Lyndon Johnson and Foreign Policy: What the New Documents Show

Lyndon Johnson should have been a great president. He was better than anybody alive at getting things done in Washington. He proved it in his first few years as president, when he persuaded the hitherto squabbling branches of government to work together. Freed for a time from checking and balancing, the president and Congress dealt with a long overdue domestic agenda; the result was the more than 200 laws and programs constituting the "Great Society" initiative. The United States witnessed the rare spectacle of its system of government actually working. A Republican business leader remarked, "Now that Americans have seen what a really professional politician can accomplish, they’ll never elect an amateur again."

A broad consensus supported the goals to which Johnson devoted his amazing energies and persuasive powers. At home, he acted to eradicate poverty and racial discrimination and to improve education—a closely related goal. Abroad, he tried to achieve a working relationship with the Soviet Union so the two superpowers could conduct their disagreements peacefully. In L.B.J., the United States seemed to have found a leader who knew both where to go and how to get there.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis