Disorder and Decision 2

Lyndon Johnson had voiced a variation of that view nearly a decade earlier, soon after becoming Senate majority leader. Senator McCarthy had just died, having unscrupulously exploited the fall of China and the deadlocked conflict in Korea to spark an explosion of anti- Communist paranoia aimed at promoting his own influence. Johnson, fearful that another demagogue might seize the same pretext to sow dissension and recrimination, believed that rational Democrats and Republicans ought to bury their differences in a bipartisan foreign policy that would, as he put it, discourage “the public’s tendency to go off on a jag, paralyzing itself in endless debate and stampeding us in panic.” Though a fervent Democrat, he rallied behind Eisenhower and scrapped the old theory that “the duty of the opposition is to oppose.” He spelled out his position on the floor of the Senate in February 1953: “I want to make absolutely sure that the Communists don’t play one branch of government against the other, or one party against the other . . . The danger is they’ll think we’re fat and fifty and fighting among ourselves about free enterprise and socialism and all that. We might mislead them so they’ll think these Americans are just the country club crowd. That’s a mistake our enemies have made before. If you’re in an airplane, and you’re flying somewhere, you don’t run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only president we’ve got.”
As president himself, Johnson expected bipartisan support, but it was not to come easily. Government officials, sensitive to the possible snares that may entrap them, approach problems slowly and pru¬dently. Closeted in monotone offices, committees prepare options that are weighed at meetings that in turn yield revised alternatives that are further refined at other meetings, so that an apparently casual sug¬gestion can represent weeks, even months, of labor.
A prodigious producer of bureaucratic paper, William Bundy in¬corporated his thoughts on Rostow’s notion for mobilizing congres¬sional cooperation in the same verbose memorandum to Johnson that had outlined plans for striking against North Vietnam—actions which, he explained, would “normally require” a declaration of war. To ask Congress for such a “blunt instrument,” as Bundy put it, might set off a domestic political squabble, since the administration claimed to be proceeding toward only “selective” goals in Vietnam; yet it would be “unsatisfactory” to bypass legislative endorsement, since the rec¬ommended military moves were plainly not a response to an attack or to a “sudden change of events,” and the administration could be accused of wantonly escalating the conflict. Hence the “best answer,” Bundy advised Johnson, seemed to be a resolution such as Eisenhower had gotten from the Senate and House in January 1955. Passed almost unanimously by both chambers, it had mandated him to deploy U.S. forces “as he deems necessary” to protect Taiwan as well as Quemoy and Matsu against a putative Chinese Communist assault. Johnson, who vividly remembered his Senate career, recalled the resolution. Then hospitalized for a kidney stone operation, he had paired with another hospitalized senator, John F. Kennedy, to cast a vote in ab¬sentia giving Eisenhower the same power he now sought for himself.
Despite his enormous prestige, Eisenhower had won his special authority only after several days of debate, and that recollection wor¬ried Bundy. He knew that Mike Mansfield, the Senate majority leader, favored a compromise settlement of the war, and he anticipated fierce resistance from Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, a cantankerous character who had consistently battled over the years against according extraordinary powers to presidents. Bundy therefore warned Johnson that “doubtful friends” on Capitol Hill might delay passage of such a measure, which would cede to both America’s allies and adversaries the time to build up “tremendous pressure” on the United States “to stop and negotiate” an end to the conflict. But Johnson, undaunted, demanded a congressional resolution.
The rough draft, completed by Bundy and other aides in late May, gave Johnson the right to commit U.S. forces to the defense of any nation in Southeast Asia menaced by Communist “aggression or sub¬version”—and it also accorded him the discretion to determine the extent of the threat.
Bundy reckoned that a propitious period to present the resolution to Congress would be during the week of June 22, after a civil rights bill had cleared the Senate floor and the Democrats were feeling vir¬tuous. But he emphasized the need for the resolution to gain rapid approval “by a very substantial majority” and proposed a major pro¬motional effort, with public statements by high officials and a presi¬dential message to Congress. Urging the administration to gird itself, he even prepared a “scenario” of suggested replies to the “disagreeable questions”:
Does this resolution imply a blank check for the president to go to war over Southeast Asia?
The resolution will indeed permit selective use of force, but hos¬tilities on a larger scale are not envisaged and, in any case, any large escalation would require a call-up of reserves and thus a further appeal to the Congress . . .
What kinds offorce, if any, are possible under this authorization?
No force will be used if the president can avoid it. If the continued aggression of others should require a limited response, that response will be carefully aimed at installations and activities that directly support covert aggression . . .
What change in the situation requires such a resolution now?
This answer should include a candid account of the existing situation and hazard and growing dangers both in Laos and in South Vietnam [and] refer to the need for international awareness that the United States is not immobilized by a political campaign . . .
Does Southeast Asia matter all that much?
Yes—because of the rights of the people there, because of our own commitments, because of the far-reaching effect of a failure, and because we can win if we stay with it.

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