President Harry Truman, the first Cold War President, had a sign on his desk saying "The Buck Stops Here." Indecisive people can pass on their responsibilities and pass the buck, and advisory people can propose their concepts and lobby for acceptance, but the President can ultimately turn to nobody else. Presidents must make the hard decisions. It is a heavy mantle to bear on those presidential shoulders. It is lonely at the top.
President Johnson possessed depth in their areas of expertise beyond that of the President, who was a master mover of legislation to accomplish domestic social programs but very much out of his league in military matters and international relations.
To begin, evaluate this question: To what extent was the March 1968 reevaluation of the Vietnam War, as a function of Cold War ideology, accomplished to satisfy domestic concerns rather than international concerns? In a time of mixed obligations, how can we differentiate what is domestic from what is international in American politics?
Truman and Johnson indeed assumed the office of the Presidency with little or no experience in foreign policy. Both were sworn in as Vice Presidents in the chain of succession following the death of the President. Both followed giants of the Democratic Party with immense popularity and determined vision. Unfortunately for both, they faced some of the most difficult decisions ever made by US Executives.
The Tet Offensive of 1968 brought on the long-needed re-evaluation of US policy in Vietnam. The decades of futile policy-making and ineffective strategy had finally come to bear on the office of the President. Publication of the Pentagon Papers was still a year in the future, but the fallacy of "inevitable victory" could no longer be upheld. Even the man whose name will be forever attached to "McNamara's War" had seen the light and tendered his resignation, forced by the President's hand after suggesting a serious bid for peace at any cost.
'The Tet Offensive, in the words of Senator Robert Kennedy, "shattered the mask of official illusion with which we have concealed our true circumstances, even from ourselves." '(Carroll, 1977)
Of course, Westmoreland and the Wonderland generals requested ...
The Tet Offensive is assessed.