In a televised speech on March 31, 1968, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection. Johnson’s decision was in large part a consequence of declining public support for his policies in the Vietnam War. The Tet Offensive, a massive assault in late January 1968 by North Vietnamese forces on South Vietnam, contradicted the Johnson administration’s assertions of progress in Vietnam and further undermined Johnson’s credibility. As challenges from other members of his party--including Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy--began to mount in the Democratic primary, Johnson chose not to run again.
James M. Lindsay, CFR’s senior vice president and director of studies, argues that Johnson’s decision serves as a reminder that "foreign policy may not make a presidency, but it certainly can break one." Many other presidents have faced stiff criticism for their foreign policies, Lindsay says, including Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush. Their experiences, he argues, raise the question of why presidents are "so eager to pursue an activist foreign policy when history suggests that it so often hurts them politically."
This video is part of Lessons Learned, a series dedicated to exploring historical events and examining their meaning in the context of foreign relations today.