"I read a book that so impressed me that next semester it will be required reading for my undergraduate students. Gordon M. Goldstein's book Lessons in Disaster is a gem reminiscent only of Graham Allison’s and Philip Zelikow’s book on the Cuban Missile Crisis . . . With the current quagmire in Afghanistan, Gordon Goldstein is must reading for Barack Obama's national security team. Lessons in Disaster serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of intellectual arrogance overpowering good judgment at the highest levels of political decision making. Of all the books I have read, this is the must leadership book to be read by all."—Samuel B. Bacharach, Cornell University
"[An] 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 to the 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."—Kirkus Reviews"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 . . . all academic libraries."—Karl Helicher, Library Journal"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.'"—Publishers Weekly
Gordon M. Goldstein is a scholar of international affairs who has served as an international security adviser to the United Nations secretary-general and as a Wayland Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
COUNSELORS ADVISE BUT PRESIDENTS DECIDE
In my meetings with McGeorge Bundy, time seemed to stop and reverse course, back to the years of the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies, as Bundy would recall the storied cast of characters with whom he had served three decades earlier—men like Robert McNamara, the Ford Motor Company president whom Kennedy tapped to run the Pentagon; Dean Rusk, the former Rhodes Scholar and famously reserved foundation president who served as secretary of state; and Richard Bis-sell, Bundy’s old friend from the Yale economics department,