cover image Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos 1954–1961

Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos 1954–1961

William Rust. Univ. Press of Kentucky, $40 (328p) ISBN 978-0-8131-3578-6

Journalist and historian Rust (Kennedy in Vietnam: American Vietnam Policy, 1960–1963) makes a major contribution to the literature on America’s Southeast Asian involvement with this comprehensively researched, well-written study of a usually overlooked aspect. Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential reputation rests in good part on his management of foreign policy crises. Rust makes a convincing case for Laos as a glaring exception. As early as 1954 Eisenhower’s administration was seeking to counter a Communist insurgency in that newly independent state. The result was “[a] case study in transforming a small foreign-policy problem into a large one.” Recognizing its taproots in cold war anxiety and groupthink, Rust describes a pattern of intervention in Laotian politics that only destabilized noncommunist elements. The CIA, State Department, and military held differing opinions and worked at cross purposes. Seeking a quick solution, the U.S. overemphasized military assistance. It supported would-be leaders more concerned with gaining power than fighting insurgents. Eventually the U.S. wound up supporting both the government and a faction seeking to overthrow it. The Soviet Union, perceiving itself challenged, became directly and diplomatically engaged in the conflict. As Rust ably demonstrates, Laos prefigured Vietnam. 26 photos, 2 maps. Agent: John Ware, John A. Ware Literary Agency. (June)