Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 25: Impossible Dreams

Chapter 25: Impossible Dreams

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


McDougall Book Jacket

The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 25: Impossible Dreams:

274: Alan Jay Lerner, The Street Where I Live (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), pp. 188-93 (quotes pp. 190, 191-92).

274-75: Lerner, Street Where I Live, pp. 246-53 (Jacqueline quoted pp. 250-51.

275, ¶ 1: Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967) and The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972). Robert Strausz-Hupé, “The Balance of Tomorrow,” Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs 1, no. 1 (1957): 10-27 (quotes pp. 26-27).

275-76: John Lukacs, A New Republic: A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University, 2004), pp. 64-68; Charles S. Maier, Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2006), pp. 191-237; Michael H. Hunt, The American Ascendency: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2007), pp. 162-87; Francis J. Gavin, Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004), pp. 1-31 (quote, p. 9).

276-77: Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968 <1936>), pp. 104-30, 183-206 (quote p. 110). He also described two former Weltanschauungen – bureaucratic conservatism of the Prussian variety and conservative historicism of the Burkean variety – but thought history had passed them by.

277, ¶ 1: Thomas J. Carty, “Religion and the Presidency of John F. Kennedy,” in Gastón Espinosa, ed., Religion and the American Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (New York: Columbia University, 2009), pp. 283-318 (1946 speech on pp. 310-13); David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 76-98; Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Oxford University, 2012), pp. 501-19. If anything, the papacy was following the American lead. In 1962, Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Mater et Magistra” endorsed ambitious foreign aid programs such as the Alliance for Progress and Peace Corps that Kennedy initiated the previous year.  In 1963 he issued “Pacem in Terris” endorsing the arms control agenda Kennedy pursued after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The entire Catholic Church underwent wholesale modernization during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

277-78: David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (New York: Random House, 1972); Bruce Kuklick, Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2006); Derek Leebaert, Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy From Korea to Afghanistan (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

278: Michael J. Glennan, National Security and Double Government (New York: Oxford University, 2014); Alex Roland, The Military-Industrial Complex (Washington, D.C.: American Historical Association, 2001).

278-79: Bruce Cumings, “Boundary Displacement: Area Studies and International Studies during and after the Cold War,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 29, no. 1 (1997): 6-26. The OSS Research and Analysis Branch began federal funding of academic scholarship of foreign countries and the CIA eagerly expanded it. The money was funneled through the Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies to university area studies centers.

279: Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon, “Why Hawks Win,” Foreign Policy (Fall 2013), explore this phenomenon by asking why worst-case analysis and a bias toward aggressive action tend to win out in crisis situations, at least in the United States since 1945. Leebaert, Magic and Mayhem, pp. 1-36, lists the illusions. See also Kuklick, Blind Oracles, pp. 37-48, 95-151, 223-230.  The last quote is from U. C. Berkeley Professor Chalmers Johnson, who defended his own work for the OSS and CIA, but confessed the government became increasingly intolerant of scholarly independence, while scholarship became increasingly warped by politics: “The CIA and Me,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 29, no. 1 (1997): 34-37.

280: Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, May 25, 1961:  On the Kennedy administration’s space policies see inter alia John M. Logsdon, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1970); Walter A. McDougall, …the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, 1985); Roger D. Launius and Howard E. McCurdy, Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1997).

280-81: Jim Rasenberger, The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (New York: Scribner, 2011), is the latest and best account of the fiasco.

281: Contrary to popular belief, Kennedy waited 22 months before making the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech that sounded brave, but ended with a hint the Cold War would not be ending anytime soon. “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe.” Thus did Kennedy distill the Neo-Progressive ACR down to its most intoxicating nectar: the Cold War would not really end until every last man on earth was free, American-style. Kennedy Speech in Berlin (June 26, 1963):

281 cont.: For whatever reason, no one seems to have published a study of the religious response to the most serious nuclear showdown, but Alice L. George, Awaiting Armageddon: How Americans Faced the Cuban Missile Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2003) does describe the civil defense measures and government propaganda techniques employed to suppress panic and disorder. Other recent additions to the huge literature on the Cuban Missile Crisis include David Barrett and Max Holland, Blind Over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (College Station: Texas A&M University, 2012); Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (New York: Knopf, 2008); Alexandr Fursenko ahnd Timothy J. Naftali, One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964 (New York: Norton, 1998). Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam (New York: Oxford University, 2000), Peter W. Rodman, More Precious than Peace: The Cold War and the Struggle for the Third World (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994), and Rasenberger, Brilliant Disaster, all see a causal connection between the overconfidence born of the “victory” in the Cuban Missile Crisis to the graduated escalation in Vietnam.  

