William J. Rust

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This book discusses the formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy in Laos from 1954, when the Geneva Accords ended the First Indochina War, until January 1961, when John F. Kennedy became president. A key initial misstep on the U.S. road to war in Southeast Asia, the American experience in Laos during the Eisenhower administration is a case study in transforming a small foreign policy problem into a large one. Based on documents from the U.S. National Archives, the Eisenhower Library, and other public and private collections of primary sources, the book shows how the administration's efforts to thwart communism in Laos were undermined by ignorance of the country's history and culture; by contradictory policies proposed, and actions pursued, by the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA; and by a lack of unity among the Western allies. A key failure of U.S. policymaking was a lack of awareness that covert intervention in the kingdom's political life had a destabilizing impact on the fragile non-communist base the United States sought to strengthen and unify. Compared to the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, and to the major cold war battlefields in Europe and Asia, Laos often seemed a small-scale skirmish in the fight against communism. In the last six months of Eisenhower's second term, however, Laos became a priority after a coup d'état, led by an obscure U.S.-trained paratroop captain, evolved into a superpower confrontation that threatened to become another Korean War or worse.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-3579-3 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-4068-1 (epub version)




Foreign policy, Laos, Eisenhower


American Politics | International Relations | Military and Veterans Studies | United States History

Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954-1961
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