In the decade preceding the first U.S. combat operations in Vietnam, the Eisenhower administration sought to defeat a communist-led insurgency in neighboring Laos. Although U.S. foreign policy in the 1950s focused primarily on threats posed by the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the American engagement in Laos evolved from a small cold war skirmish into a superpower confrontation near the end of President Eisenhower's second term. Ultimately, the American experience in Laos foreshadowed many of the mistakes made by the United States in Vietnam in the 1960s.
In Before the Quagmire: American Intervention in Laos, 1954--1961, William J. Rust delves into key policy decisions made in Washington and their implementation in Laos, which became first steps on the path to the wider war in Southeast Asia. Drawing on previously untapped archival sources, Before the Quagmire documents how ineffective and sometimes self-defeating assistance to Laotian anticommunist elites reflected fundamental misunderstandings about the country's politics, history, and culture. The American goal of preventing a communist takeover in Laos was further hindered by divisions among Western allies and U.S. officials themselves, who at one point provided aid to both the Royal Lao Government and to a Laotian general who plotted to overthrow it. Before the Quagmire is a vivid analysis of a critical period of cold war history, filling a gap in our understanding of U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia and America's entry into the Vietnam War.
"The large shadow of Vietnam has for too long obscured pivotal pieces of the Southeast Asian mosaic, and William Rust has provided a valuable service for both scholars and the public by producing this rigorous monograph on Laos during the Eisenhower years. Through painstaking research he shows Laos as both a precedent and catalyst for the Vietnam War. The story is a vitally important reminder of how even an extremely capable administration can make small mistakes that lead to tragic consequences." -- Richard H. Immerman, Temple University
"Rust... 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." -- Publishers Weekly
"Missing too long from the ranks of Southeast Asia observers, William J. Rust shows in ample detail why his voice is needed. Rust has found a hole in our understanding of the evolution of the Vietnam War--the origins of the conflict in Laos--and ably filled it. Before the Quagmire provides a fascinating look, in intimate terms, at the path of U.S. policy in the 'Land of a Million Elephants.'" -- John Prados, author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945--1975
"This well-written and well-researched book hones in on American policies toward Laos from the end of the First Indochina War in 1954 to the passing of the baton to JFK in 1961." -- VVA Veteran
""Details the division between the Americans and the British and within the U.S. government itself, as the Americans tried to cope with a country whose politics they did not fully understand." -- Foreign Affairs" --
""An excellent account of the first major US involvement in Southeast Asia" The effort to prevent the Kingdom of Laos from falling prey to either neutralism or communism.... Highly recommended."-- Choice" --
"Named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title" --
"Before the Quagmire is a well-documented read that we give three stars. -- Military Bookshelf" -- Military Bookshelf
""Rust's contribution is an especially welcome addition to the literature on American policy towards Southeast Asia during the Cold War. Students of American foreign relations and especially the Vietnam War would be wise to consult this important, well-researched work on a woefully understated topic." -- H-Diplo" --
""This is the most detailed account of U.S. policy toward Laos to date, and should be included in any essential reading list on the Vietnam War." -- H-Diplo" --
""William J. Rust has written an exceptionally thorough, very deeply researched, and well-written account of Americna policy toward Laos during the Eisenhower presidency. This is an excellent and badly needed work. It should stand for many years as the definitive diplomatic history of American involvement in Laos in the 1950s." -- Journal of American History" --
""Rust's eye for human charcter - its frailties, limitations, and mysteries - adds depth and sophistication to this compelling study of the people who implement abstract geiopolitical strategic policy on the ground. His lucid, energetic, and fair-minded book is a useful contribution to our understnading of American efforts in Southeast Asia during this pivotal period." -- U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings" --
""Rust has been able to draw on a wealth of declassified information." -- Journal of Military History" --
"William J. Rust effectively argues that US handling of the situation in Laos was a key misstep in regional affairs and a precursor to the Vietnam War. But the book is actually a diplomatic process tutorial that explains what happens when government officials and interested parties seek to manipulate circumstances to their own ends....Rust's excellent account of US-Laotian conundrums fills a historiographical gap and will assuredly be the standard work. It is an essential reference for those interested in the pre-Vietnam War era and America's general involvement in Southeast Asian Cold War Affairs." -- The Historian