Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Bundy’s explanation of why JFK and LBJ handled their generals so poorly: Both lacked confidence in handling military

This observation is worth keeping in mind as you consider how we got so deep into Vietnam: Neither of them had the kind of feeling that it was politically okay for him to simply tell the generals what they ought to do, that for different reasons, both General Eisenhower, because he had more stars than ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

This observation is worth keeping in mind as you consider how we got so deep into Vietnam:

Neither of them had the kind of feeling that it was politically okay for him to simply tell the generals what they ought to do, that for different reasons, both General Eisenhower, because he had more stars than they did, and Mr. Truman, because he just didn't give a damn, really did have. I've exaggerated in both cases, but still on balance, Truman and Eisenhower, and indeed FDR, had more self-confidence in dealing with their senior military advisors than either Kennedy or Johnson did." (From pp. II, 4-5, McGeorge Bundy Oral History, Interview II, 17 February 1969, LBJ Library.)   

Hey, speaking of bygone aides of rotten White Houses: How did Bill Moyers manage to go from being LBJ's spokesman to being the moral arbiter of American journalism? Pretty good maneuvering there, considering he was the mouthpiece for the man who was the most damaging president we had in recent decades, at least until George W. Bush. The jury is still out whether the younger Texan's choice of a poorly run war and fiscal mayhem ultimately will outweigh the older Texan's choice of same. I wonder if Karl Rove will have a PBS series in 20 years. ...

This observation is worth keeping in mind as you consider how we got so deep into Vietnam:

Neither of them had the kind of feeling that it was politically okay for him to simply tell the generals what they ought to do, that for different reasons, both General Eisenhower, because he had more stars than they did, and Mr. Truman, because he just didn’t give a damn, really did have. I’ve exaggerated in both cases, but still on balance, Truman and Eisenhower, and indeed FDR, had more self-confidence in dealing with their senior military advisors than either Kennedy or Johnson did.” (From pp. II, 4-5, McGeorge Bundy Oral History, Interview II, 17 February 1969, LBJ Library.)   

Hey, speaking of bygone aides of rotten White Houses: How did Bill Moyers manage to go from being LBJ’s spokesman to being the moral arbiter of American journalism? Pretty good maneuvering there, considering he was the mouthpiece for the man who was the most damaging president we had in recent decades, at least until George W. Bush. The jury is still out whether the younger Texan’s choice of a poorly run war and fiscal mayhem ultimately will outweigh the older Texan’s choice of same. I wonder if Karl Rove will have a PBS series in 20 years. …

Idea for file: What say we put a constitutional moratorium on Lone Star presidents, kind of like a penalty box in hockey? (And no, I don’t consider Eisenhower a Texan, even though he was born there. Plus, he kept us out of a war in Vietnam.) I’m usually against constitutional amendments, but I might sign up for this one. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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