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Lyndon Johnson on Foreign Policy

 


As VP, excluded from any planning about Bay of Pigs invasion

On April 15, military planes were in the air: 8 old B-26 bombers were bombing and strafing airfields in Cuba as a prelude to the Bay of Pigs invasion, which would take place in 2 days. Johnson did not know the bombing was taking place--or that the invasion was imminent. He may not have known that there was going to BE an invasion. Shortly after the inauguration, he had attended a few meetings on the general Cuban situation, but from the moment serious planning began, he was "systematically excluded" from any part of it. Meeting after meeting had been held at the White House and State Department to plan for the attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. Johnson had participated in none of them. Kennedy had, in fact, made sure that he wouldn't even be in Washington on the weekend of the invasion. He had asked the V.P. to entertain the German Chancellor that weekend--on his ranch in Texas.

The next day Johnson was invited to attend a meeting on Cuba--a post-mortem on what had gone wrong.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p.182-183 , May 1, 2012

As much personal contact as possible with foreign leaders

LBJ adhered to the idea that the better you know people the better you understand them. He said he felt the president should have as much personal contact as possible with foreign heads of state and their envoys. He pointed out that he has seen 30 heads of state in 8 months compared with Pres. Eisenhower's record of seeing only 70 in 8 years.

He also tried to get the best brains available to help settle any problem. He likes to remain in personal control of most situations.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.307-308 , Dec 1, 1976

Goal: 1/2% of GNP for foreign assistance

The president firmly pointed out with some salty language the troubles that burdened the world, the meetings he was going to have the next day with ambassadors from Latin America, how freedom was besieged everywhere in the world, and how could he face the ambassadors and his own conscience if foreign aid, which he deemed essential as a prime instrument for peace, were blunted. What he was asking, said the president, was one-half of one percent of the gross national product for foreign assistance. "I'm sending up a bill one billion dollars less than the last bill President Kennedy wanted and exactly what Congress appropriated last year. This is a bare-bones bill," said the president, "with no fat on it."
Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.143-144 , Dec 1, 1976

America is easily misunderstood by foreign leaders

It may accurately be said that Lyndon Johnson became president without a foreign policy. To clarify, that means that Pres. Johnson preferred to think about and deal with domestic rather than international affairs; that he lacked extensive acquaintance with foreign leaders or significant knowledge of foreign leaders or significant knowledge of foreign civilizations; and that he had no carefully thought-out conception of the workings of the international system, few broad-gauged premises concerning diplomacy or war, even less feel or sense of things international.

He had little respect for American relations with other nations after the Truman Administration. The basic trouble, Pres. Johnson believed was that the US is a nation easily misunderstood by foreign leaders, and that it had failed to make itself clear.

Source: Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, by Eric F. Goldman, p.379 , Mar 1, 1974

UN and OAS are useful but irresolute

Pres. Johnson was never hostile and rarely indifferent to international organizations for peace; he genuinely recognized the usefulness of the UN and of the battery of regional bodies created since WWII. But his cardinal doctrine--the necessity for America to move decisively to protect American interests--did not encourage him to worry long over the opinion of other nations. His spread-eagle patriotism, his disdain for the irresoluteness of group diplomacy, and his delight in barnyard language combined to build few bridges between him and diplomats assembled in international organizations.

Of the Latin American regional group, the Organization of American States, LBJ said on an occasion when he knew his words would be repeated, "It couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel." The OAS had been notoriously indecisive and ineffective, but one OAS diplomat remarked that it "made us think that your President does not consider us too important."

Source: Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, by Eric F. Goldman, p.382 , Mar 1, 1974

Transform Southeast Asia with Mekong Delta project

As early as 1952 the UN started planning a project which would bring Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam, and Thailand together to control the lower Mekong River for the purposes of flood prevention, electric power, irrigation, fisheries development and more practical navigation. But the program was discouraged by the instability of the area.

The UN Mekong project "would make TVA look like a minor operation." The Mekong project seized Johnson's mind and emotions. Here was a chance to build something. While in Southeast Asia, the Vice President saw to it that he learned everything he could about the Mekong development program. Meeting with its planning committee in Bangkok, he let them know, "I am a river man. All my life I've been interested in rivers and their development."

