The President's Choices in Iraq

ByABC News
November 29, 2006, 9:55 AM

Nov. 29, 2006 — -- President Bush must now take the painful but necessary decisions on America's future role in Iraq that he avoided before this month's midterm elections.

His flexibility is diminished by the change in party control in the Congress.

The president finds himself in a position similar to that of another president from Texas, who 42 years ago avoided decisive action in Vietnam pending the outcome of the 1964 presidential elections.

Like Lyndon Johnson, President Bush has two options -- escalation or withdrawal.

In his election campaign against Sen. Barry Goldwater, Johnson promised the American people that "we are not about to send American boys [9,000 miles] or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."

In fact, by the fall of 1964, the United States already had an advisory force of 23,000 men in Vietnam.

But pressure was building. According to Stanley Karnow, a historian of the Vietnam War, "Viet Cong strength during 1964 doubled to a total of 170,000 men."

The tempo of Viet Cong attacks picked up during the fall of 1964.

"We are presently on a losing track. To take no positive action now is to accept defeat in the fairly near future," said Maxwell Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, in January 1965.

The triggering event was the Feb. 6-7, 1965 Communist attack on a U.S. base near Pleiku that killed a number of Americans.

The United States launched bombing attacks on North Vietnam under the operational names "Flaming Dart" and "Rolling Thunder."

Two U.S. Marine battalions arrived in South Vietnam early in 1965. By the end of 1965, U.S. forces in the country stood at 200,000 -- a figure that would grow to more than half a million.

Johnson, with his Great Society legislation pending in the Congress, said, "I knew that Harry Truman and Dean Acheson had lost their effectiveness from the day the communists took over China. I believed that the loss of China had played a large role in the rise of Joe McCarthy and I knew that all these problems, taken together were chicken shit compared to what might happen if we lost Vietnam."

John McNaughton, a Defense Department official, opined in an internal memo written in March 1965 that the United States had escalated for three reasons:

Casimir Yost is the director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.