It is a fair comment to acknowledge that President Johnson’s decision to escalate the war in Vietnam was influenced by domestic politics. Clearly it is the case that all President’s foreign policy decisions are somewhat affected by domestic politics, this was abundantly clear in the case of Johnson. The most obvious and clear example of this in Johnson case, is related to his Great Society legislation. There is an expression often used in relation to Johnsons stance on both the war in Vietnam and the Great Society legislation, that he wanted his “guns and his butter”.
The Great Society dealt with issues with affected the poor and the minorities in America, including the environment, education, poverty, etc. This bill had just started to go through the process of getting through congress. Johnson felt at the time that he had a two year window of opportunity to get this legislation through Congress, however he was fearful that the scale of escalation that he was planning for Vietnam, would mean that he would have to scale back on the Great Society. He was well aware that similar programs were being put in place by Wilson and Roosevelt, before they were put on the back burner, because of the wars in which they were engaged.
“With the Medicare and voting rights bills before Congress, with the Great Society still unfinished, LBJ would not convert to a war footing, would not sacrifice his domestic agenda. Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had both become war presidents; they had abandoned the New Deal and the New Freedom to achieve military victories. Johnson would not make that sacrifice”
When the Great War came to an end with the signing of an armistice in the fall of 1918, the European counterparts of the Allied forces sought only to punish the German Empire to the harshest degree. With their determination to substantially debilitate Germany, The Treaty of Versaille decimated its army to an almost humiliating number, decreased the size of Germany, and forced the empire to pay an ...
Johnson realised that if he was to raise the issue of the true costs of the escalation of the war that he would not be able to go through with his Great Society plan. Many Southern Senators who would use it as an excuse to block civil rights legislation, also many would demand a betting balancing of the books.
“And so- to avoid a Vietnam versus Great Society debate that might destroy his social and civil rights legislation- Johnson (shutting Bundy up) signed off on Westmoreland’s minimum numbers, but sidled into war with minimum fuss: no prime-time speech, no new resolution, no call-up of reserves, no tax increase, no drumming up of support. Announce at noon: ‘No change in policy’.”
For this reason he decided to keep the escalation of the war under wraps and not try to garner massive public support. Also Johnson was worried that by telling the nation that their national security was under threat, and gaining public support, that there would be nationwide cries for full scale war, which in Johnson’s eyes was not an option, fearing the possible intervention of the Soviet Union and China. Because of this he decided to escalate the war in “a low-keyed manner…..to avoid undue concern and excitement in the congress and in domestic public opinion.”
Johnson was also reluctant to increase taxes to help fund this stealth war he was now running in Vietnam. By not making public the escalation in Vietnam he allowed himself to continue spending on both fronts, the war and his Great Society, without raising taxes to pay for it. He was simply misleading the country to protect his Great Society. He had sent McNamara to Saigon to try to ‘feel out’ Westmoreland for his minimum requirement for escalation. He was clearly trying to put limits to the escalation in Vietnam for domestic requirements. McNamara’s deputy, Cyrus Vance, told of a conversation he had with Johnson on July 17th 1965, in which the president told him that “it is impossible for him to submit supplementary budget request of more than $300-400 million to the congress before next January and also if a larger request is made to the Congress he believes this will kill domestic legislative program.”
Answer with reference to the concept of insurgency/guerrilla warfare. The longest war in the history of the United States of America has taken place in Vietnam during the Cold War. “The US fear of a communist Europe led them to intervene in a war that was not seen in a vital importance or that would not be in the country`s interest to gain any advantage” (Bernstein 1987/8, p. 86). One of the main ...
William Gibbons reported in his book ‘The US Government and the Vietnam War’, that McNamara had put in his report to Johnson the recommendation that a tax increase would be needed to fund the escalation plan. However Johnson rejected this and actually removed this recommendation from the report. This decision of Johnson was highly irresponsible, because it would stimulate inflation at home. It was not until 1968 that he decided to introduce a 10% income tax. In 1967, McNamara had underestimated the cost of running the war by a massive amount, which meant reducing domestic spending would not be enough to overcome the huge deficit.
“These compounded economic factors emerged and interacted with domestic politics and international finance to constrain further escalation. Suffice it to say that the structured inhibitions on US war making had become decisive, setting the context for a subsequent partial reduction on its role not only in Vietnam but, in certain crucial ways, elsewhere as well. The gap between the nation’s vast desires and finite resources was now an obvious constraint and a source of domestic conflict and opposition, including from economic elites that since 1914 had consistently supported a vigorous foreign and military policy. The US now had to choose among its global objectives in order to attain any of them.”
Another reason why domestic politics influenced Johnson’s decisions in Vietnam was that he was fearful that if he did not appear to be forceful in the struggle to win the war, that many of the right leaning members of the Democratic party and also the Republicans would use it to proclaim that Johnson was soft on the global spread of Communism. They would use this as a stick to beat him with, in regards to domestic policies he was trying to implement, which they objected to. Also Robert Kennedy had once proclaimed that “failure in Vietnam would put in question the US commitment in Berlin.” Kennedy’s shadow loomed large over Johnson at this time and with the pressure which domestic political rivals was placing on him, Johnson felt he had no choice but to continue with and escalate the war in Vietnam.
When the year 1973 came around, the most powerful economic and military force America, were being forced to come to terms with the fact that they had suffered defeat in their war in Vietnam. Despite the vast gulf in financial and military prowess which swung in favour of the Americans, 57,000 of their troops1 had lost their lives or were missing in action2, in a defeat so unanimous that the ...
The fact that the war could not be won quickly, or indeed at all as it turned out, destroyed Johnson’s credibility and was the cause of his political death. His decision to keep secret the costs of the war, in order to safeguard his domestic agenda was to be his downfall. He had deceived the congress, the press and the people and without positive results to redeem these offences, there was to be no way back for Johnson. As he told Doris Kearns in 1970 “I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved. If I left the woman I really loved-the Great Society- in order to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs…..But if I left that war and let the Communist take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser and we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe.”