Government Honors Thesis: Charles Nwaogu

Title: The Politics of War: Examining Domestic and International Pressures During Vietnam

Author: Charles Nwaogu


From the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident to the 1968 Tet Offensive, President Lyndon B. Johnson begrudgingly increased American involvement in Vietnam in what would amount to a costly and ill-fated foreign policy expedition into Southeast Asia. Yet despite disconcerting realities on-the-ground, President Johnson unceasingly pursued the status quo: stepwise military escalation in Vietnam, thereby cementing further and further U.S. commitment to stave off theDemocratic Republic of Vietnam. The central question is why? My analysis focuses on several distinct moments between 1964 and 1968 in which President Johnson deliberated over whether to escalate or deescalate troop presence in Vietnam. I examine if concerns over incurring domestic political costs and/or international repercussions were consequential in formulating these policy decisions. My analysis determined that President Johnson chose military escalation in Vietnam until the early months of 1968, when domestic opposition to heightened military involvement proved too restrictive. In contrast, international Communist pressures did not appear to prevent the President from imposing an increasingly committed foreign policy in the region. Further, my analysis seems to undermine audience costs as consequential in international crises situations.