"There's been talk years, planning for years. When do we get some action?" The Mekong project was just the sort of program to fill out and underline the emerging lines of LBJ's thinking about the world.

Source: Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, by Eric F. Goldman, p.392-393 , Mar 1, 1974

Asia Doctrine: repulse aggression then remake nations

On April 7, 1965, the President articulated the full-blown Asia Doctrine--the repulse of aggression, then the remaking of the nations. His arms out in messianic appeal, the President called for a concert of Asian countries which, with the leadership and help of the US, would undertake sweeping programs of economic and social improvement.

The law of history marched with his phrases. What do "the ordinary men and women of North Vietnam and South Vietnam--of China and India--of Russia and America"--want? "They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery."

Johnson was with them, he wanted them to know. He intended to expand and speed up the sending of American farm surpluses to "the needy in Asia." He proposed a "greatly expanded" co-operative program for social up-building in Southeast Asia, with the aid of the US, the UN, and the USSR.

Source: Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson, by Eric F. Goldman, p.407-408 , Mar 1, 1974

Lines of policy: strength; non-proliferation; common defense

I will follow the five continuing lines of policy that America has followed under its last four Presidents.
  1. Strength: We are strong enough to keep all of our commitments. We will need expenditures of $58.3 billion for the next fiscal year to maintain this necessary defense might.
  2. Effort to control, and to reduce, and to ultimately eliminate the modern engines of destruction. We will vigorously pursue existing proposals--and seek new ones--to control arms and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
  3. Help build those associations of nations which reflect the opportunities and the necessities of the modern world. By strengthening the common defense, by stimulating world commerce, by meeting new hopes, these associations serve the cause of a flourishing world.
  4. Help improve the life of man. This year I propose major new directions in our program of foreign assistance to help those countries who will help themselves.
  5. Support of national independence.
    Source: Pres. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 12, 1966

    State of the Union depends on state of the world

    Today the state of the Union depends, in large measure, upon the state of the world. Our concern and interest, compassion and vigilance, extend to every corner of a dwindling planet.

    Yet, it is not merely our concern but the concern of all free men. We will not, and we should not, assume that it is the task of Americans alone to settle all the conflicts of a torn and troubled world. Let the foes of freedom take no comfort from this. For in concert with other nations, we shall help men defend their freedom. The community of nations requires mutual respect. We shall extend it--and we shall expect it.

    Our own freedom and growth have never been the final goal of the American dream. We were never meant to be an oasis of liberty and abundance in a worldwide desert of disappointed dreams. Our Nation was created to help strike away the chains of ignorance and misery and tyranny wherever they keep man less than God means him to be.

    Source: Pres. Johnson's 1965 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 4, 1965

    1948 Senate race: Peace-Preparedness-Progress

    Johnson based his campaign on "Three bold signposts on the road we should travel toward a better tomorrow." These signposts he listed as Peace-Preparedness-Progress. To help insure a peaceful world, Johnson suggested: Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p. 58 , Jun 1, 1964

    1954 Formosa Resolution: line against Communist aggression

    When the President submitted the Formosa Resolution, serving notice on the Chinese Communists not to advance against the Nationalists on the Island of Formosa, it was Johnson who took the lead in urging its approval.

    Nothing was happening to bear out the prediction made in the 1954 campaign that election of a Democratic Congress would give birth to a regressive "cold war" between the executive and legislative branches of the government. "The objectives of foreign policy should be to promote and preserve the security and the integrity of the US. From the very beginning of this Congress, the Democratic leadership made it clear that they would support the President in any effort to obtain those objectives."

    "That promise was fulfilled. It was fulfilled in the Formosa Resolution when the President sought to draw a line against Chinese Communist aggression. It was fulfilled in the approval of the Paris pacts, which laid the cornerstone for the defenses of Europe against communism."

    Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p.115&123 , Jun 1, 1964

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    Page last updated: Jul 05, 2014