Miller Center

Troop Levels

On December 1, 2009, President Obama addressed the nation on the issue of troop levels for the war in Afghanistan, announcing that he was sending around 30,000 more troops Afghanistan, a move that amounts to a significant escalation of the U.S. military presence in the region.

Sending troops into harm's way is arguably the most difficult decision a president confronts. The White House tapes of presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon capture remarkably intimate and candid behind-the-scenes views of presidents agonizing over this decision in another war fought in distant lands for complex geo-political reasons.

JFK: Withdrawing from Vietnam?

Kennedy and his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, discuss withdrawing from Vietnam by the end of 1965.

LBJ: Getting In or Getting Out

LBJ explains to newspaper baron John Knight that in the decision of whether to get in or get out of Vietnam there are no good options.

LBJ: "I Can't be the Architect of Surrender"

LBJ explains to Eugene McCarthy, of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, that he doesn't want to be in Vietnam but he can't find a way out.

LBJ: Little Old Sergeant

LBJ tells his confidant and mentor Senator Richard Russell that every time he thinks about sending troops into harm's way he thinks of one his staff members, a "little old sergeant" with his six children, and of the impact that sending the father to war would have on the family.

Nixon: Post-Speech Reaction: Henry Kissinger

Immediately after delivering a speech to the nation on Vietnam troop levels, Nixon retires to his private office to phone around to get reactions to his speech. This call, and several others that same evening, provide a remarkable view of a president's private moments after delivering an historically significant speech.

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