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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Presidential Decisions

In June of 1965, President Johnson had a phone conversation with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stating that he saw "no way that there could be a US victory in Viet Nam either militarily or diplomatically." Speaking of the North Vietnamese, he said, "I don't believe they ever goin' to quit."

At that point, fewer than 2,000 US soldiers had been killed in action. The following 3.5 years of Johnson's presidency saw a steady escalation of troops and bombing, continued by Nixon who pledged "peace with honor" in his winning 1968 campaign. Nearly 50,000 US soldiers and 3,000,000 Southeast Asians were killed by the end of the war, ten years later.

How often do presidents lead us down a disastrous path because they do not have the imagination, courage, or advice to do something radically better?

(You can listen to the LBJ phone call at the 25:16 mark in an 8/19 edition of "Fresh Air" when Terry Gross replays an interview with historian Michael Beschloss.

(casualty statistics are at:

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