Title The Irony of Vietnam
Subtitle The System Worked
Author Leslie H. Gelb, Richard K. Betts
ISBN 9780815726784
List price USD 25.00
Price outside India Available on Request
Original price
Binding Paperback
No of pages 486
Book size 140 x 216 mm
Publishing year 2016
Original publisher Brookings Institution Press
Published in India by Brookings Institution Press
Exclusive distributors Viva Books Private Limited
Sales territory India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, .
Status New Arrival
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“If a historian were allowed but one book on the American involvement in Vietnam, this would be it.”—Foreign Affairs. 


“It is, quite simply, the best work written on the Vietnam War.”—Fareed Zakaria, in his new foreword to The Irony of Vietnam.

When first published in 1979, four years after the end of one of the most divisive conflicts in the United States, The Irony of Vietnam raised eyebrows. Most students of the war argued that the United States had “stumbled into a quagmire in Vietnam through hubris and miscalculation,” as the New York Times’s Fox Butterfield put it.  But the perspective of time and the opening of documentary sources, including the Pentagon Papers, had allowed Gelb and Betts to probe deep into the decisionmaking leading to escalation of military action in Vietnam. The failure of Vietnam could be laid at the door of American foreign policy, they said, but the decisions that led to the failure were made by presidents aware of the risks, clear about their aims, knowledgeable about the weaknesses of their allies, and under no illusion about the outcome.

The book offers a picture of a steely resolve in government circles that, while useful in creating consensus, did not allow for alternative perspectives. In the years since its publication,The Irony of Vietnam has come to be considered the seminal work on the Vietnam War.


Foreword (Fareed Zakaria)

Preface to the Classic Edition




Chapter 1. Patterns, Dilemmas, and Explanations • Patterns • Dilemmas • A Range of Explanations • Stereotypes Fail • Summary: Three Propositions

Chapter  2. Recurrent Patterns and Dilemmas from Roosevelt to Eisenhower • “Hot Potato” Briefings • The “Asian Berlin” • The Roosevelt Administration • The Truman Administration • The Eisenhower Administration

Chapter 3. Picking up the Torch: The Kennedy Administration • Fastening the Commitment: 1961 • Buildup and Breakdown • Taking the Reins: 1963

Chapter  4. Intervention in Force: The Johnson Administration, I • Preparing for Pressure: 1964 • Crossing the Rubicon: Early 1965 • Setting the Pattern of Perseverance: Late 1965

Chapter 5. Coming Home to Roost: The Johnson Administration, II • On the Tiger’s Back: 1966–67 • Debate, Diplomacy, and Disillusionment • Off the Tiger’s Back: The Reckoning of 1968


Chapter 6. National Security Goals and Stakes • The Cautious Route to Commitment • Exploring the Security Issue • The Domino Theory

Chapter 7. Domestic Political Stakes • The Two Phases of American Policy on Vietnam • Practical Political Considerations

Chapter 8. The Bureaucracy and the Inner Circle • Career Services and U.S. Stakes in Vietnam • Pressure from the Top and from the Bottom • Concluding Observations about the Imperative not to Lose


Chapter 9. Constraints • Four Strategies for Winning • The Fate of the “Winning” Strategies • Building and Breaching “Firebreaks”

Chapter 10. Pressures and the President • Pressures to Do Both More and Less • Presidential Responses • Presidential Management of the Political System • How the System Helped the President • Strategy and Politics: The Presidents’ Dilemmas


Chapter 11. Optimism, Pessimism, and Credibility • Contradictions and Hedging • The Roots of Internal Estimates • The Cycle of Highs and Lows • Estimates and Escalation

Chapter 12. The Strategy of Perseverance • The Stalemated War • Elements of the Strategy


Chapter 13. The Lessons of Vietnam • Nixon’s and Ford’s Policies • How the System Worked • Two Schools of Thought on the Lessons of Vietnam • Recommendations

Documentary Appendix

Bibliographical Note



About the Authors:

Leslie H. Gelb is among America’s most prominent foreign policy experts. A Pulitzer Prize winner, former correspondent for the New York Times, and senior official in state and defense departments, he is currently president emeritus and board senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he served as president from 1993 to 2003. When he conceived of The Irony of Vietnam, which was awarded the American Political Science Association’s Woodrow Wilson Award, he was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.


Richard K. Betts is an adjunct senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Arnold A. Saltzman professor of war and peace studies, as well as director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, and director of the international security policy program in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.  On the faculty of Harvard University when he began work on The Irony of Vietnam, he completed it while a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Target Audience:

Students and Academicians of Political Science.

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