Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961
William J. Rust
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In the decade preceding the first U.S. combat operations in Vietnam, the Eisenhower administration sought to defeat a communist-led insurgency in neighboring Laos. Although U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s focused primarily on threats posed by the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the American engagement in Laos evolved from a small cold war skirmish into a superpower confrontation near the end of President Eisenhower's second term. Ultimately, the American experience in Laos foreshadowed many of the mistakes made by the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s.
In Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954--1961, William J. Rust delves into key policy decisions made in Washington and their implementation in Laos, which became first steps on the path to the wider war in Southeast Asia. Drawing on previously untapped archival sources, Before the Quagmire documents how ineffective and sometimes self-defeating assistance to Laotian anticommunist elites reflected fundamental misunderstandings about the country's politics, history, and culture. The American goal of preventing a communist takeover in Laos was further hindered by divisions among Western allies and U.S. officials themselves, who at one point provided aid to both the Royal Lao Government and to a Laotian general who plotted to overthrow it. Before the Quagmire is a vivid analysis of a critical period of cold war history, filling a gap in our understanding of U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia and America's entry into the Vietnam War.
PA Introduction 1. Hoover to Dulles, March 1, 1956, DDEL, JFDP, Personnel Series; Parsons, unpublished memoir, JGPP, box 13, folder 17. 2. Robertson to Parsons, August 2, 1957, NARA, RG 59, CF, lot 59D19, box 2. 3. JGPP, box 12, folder 37; Taubman, Khrushchev, p. 487. 4. Brown to Parsons, July 26, 1965, JGPP, box 2, folder 55. 5. Schlesinger, Thousand Days, pp. 415–16. 6. Parsons, February 11, 1966, JGPP, box 2, folder 55. 7. JGPP, box 13, folder 17. 8. Eric Pace, New York Times,
Memorandum, January 17, 1961, FRUS, XXIV, p. 16. 72. Brown to State Dept., January 18, 1961, JFK Library, NSF, Countries, box 130. 73. Ibid. 74. New York Times, January 20, 1961. 75. New York Times, December 29, 1960; Mansfield to Kennedy, January 21, 1961, JFKL, POF, Laos, General, 1961; Parsons to William Macomber, January 17, 1961, NARA, RG 59, SEA, entry 3121. Epilogue 1. Memorandum, January 17, 1961, JFKL, POF, Special Correspondence, Eisenhower; Kennedy, memorandum, January 19,
costs of, 162 Operation Hotfoot, 111–12, 170, 176 alternate names of, 111 as “White Star,” 170, 170n Operations Coordinating Board (OCB), 9, 23, 85, 93, 100, 101, 114 Ortoli, Vice Adm. d’Escadre, 88 Overseas Southeast Asia Supply Company (“Sea Supply”), 240 Paksane, 209, 238, 240 Parmly, Eleazer (“Lee”), 239–40 Parsons, J. Graham, 1–2, 5, 65, 67, 88, 109, 111, 129, 148, 150, 178, 194, 200–201, 215, 231, 237, 255, 281n4 as ambassador to Sweden, 2 appointment of as assistant secretary of
“wouldn’t work for the government in peacetime for all the money in the United States Treasury.” He returned to investment banking in Richmond but retained a deep interest in the Far East. Robertson’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 1948 and his speeches about China attracted the attention of Republicans. When John Foster Dulles asked him to serve as assistant secretary of state for far eastern affairs, Robertson demurred for a few weeks, then accepted the position.39
political stability and military security in Laos. USOM, CIA, and PEO each provided supplies and commodities to rural areas, but Saccio and Bell reported that there was little agreement on methods to accomplish US objectives and “a seeming lack of coordinated effort in which each U.S. agency is clear as to its job and how it fits with what other agencies are doing.”37 On December 17, two days after Saccio and Bell left Vientiane, Ambassador Smith wrote another top-secret, “eyes only” letter to