“The must-read book for Obama's war team. . . . Many on the national security team at the White House are now reading Lessons in Disaster by Gordon Goldstein. . . . A great, great book. Well worth the read as the Afghanistan debate heats up.” George Stephanopoulos, ABCNews.com
“Full of fresh information on how the best and the brightest led America into the fiasco. . . . The book's intimate account of White House decision-making is almost literally being replayed in Washington as the new president sets a course for the war in Afghanistan. The time for all Americans to catch up with this extraordinary cautionary tale is now.” Frank Rich, The New York Times
“A Vietnam book that haunts the U.S. in Afghanistan.” Stephen Schlesinger, Huffington Post
“Practically required reading in the West Wing.” Jonathan Alter, Newsweek
“The Vietnam analogy remains haunting. On Mr. Obama's nightstand is Gordon Goldstein's acclaimed biography of McGeorge Bundy, Lessons in Disaster, which describes the flawed decision-making of President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Vietnam quagmire.” Al Hunt, International Herald Tribune
“No American who has lived through the Iraq experience will doubt how important it is for us to understand why and how American presidents take our country to war. Key to understanding how John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson took the nation into Vietnam is the story of McGeorge Bundy's service to both men as national security adviser. Thanks to his many long and penetrating talks with Bundy, his assiduous study of the written record, and his mastery of the interplay among personality, politics, and national security strategy, Gordon Goldstein has brought us a dispassionate, powerful, and brilliant assessment of McGeorge Bundy's performance during the years he was given his cardinal moment in history. Goldstein's book helps us comprehend how Americans were led, step by step, into the abyss of Vietnam. It also provides crucial lessons for future presidents, members of Congress, and citizens as we grapple with the problems of where, when, and how to apply American power around the world.” Michael Beschloss
“A compelling and personally sympathetic appraisal of Bundy as a brilliant statesman but also as a fallible human being. Despite his remarkable intellect, Bundy ultimately failed to grasp the fundamental novelty of the historical challenge posed by a communism fanatically driven by nationalistic anticolonialist passions. In that context, presidential decision-making became increasingly focused on the imperatives of a local war and less on its damaging impact on America's world role.” Zbigniew Brzezinski
“Thanks to Gordon Goldstein's superb book, we have fresh evidence for judging between a facile mind and a wise one, and we can now assess more accurately the role of McGeorge Bundy in the Vietnam tragedy.” A. J. Langguth
“This meticulously researched book gives us remarkable insight into one of the most critical foreign policy decisions in U.S. history. Anyone aspiring to a leadership position in American politics or public policy should carefully examine this perceptive work and its many valuable lessons.” Warren B. Rudman, former U.S. senator (R–N.H.) and former chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
…in Lessons in Disaster, Gordon Goldstein's highly unusual book, Bundy emerges as the most interesting figure in the Vietnam tragedyless for his unfortunate part in prosecuting the war than for his agonized search 30 years later to understand himself…what's most important about Lessons in Disaster is not the details of how the United States stumbled into a war without knowing where it was going; that story has been told in hundreds of other books. Goldstein's achievement is quite different: it offers insight into how Bundy, a man of surpassing skill and reputation, could have advised two presidents so badly. On the long shelf of Vietnam books, I know of nothing quite like it. The unfinished quality of Bundy's self-inquest only enhances its power, authenticity and, yes, poignancy.
The New York Times
As national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy was the prototypical "best and brightest" Vietnam War policymaker in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Bundy was, according to foreign policy scholar Goldstein, an out-and-out war hawk who "again and again demonstrated a willingness, if not an eagerness, to deploy military means" in Vietnam. Goldstein worked with Bundy in the year before his death, in 1996, on an uncompleted memoir and "retrospective analysis of America's path to war." While drawing on that work in this warts-and-all examination of Bundy's advisory role, this book is something different, containing Goldstein's own conclusions. He painstakingly recounts his subject's role as national security adviser and ponders the complexities of the elusive "inner Bundy": for example, the buoyant good humor in the 1960s that seemed unbowed by the weight of difficult strategic decisions. Among the surprising revelations: late in life Bundy came to regret his hawkish ways, although he maintained to the end that the presidents, not their advisers, were primarily responsible for the outcome of the war. Vietnam, he said, was "overall, a war we should not have fought." (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
McGeorge Bundy was the embodiment of what David Halberstam called "the best and the brightest." Until Bundy's death in 1996, Goldstein, an international affairs scholar, interviewed him extensively about the Vietnam War and his role in it as special assistant for national security affairs (now called national security advisor) for Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1966. What results is an impressive investigation of the importance of presidential leadership in determining war-making policies. Bundy remained a strong hawk throughout his tenure, even though he did not believe escalation would ensure victory. Like most cabinet members, he accepted the Cold War consensus, which stressed a loss of credibility if the United States were to leave Vietnam. JFK never bought into this, Goldstein says; judging from Kennedy's diplomatic solutions to Laos, the Bay of Pigs, and, most important, the Cuban Missile Crisis, he would have removed the American presence during his second term. But LBJ, unlike Kennedy, Americanized and politicized the war to ensure his election in 1964. In his later years, Bundy came to understand how his views helped lead to the Vietnam tragedy and, according to the author, learned the heavy price the United States pays when a President fails to learn that intervention cannot be defended as inevitable. Strongly recommended for larger public and all academic libraries.
Astute distillation of the essential lessons now-deceased national security adviser Bundy learned from Vietnam.
Prompted to revisit the war after the 1995 publication of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's memoir, in which he admitted, "We were wrong, terribly wrong" about Vietnam, Bundy, then 76, began collaborating with international-affairs scholar Goldstein on a book about his experiences working under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His reconstruction and retrospective analysis of the pivotal decisions about Vietnam strategy from 1961 to 1965, when Bundy resigned as Johnson's national security adviser, remained incomplete upon his death in 1996. Goldstein's present work, informed by interviews with Bundy and access to his manuscripts, provides an invaluable record of Bundy's thoughts and actions during the war, as well as unusually candid commentary on his admitted failures in "perception, recommendation and execution." Goldstein is especially driven to find out why Bundy, Harvard dean and member of the intellectual elite embodying the "best and brightest" of his generation, failed to question the validity of the domino theory or test the logic of potential American military escalation in Vietnam. The book begins with a systematic examination of Kennedy's encounter with Vietnam during his first year in office, in particular his remarkable ability to resist the pressure of brilliant advisers such as Bundy to send in ground combat troops. Had Kennedy lived, Bundy suggested years later, America's disastrous role in the war could have been averted. Johnson, by contrast, accepted the dire warnings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his civilian advisers, which led tothe Americanization of the war. Goldstein goes step by step through this "strategy for disaster," marveling at Bundy's arrogant adherence to "the perception of credibility" as the most important consideration in American policy, trumping every other aspect of military strategy.
A significant then-and-now reassessment.