Johnson’s presidency is characterized by several foreign policy crises in Latin America. Relations with Castro were deteriorating, and Johnson realized the challenges and influence that Castro posed. Other nearby countries such as Panama and the Dominican Republic began to exemplify resilience to America’s domination of the region. In response to Panama student protests about the flag, he sent in troops which killed 21 people.
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However, it forced the country into agreements which were beneficial for the US, although meeting some demands of Panama’s management of the canal. Meanwhile, in the unstable Dominican Republic that was experiencing a series of military coups, Johnson also chose to use a military intervention that would suppress any Communist insurgencies. A pro-US government was established but angered many that the US was violating the OAS charter of non-intervention in the Western Hemisphere (Moss and Thomas 2012, 133).
Johnson actively pursued an anti-Communist foreign policy and wanted to ensure that Western Hemisphere countries would not adopt Communism and pose a direct threat to US safety and regional interests. However, it can be argued that in his pursuit of anti-Communism, Johnson did not necessarily take a pro-Democratic stance either. In his interventionist policy, Johnson was increasingly forceful and established doctrines or governments that were pro-US, without regard for local citizens and sentiments. Furthermore, it reflected Johnson’s belief that the fight was a defense of freedom.
He stated in his defense of military intervention in Vietnam, “We have learned at a terrible and brutal cost that retreat does not bring safety and weakness does not bring peace” (“Johnson’s Defense of the U.S. Presence in Vietnam (1965)” n.d.). Overall, it is evident that Johnson took a less diplomatic approach to resolve foreign policy crises unlike his predecessor and sought to use military force to establish American friendly regimes.
After Kennedy’s death, Johnson used his memory as a strategy to evoke sympathy and gain support for a number of domestic social legislation such as the New Frontier that Kennedy had been unable to pass. However, Johnson went further using emotional leverage, he made sensible compromises with conservative Republicans by offering a balanced budget approach and lower government spending, which allowed to pass tax reform.
Building on Kennedy’s support for the Civil Rights movement, Johnson dedicated significant efforts towards the Civil Rights bill and voter registration regulations which significantly curtailed racial discrimination and segregation. This eventually led to a liberal Congress which he could use to further his domestic agenda of providing domestic aid or development packages to areas such as the Appalachian region and central urban cities. Furthermore, Medicare and Medicaid programs were enacted that revolutionized healthcare access for Americans (Moss and Thomas 2012, 127-128).
Johnson addressed and was able to pass into legislation other initiatives that had their basis in the Kennedy administration, including public education, immigration, and role of religion in society. By all means, Johnson was able to achieve most of the domestic policies that Kennedy dreamed about. Despite building his presidency around Kennedy’s legacy, Johnson did build his unique approach to policy.
He was harsher and more direct than Kennedy, directly confronting controversial topics that faced American society. Johnson was able to interconnect many of the legislation, making the fight for Civil Rights synonymous with economic policies to alleviate poverty. He promoted healthcare and education as an investment in social capital for the betterment of society. Unfortunately, Johnson’s presidency is strongly overshadowed by his infamous foreign policy, but nevertheless, he holds numerous achievements in his domestic dealings.
Moss, George D., and Evan A. Thomas. 2012. Moving on: The American People Since 1945 (5th ed.). London: Pearson.
“Johnson’s Defense of the U.S. Presence in Vietnam (1965).” N.d. Pearson Myhistorylab. Web.