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Few analysts of U.S. involvement in Vietnam would agree with the provocative conclusion of this book. The thesis of most postmortems is that the United States lost the war because of the failure of its foreign policy decisionmaking system. According to Gelb and Betts, however, the foreign policy failed, but the decisionmaking system worked.
They attribute this paradox to the efficiency of the system in sustaining an increasingly heavy commitment based on the shared conviction of six administrations that the United States must prevent the loss of Vietnam to communism. However questionable the conviction, and thus the commitment, may have been, the authors stress that the latter "was made and kept for twenty-five years. That is what the system —the shared values, the political and bureaucratic pressures —was designed to do, and it did it."
The comprehensive analysis that supports this contention reflects the widest use thus fare of available sources, including recently declassified portions of negotiations documents and files in presidential libraries. The frequently quoted statement of the principals themselves contradict the commonly held view that U.S. leaders were unaware of the consequences of their decisions and deluded by false expectations of easy victory. With few exceptions, the record reveals that these leaders were both realistic and pessimistic about the chances for success in Vietnam. Whey they persisted nonetheless is explained in this thorough account of their decisionmaking from 1946 to 1968, and how their mistakes might be avoided by policymakers in the future is considered in the final chapter.
Posted June 14, 2000
Leslie Gelb's book is a must read for all who aspire to International Relations and Foreign Policy making positions of power. The author in a very concise but methodical way details how America's National Security Apparatus of decision-making simply stalemated over Vietnam, not due to blunders but to positions that were well argued from both stand points. The book will show you the options advisors placed before Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. It seems Harry Truman not only made a mistake by forcing a limited war in Korea, but started us in Vietnam as well when he first gave $10 million in Military Aid to the French in 1947. Well, the buck may have stopped with him like he bragged but he started many coffins of discontent that five presidents had to handle in the end. What you find is the explanation in this book on why such outstanding advisors to five presidents could only agree on a no withdrawal and no victory strategy at the same time. An amazing conundrum that Leslie Gelb attempts to answers and depending upon your point of view and politics does or doesn't. I think he did answer it in the book and we are better nation for it, now can anyone make sure American leaders read it? Superb book simply superb!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.