Cold warrior coterie: Senate Democrats and presidential foreign policy, 1953--1973

Date of Completion

January 2005


History, United States|Political Science, International Law and Relations




As Henry Jackson exhorted defense lobbyists during the height of the Cold War, “The Russians are determined to play the game of power politics, and we cannot choose not to play. The only course open to us is to play it better or to lose.” This mindset typified a “Coterie” of Senate Democrats (Richard Russell, John Stennis, Henry Jackson, Stuart Symington, and George Smathers), who acted as an informal bloc aligning U.S. national security policy against international communism in all of its guises both real and imagined. Their aggressiveness coupled with substantial political clout served as a counterweight to attempts at détente. The Coterie perceived the world as gripped in a Manichean struggle between liberty and oppression. Cold War axioms imbued its foreign policy stances with a sense of urgency and crisis. At times behavior by the Coterie reflected institutional rivalries more than ideological differences, particularly as the Vietnam War altered the constitutional separation of powers. Hawkish postures did not necessarily place these senators at odds with the executive branch as much as they encouraged presidents to adopt hardline positions. The Coterie operated both within and beyond the White House inner circle to wage a campaign on behalf of hypervigilance in the Cold War. ^ This dissertation is based on extensive research in manuscript and archival collections from Massachusetts to Washington state. The first chapter explores the backgrounds, philosophies, political styles, and major issue positions that shaped each senatorial career. Chapter II probes the Coterie's impact upon U.S.-Cuban relations from 1958 to 1964 as these legislators pressed for greater efforts to eliminate the Castro government. The third chapter examines how the Coterie influenced U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East by treating regional politics as a subset of the Cold War and seeking closer ties with Israel. Chapter IV demonstrates the crucial impact of the Coterie upon U.S. escalation in Southeast Asian conflicts as four of these senators equivocated over military engagement from 1954 to 1967. The fifth chapter describes the dissolution of the Coterie from 1967 to 1973 due largely to the turmoil created by the Vietnam War. ^