The sheer magnitude of Johnson's colossal failure to either win or foreshorten the war in Vietnam has baffled and intrigued historians for three decades. Why did such a consummate politician and seasoned power broker continually falter while endeavoring to formulate a viable foreign policy in regard to Southeast Asia? Why did the leader of the world's foremost superpower stumble as he attempted to implement an effective military campaign in an underdeveloped country? Vandiver answers these questions by providing an intimate examination of LBJ's thoughts, feelings, and, most important, his motivations as he struggled in vain to understand and to solve the riddle that was Vietnam. Arguing that motives determine how people view and act upon facts, the author offers the reader a glimpse into the psychological mind-set of Johnson during the crisis years of his administration. What emerges is an empathetic portrait of a president who fervently believed the cause was just but was unable to translate his convictions into a practical and cohesive course of action. Margaret Flanagan
From Kirkus Reviews
An attempted rehabilitation of Lyndon Johnson's foreign-policy failures, in which the smitten biographer attempts to turn LBJ into a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman. Forget the picture you have of President Johnson as a scheming politico who would stop at nothing to get his way. According to Vandiver (International Policy Studies/Texas A&M Univ.), LBJ was a brilliant, big-hearted, misunderstood man who was a loving husband and father, and ``vigorously devoted'' to his country ``and to making things better'' wherever he went. And don't point fingers at Johnson's mishandling of Vietnam. According to Vandiver, the war's dismal outcome was not the fault of this man, who ``had a frightening prescience at times, caught nuances,'' and ``understood things in Lincoln's way of country drollery.'' The war went terribly wrong, Vandiver says, because of an unremitting stream of bad advice that numerous generals, national security advisers, White House staffers, and Pentagon and State Department officials gave Johnson. This advice, Vandiver says, ``wobbled between wishful thinking and fright.'' Johnson's efforts in Vietnam also were torpedoed, the author claims, by the news media, which turned against American interests, and by anti-war demonstrators, the ``doves whose poison turned American determination flabby and remorseful.'' Vandiver undermines his weak defense of Johnson with his gushing prose and breathless exclamatory sentences. Ironically, this zealous defense comes at a time when objective historians are looking more kindly at LBJ. But those historians, unlike Vandiver, have wisely refrained from exonerating Johnson totally; and none have come close to Vandiver's modus operandi of putting the most positive of spins on every move Johnson made in Vietnam. (22 photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.