281-82: On Europe see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1999). On the Third World see Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007); Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (New York: Cambridge University, 2005), pp. 110-52; Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall, America’s Cold War: The Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2009), pp. 212-15. Craig and Logevall popularized the term “intermestic” to describe U.S. policy because the international and domestic interests of the elites were “dynamically intertwined” (6-12).

282: Michael H. Hunt, The American Ascendency: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2007), pp. 188-224; Anne Orde, The Eclipse of Great Britain: The United States and Imperial Decline, 1895-1956 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), quote, p. 192; Mark Atwood Lawrence, Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California, 2005), p. 287, argues that the Truman administration wasted the leverage it had over the Fourth Republic by not pressing for a satisfactory truce in Indochina. Lilienthal founded the Development and Resources Corporation (D&R) in 1955 to apply (usually without success) the technocratic TVA and AEC models in such disparate locales as Iran, Colombia, India, southern Italy, Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, and South Vietnam. See The Journals of David Lilienthal, vols. 5-7 (New York: Harper & Row, 1971-1983); and David Ekbladh “’Mr. TVA’: Grass-Roots Development, David Lilienthal, and the Rise and Fall of the Tennessee Valley Authority as a Symbol for U.S. Overseas Development, 1933–1973,” Diplomatic History 26: 3 (2002): 335–374.  Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, The Suicide of an Elite: American Internationalists and Vietnam (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, 1990) calls the two schools of thought Whigs and Tories.

282-83: William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (Cambridge: MIT, 2002), makes a powerful case against government-to-government foreign aid, which generally undermines incentives for entrepreneurs in developing countries, while lining the pockets of corrupt officials. The developmental economists focused narrowly on arbitrary models to determine how much investment each country needed. But the GIGO factor (“garbage in-garbage out”) plus systematic pillage and waste meant that no meaningful correlations emerged regarding returns on investment or other variables such as literacy rates or population control.  So much for “promoting sustainable democracy,” the official purpose of USAID.  The classic text on modernization theory was  Walt W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge, Eng.: University Press, 1960).  Michael E. Latham, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and “Nation Building” in the Kennedy Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2000), pp 1-19, 209-15, writes that Kennedy and his advisers “perceived a world in which transformative social engineering was both entirely possible and urgently necessary.  Certain that they were meant to play a pivotal role at a historically crucial moment, modernizers saw little conflict between American self-interest and what they considered an internationalist mission.  Confident in their vision of liberal, linear advance, they had few doubts that their scientifically determined and rationally promoted plans would dramatically improve the world” (p. 215).  Derek Leebaert, The Fifty-Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory (Boston: Little, Brown, 2002), described the conceit in more withering terms: “It had taken the world thousands of years to bring Laotians and Montagnards, Sumatran farmers and Senegalese nomads, into being.  Now resources greater than these cultures had ever amassed were being wielded among them like the scalpel of a blind surgeon, often by men who had not heard of any of these people six months before” (294).

283, ¶ 1: James T. Fisher, Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1991), tells the story of this hero of Cold War popular culture. Diem gave him South Vietnam’s highest award for his assistance to the 600,000-odd Catholics who fled south in 1954-55. Dooley was profiled in the Luce magazines as well as Reader’s Digest, and wrote three bestsellers on Indochina,  Deliver Us From Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow, and The Night They Burned the Mountain.  In 1961 he died young of melanoma and became a martyr in the struggle against “mankind’s two greatest enemies: disease and Communism.”  See also John Heidenry, Theirs Was the Kingdom: Lila and DeWitt Wallace and the Story of Reader’s Digest (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993).  Eisenhower and Kennedy both exploited Diem’s faith to rally American Catholics behind the commitment to South Vietnam.  See T. Jeremy Gunn, Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2009), pp. 155-96.

283, ¶ 2: Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Hanoi’s War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2012).

283-84: William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War: A Concise Political and Military History (Lanham, Md : Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), pp. 57-91 (quote, p. 58). William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, The Ugly American (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett, 1958), cited by Jonathan Nashel, “The Road to Vietnam: Modernization Theory in Fact and Fiction,” in Christian G. Appy, ed., Cold War Constructions: The Political Culture of United States Imperialism, 1945-1966 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 2000):132-54.

