The Johnson White House and Foreign Policy
After the murder of John F. Kennedy, President Johnson, seeking to promote stability and preferring to focus on domestic issues, emphasised the theme of continuity in foreign affairs. The foreign policy advisory system he inherited was an informal, teamwork-based ‘collegial’ one, but it soon developed into what has been described as a ‘collegial-formalistic hybrid’ system. This was more structured than the Kennedy operation, as it involved greater reliance on the principal advisers and was more amenable to presidential control.1 Among other things, this chapter will introduce Lyndon B. Johnson and his approach to foreign policy, and will outline the respective roles of the main foreign policy advisers, namely Dean Rusk, Secretary of State; McGeorge Bundy and Walt Rostow, successive National Security Advisers; and Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense. The vexed question of the CIA’s role in policymaking will be explored. Further discussion will cover the ‘Tuesday lunch’ as a forum for discussion, advice and decision-making, and Johnson’s use of outside counsel such as the ‘Wise Men’. Generally, the Johnson White House was a smooth-running operation that closely reflected the needs and proclivities of the President, including the provision of advice from a wide range of sources.
Johnson’s modest Texas origins have been well covered by biographers.2 His political career began when he served as secretary to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg (1931–5), and after a stint in the House of Representatives (1937–49) he was elected to the Senate in 1948. There he served as Democratic whip (1951–3), Minority Leader (1953–5) and Majority Leader (1955–61), when he was appointed Vice-President. As Majority Leader, Johnson was said to have ‘controlled the Senate and