February 1966 – McGeorge Bundy – Report Card On Vietnam – Past Daily Reference Room
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National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, giving his assessment of the then-current state of affairs in Southeast Asia and a report card on our military involvement during this episode of Meet The Press. It was broadcast on February 20, 1966.
McGeorge Bundy was appointed as National Security Advisor in the administration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. One of Kennedy’s “wise men,” Bundy played a crucial role in all of the major foreign policy and defense decisions of the Kennedy administration.
After Kennedy’s death, Bundy stayed on to serve Lyndon Johnson. He played a central role in the decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, joining McNamara in urging the president to approve the bombing of North Vietnam opposed by Rusk. Bundy was also instrumental in the decision to send American troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965.
Although Bundy and Johnson worked well together initially, by 1966 the relationship had deteriorated. Johnson was more comfortable with Rusk, also from the South, than with the upper-class Eastern intellectuals Bundy seemed to personify. Bundy found Johnson’s style of leadership disorderly and irritating. He was offended by Texas hyperbole and the concomitant loss of credibility so essential to maintain public support of policy. When offered the presidency of the Ford Foundation in 1966, Bundy was less eager to stay in Washington than he had been in the days of the Kennedy administration and found Johnson less determined to keep him there than Kennedy had been. Bundy accepted the Ford Foundation offer in February 1966.
Bundy was a strong proponent of the Vietnam War during his tenure, believing it essential to contain communism. He supported escalating United States involvement, including commitment of hundreds of thousands of ground troops and the sustained bombing of North Vietnam in 1965. According to Kai Bird, Bundy and other advisors well understood the risk but proceeded with these actions largely because of domestic politics, rather than believing that the US had a realistic chance of victory in this war.
To get an idea of where the US was during the pivotal period of time, as well as gaining much hindsight as a result, here is that panel discussion from February 20, 1966 with McGeorge Bundy on Meet The Press.
In lieu of hounding: