitive shortcuts or exposed to the intense emotional demands connected with rapid, high stakes choices. But...

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CHAPTER TEN: Open-ended Commitment: NARRATIVE

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pp. 195-230

As a result of the April 19 and 20 Honolulu meeting, Johnson and almost all of his top advisers accepted the notion that a large American ground force, not merely a handful of troops, would be committed in Vietnam and would engage in combat, not merely the defense of American bases. Under Secretary of State George Ball, however, did not join in this consensus. On April...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: Open-ended Commitment: ANALYSIS

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pp. 231-254

ON JULY 28 Defense Secretary Robert McNamara briefed journalists about the intense, week-long deliberations the Johnson administration had just completed, praising their quality. "Not since the Cuban missile crisis has such care been taken in making a decision," McNamara asserted.1 On July 22, however, Johnson had told his advisers of his fear of making...

PART IV: A Summing Up

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CHAPTER TWELVE: Eisenhower and Johnson Decision Making Compared

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pp. 256-273

BECAUSE THE VIETNAM policy of the United States has been so widely perceived as flawed, the way it was made would commend itself for study to students of decision making even if the possibility for comparison did not exist. It is an intellectual bonus that Eisenhower and Johnson and their advisory systems differed so...

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Notes on Presidential Reality Testing

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pp. 274-300

THE TWO CASES prompt a number of observations about presidential reality testing, some bearing on the nature and consequences of various ways of advising presidents, some on presidents themselves and some on the interaction of presidents and advisory systems. 1. It is possible to address the problem of presidential reality testing by identifying types of presidential advisory systems, but classifications quickly become inadequate. In Chapter One, we stated...

Sources Consulted

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pp. 301-312


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pp. 313-331

E-ISBN-13: 9781610440981
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871541765
Print-ISBN-10: 0871541769

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 1991