From the Publisher: “In the decade preceding the first U.S. combat operations in Vietnam, the Eisenhower administration sought to defeat a communist-led insurgency in the neighboring kingdom of 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 cold war skirmish into a confrontation between superpowers near the end of Eisenhower’s second term. The decisions made in Washington and their execution in Laos were significant initial missteps on the U.S. road to war in Southeast Asia.”

Missing far too long from the ranks of Southeast Asia observers, William J. Rust in his new book 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 filled it ably. Before the Quagmire provides a fascinating look, in intimate terms, at the path of U.S. policy toward the “Land of a Million Elephants.”

John Prados, author of Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War and Director of the Vietnam Project, National Security Archive

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 Edward J. Buthusiem Distinguished Faculty Fellow in History and Marvin Wachman director of Temple's Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy

Journalist and historian Rust...makes a major contribution to the literature on America’s Southeast Asian involvement with this comprehensively researched, well-written study.

Publisher's Weekly, April 16, 2012

Although the conflicts in Vietnam and Laos were tightly linked, the story of American involvement in the latter is far less well known. Even at the time, it did not attract the attention of the journalists and commentators who made their way to Vietnam. For that reason, Rust’s first-rate account focuses mainly on policymakers.

Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at King’s College London and

author of Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, in Foreign Affairs,

September/October 2012

An interesting study…of chaos in Laos.

Rolf Steininger, professor emeritus, head of the Institute of Contemporary History at the University of Innsbruck from 1984 through 2010, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 10, 2012

An excellent account of the first major US involvement in Southeast Asia…Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.

Justice D. Doenecke, professor emeritus of history at New College of Florida, Choice, November 2012

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.

The VVA Veteran, the magazine of the Vietnam Veterans of America,

November/December 2012

An exceptionally thorough, very deeply researched, and well-written account of American policy towards Laos during the Eisenhower presidency…In sum, 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.

Kenton Clymer, Distinguished Research Professor, Northern Illinois University, 

Journal of American History, March 2013

Rust’s eye for human character—its frailties, limitations, and mysteries—adds depth and sophistication to this compelling study of the people who implement abstract geopolitical strategic policy on the ground. His lucid, energetic, and fair-minded book is a useful contribution to our understanding of American efforts in Southeast Asia during this pivotal period.

Richard A. Ruth, associate professor of history at the US Naval Academy, Proceedings, March 2013

An especially welcome addition to the literature on American policy towards Southeast Asia during the Cold War… Rust’s book is an incredibly valuable contribution to our understanding of American involvement in Southeast Asia.

Jessica M. Chapman, Williams College, and author of Cauldron of Resistance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and 1950s Southern Vietnam, H-Diplo Roundtable, June 3, 2013

Timely and instructive…Unearthing a treasure trove of government cables, communiqués, messages, and recorded conversations, Rust lends considerable space to the competing policy prescriptions of the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA during the final two years of the Eisenhower administration.

Warren Wilkins, author of Grab Their Belts to Fight Them: The Viet Cong’s Big-Unit War Against the U.S., 1965-1966, in the October 2013 issue of Vietnam magazine

Association of Former Intelligence Officers Tweet

July 22, 2012

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.

Walter E. Kretchik, associate professor of history at Western Illinois University, The Historian, March 2014

Throughout this richly researched narrative are short, insightful character sketches and assessments of key figures, both American and Laotian, which aptly bring a human element to this tragic foreign policy story. Before the Quagmire should interest not only readers of the Cold War and Vietnam War eras, but also provides key insights to students of the development of American foreign policy.

Col. John M. Sullivan Jr., USMC (Retired), Military Review, July–August 2014