Lyndon B. Johnson and the World
by Philip L. Geyelin
Praeger, 309 pp., $5.95
This is the best book thus far written on the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. It has the same psychological acumen, quality of political analysis, wealth of detailed and, in good measure, new information as do the best books written on John F. Kennedy’s stewardship. It is eloquent testimony to the ability of an adroit and discriminating journalist to penetrate the secrets of state, without excluding obviously classified documents. The author pays tribute to his sources of information, who “are men living or working somewhere within Lyndon Johnson’s ken…. In any case, it is in the nature of things, above all in Lyndon Johnson’s Washington, that anonymity is the price of a reasonable degree of candor about an incumbent President.”
However, the book is not just a character study of Lyndon B. Johnson as the molder of American foreign policy. It is also a study of American foreign policy as conducted during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. It deals extensively with the crisis of NATO and the attempt to solve it through the device of the MLF (the multilateral seaborne nuclear force). It analyzes in great detail the development of the war in Vietnam and of the intervention in the Dominican Republic. Its account of the transformation of our foreign-aid policy is the best I know of. The emergence of an Asian Development Bank is traced with similar skill.
Yet to give an account of the development of a new American foreign policy since November, 1963, is, of course, not the main purpose of the book either. Thus it may not be too serious a matter that the index is deficient and that the analysis of political developments sometimes tends to be descriptive in the journalistic manner rather than analytical, laying bare the political forces at work. The account of the MLF, for instance, could have gained from a deeper probing into the extraordinarily injudicious nature of its promotion as well as into the fascinating character of its demise. The book does not to injustice to McGeorge Bundy’s acumen and dexterity—promoting the MLF, spotting its impending doom before anyone else, and being the first to jump off the sinking ship after making sure that it would realy sink. What the books is really about is the impact of Lyndon B. Johnson’s personality upon the conduct of American foreign policy. That impact has been dramatic and profound. The results have been gratifying in certain secondary matters; they have been disquieting in the great affairs of state. For better or for worse, the foreign policy of the United States is the foreign policy of Lyndon B. Johnson and bears the mark of his mind and character. What mind and character does the foreign policy of Lyndon B. Johnson reveal? It reveals a mind narrow in the substance of its knowledge and understanding, but superbly suited for the tasks of the tactician. It reveals a character of extraordinary complexity, beset by contrasts that render extremely hazardous …