In New Book, Max Boot Argues One CIA Operative Could Have Changed the Course of the Vietnam War

January 9, 2018

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book coverJanuary 9, 2018—The Vietnam War “might have taken a very different course—one that was less costly and potentially more successful—if the counsel of this CIA operative and Air Force officer had been followed,” writes Max Boot in The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam. Amazon has selected the biography as one of its Best Books of January 2018 and has said it "reads like a novel."

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Boot, the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, presents a groundbreaking biography of Edward Lansdale, the legendary covert operative—the purported model for Graham Greene’s The Quiet American—who pioneered a “hearts and minds” approach to wars in the Philippines and Vietnam.

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Lansdale advocated a visionary policy that, contends Boot, was ultimately crushed by America’s giant military bureaucracy, steered by elitist generals and patrician diplomats who favored troop buildups and napalm bombs over winning the trust of the people. Through dozens of interviews and access to never-before-seen documents—including long-hidden love letters—Boot recasts this cautionary American story, tracing the bold rise and crashing fall of the roguish “T.E. Lawrence of Asia,” from the battle of Dien Bien Phu to the humiliating American evacuation in 1975.

“[Lansdale] argued that the American emphasis should be on building up legitimate, democratic, and accountable South Vietnamese institutions that could command the loyalty of the people, and he thought that sending large formations of American ground troops was a distraction from, indeed a hindrance to, achieving that all-important objective,” explains Boot. Lansdale recognized the need “both for tough military action against insurgents and for political and social action designed to address the roots of an uprising.”

Boot asserts that Lansdale’s legacy “stands as a rebuke both to anti-interventionists who assume that fragile states should stand or fall on their own and to arch-hawks who believe that massive commitments of American military forces are necessary to win any war.” He further suggests that Lansdale’s mastery of political warfare and propaganda and his “tactics in fighting global communism” could “usefully be studied by officials today fighting global jihadism” in U.S. involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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To interview Boot, please contact the Global Communications and Media Relations team at 212.434.9888 or communications@cfr.org.

Visit the book page at cfr.org/roadnottaken.

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Praise for The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken is an impressive work, an epic and elegant biography based on voluminous archival sources. It belongs to a genre of books that takes a seemingly obscure hero and uses his story as a vehicle to capture a whole era. . . . Mr. Boot’s full-bodied biography does not ignore Lansdale’s failures and shortcomings—not least his difficult relations with his family—but it properly concentrates on his ideas and his attempts to apply them in Southeast Asia. . . . The Road Not Taken gives a vivid portrait of a remarkable man and intelligently challenges the lazy assumption that failed wars are destined to fail or that failure, if it comes, cannot be saved from the worst possible outcome."—Robert D. Kaplan, Wall Street Journal

“A brilliant biography of the life—and a riveting description of the times—of Edward Lansdale, one of the most significant figures in post-WWII Philippines and then Vietnam. Just as Neil Sheehan did in A Bright Shining Lie and David Halberstam did in The Best and the Brightest, Max Boot uses superb storytelling skills to cast new light on America’s agonizing involvement in Vietnam. The Road Not Taken not only tells Edward Lansdale’s story with novelistic verve but also situates it wonderfully in the context of his tumultuous experiences—and offers important lessons for the present day.”—David Petraeus, retired U.S. Army General and Former Central Intelligence Agency Director

“A probing, timely study of wrong turns in the American conduct of the Vietnam War. A historian of America’s ‘small wars’ with a keen eye for the nuances of counterinsurgency, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Boot (Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, 2013, etc.) finds a perfect personification of America's Vietnam in Edward Lansdale. . . . Essential reading for students of military policy and the Vietnam conflict.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Boot outshines everything ever written about the legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale (1908-1987), in this exhaustive, fact-filled and analytical biography. . . . This is a detailed, warts-and-all examination of Lansdale’s complex professional and personal lives.”—Publishers Weekly

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