Academic journal article Journalism History

The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed/Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed/Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama

Article excerpt

Kalb, Marvin. The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2013. 287 pp. $29.95.

Kalb, Marvin & Deborah Kalb. Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama, rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2012. 56 pp.. $19.95.

The Road to War: Presidential Commitments Honored and Betrayed and Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama present a concise chronicle of presidential decision-making and critical examinations of post-World War II foreign policy. Each offers exceptional foundations that inform political and foreign reporting, twentieth-century history, and studies of peace and conflicts, Congress, and the presidency. Both synthesize and distill memoirs and retrospectives into readable histories that stimulate provocative discussions about how journalists cover executive-legislative powers; the president and the Pentagon; diplomatic rhetoric of war powers; nuances of journalism in crises; and media history.

Marvin Kalb's impressive credentials reinforce the integrity of these works. Edward R. Murrow recruited Kalb to CBS News. Kalb also reported for NBC News and anchored Meet the Press. For a notable second act, Kalb emerged as a reasoned voice for media-policy scholarship, as director of Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy; moderator of The Kalb Report at the National Press Club; and senior adviser to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Kalb co-wrote Haunting Legacy with his daughter Deborah Kalb, a longtime political reporter with stints at Gannett, Congressional Quarterly, U.S. News & World Report, and The Hill.

Haunting Legacy, published first, actu ally reads like a sequel to Ihe Road to War. Vietnam, the Kalbs explain, is the elephant in the room affecting every presidential decision about whether to opt for air power, international coalitions, or American "boots on the ground." Ihe Road to War answers the logical followup-how did U.S. presidents saddle themselves with the Vietnam dilemma?

Ihe Road to War succinctly traces the serial commitments of U.S. presidents to international recipients and their involvement with the legislature. Truman skirted Congress by going alone into South Korea in 1950; Johnson's 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution enjoyed congressional mandate. However, as Kalb explains, Johnson quickly rejected a formal "declaration of war," because of uncertainty about potential North Vietnamese treaties with China or Russia. "Unwittingly perhaps, Johnson had now set a precedent for warmaking powers that would bedevil the executive and legislative branches of government for decades to come: With only a congressional resolution, however loosely drafted, however hurriedly approved, a president could now commit American men and women to combat and ignore the inner calling of the Constitution for due deliberation by Congress." After Tet, the Pentagon Papers, and Nixon's bombing campaigns revealed the excesses of presidential "commitments," Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, which "spelled out and attempted to limit the war-making powers of the president for the first time in American history."

Two issues surface in this masterful recitation. One is the difference between a "treaty," sanctioned by two thirds of the Senate, and a "commitment"-a statement, letter, or diplomatic pledge lacking congressional authority. Ihe Road to War considers whether the Eisenhowerthrough-Ford commitments to Vietnam, absent a definitive treaty, pre-destined America's betrayal of South Vietnam.

Ihe second deals with asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency. President John F. Kennedy worried about Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's call for "wars of national liberation." As Kalb explains: "Guerrilla groups could be formed in one state but could fight in another, functioning in a hazy zone above the politics of their hosts in blatant disregard of national boundaries or obligations. …

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