Foreign policy as persuasion

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The Vietnam war is understood not as a traditional military campaign but as an attempt to persuade various audiences that wars of liberation will fail and that the United States keeps its word. Key strategic decisions make sense if understood from this perspective. Although the message had various audiences, the American people usually were not among them; rather, Americans were thought to be “speakers” of the message along with the president. This has serious implications for dissent during wartime, which President Johnson castigated as little short of treasonous. The essay concludes with speculation about whether or not it is beneficial for public officials consciously to adopt a symbolic perspective on public affairs.


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