284-85: The Kennedy cabinet was split on the wisdom of overthrowing Diem with Vice President Johnson, McNamara, Maxwell Taylor, and CIA chief John McCone opposed. They nevertheless continued to be hawkish on the U.S. commitment to the Vietnam War. See, for instance, Frederick Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Berkeley: University of California, 1999), 69-73; David Kaiser, American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2000), pp. 1-9. Derek Leebaert, The Fifty-Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory (Boston: Little, Brown, 2002), pp 255-318; Mark Moyar, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (New York: Cambridge University, 2006), pp. 275-87; William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War: A Concise Political and Military History (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), pp. 57-91.  The fantasy that Kennedy would have pulled out of South Vietnam after his re-election was challenged by Diane Kunz, “Camelot Continued: What If John F. Kennedy Had Lived?” in Niall Ferguson, ed., Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals (New York: Basic Books, 1997), pp. 368-91, and has now been disposed of by Christian G. Appy, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (New York: Viking, 2015).

285: David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents: From Truman to Obama (Athens: University of Georgia, 2012), pp. 76-98. The encyclopedic accounts of Johnson’s life are Robert Caro’s four volumes, The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, and The Passage of Power (New York: Knopf, 1982-2012). Charles R. Kesler, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism (New York: HarperCollins, 2012), pp. 153-76, underscores how much LBJ’s visionary rhetoric resembled that of Karl Marx.  For instance: “The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich the mind and to enlarge his talents.  It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness.  It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community….  It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”  But Kesler concludes: “The government did not know what it was doing.  It had a theory.  Or rather, a set of theories.  Nothing more” (156).

286, ¶ 1: Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2001), quote p. 2; Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2000).

286, ¶ 2: Francis M. Bator, “No Good Choices: LBJ and the Vietnam/Great Society Connection,” and comments: Diplomatic History 32, no. 3 (2008): 309-59, examines the notion that the Great Society was endangered by right-wing opposition, forcing him into a hawkish posture on Vietnam. If LBJ believed that, comments Frederick Logevall, he was an idiot. The liberal landslide in November 1964 eviscerated the right, while the only serious resistance to his war policy came from Democrats such as Richard Russell, Mike Mansfield, and J. William Fulbright who doubted Vietnam was salvageable or a vital interest.  Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey warned in 1965 that opposition would arise if the war lasted more than a few months.

286-87: Edwin E. Moise, Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1996). Johnson Inaugural Address (Jan. 20, 1965):

287-88: This sort of seemingly rational but in fact perverse compromise is called “the tyranny of Option B” by Leslie H. Gelb with Richard K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1979). Johnson’s news conference cited by Kaiser, American Tragedy, pp. 482-83.

288: Andrew L. Johns, Vietnam’s Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2010); Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1988; Clarence Wyatt, Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993); William M. Hammond, Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1998); Kenneth Osgood and Andrew K. Frank, eds., Selling War in a Media Age: The Presidency and Public Opinion in the American Century (Gainesville: University of Florida, 2010), pp. 170-95; Susan A. Brewer, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (New York: Oxford University, 2009), pp. 179-229 (Why Vietnam? quotes, pp. 194-95); Marilyn Young, The Vietnam Wars 1945-1999 (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), “war as performance,” p. 113.

288-89: Journals of David Lilienthal, vol. 6: 352, 417-18, cited by Nashel, “The Road to Vietnam.” Journalist Desmond Smith exposed the absurdity of nation-building in the midst of a civil war. After the routine “Five O’Clock Follies” he told the briefing officer, “According to your handout, all you captured so far in Operation Pershing is 30 hand grenades, four rounds of larger caliber ammunition, three tons of rice and three tons of salt.  It appears that you’ve leveled virtually every enemy village and hamlet, killed or driven more than 50,000 peasants off the land with your fire power.  My question is, how do you intend to go about winning the hearts and minds of these people?”  The officer replied, “I’m afraid you’ll have to take that up with the S-5 <civil affairs officer>, Sir, but jeeze, it’s a real good question”: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People, 1964-1968 (New York: Grossman, 1973), p. 225.

289: By its end in 1975 the Vietnam War took 58,303 American lives and an estimated 2.4 million military and civilian lives on all sides.

290: Dale Wasserman, The Impossible Musical (New York: Applause, 2003), pp. 119-37, quotes pp. 136, 194). Mitch Leigh wrote the music and Joe Darion the lyrics.


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