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The Domino Theory

The domino theory — the idea that setbacks can accumulate quickly and catastrophically — is one of the most controversial ideas in U.S. foreign policy. It guided a half-century of statecraft during the Cold War, only to be rejected by many historians of that conflict

The domino theory became infamous thanks to the Vietnam War, which the U.S. fought in part to prevent the rest of Southeast Asia from falling. President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the phrase in 1954, in explaining why losing Indochina would be so disastrous

A principal reason President Harry Truman provided aid to Greece and Turkey in 1947 was fear that other parts of the Middle East and Europe would find it impossible to resist if these countries succumbed to Soviet pressure or communist subversion.

The U.S. war in Vietnam may have bought time for other parts of Southeast Asia, but the price, in human and strategic damage, was astronomical for America itself. 

Hal Brands is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, the Henry Kissinger Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Most recently, he is the co-author of "The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order."


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