Barack Obama’s travails in both domestic and foreign policy have led me to re-visit American presidential politics a little. It is a land strewn with ironies. Take the three Presidents of my childhood; JFK, LBJ and Nixon. Kennedy won against Nixon in 1960 by just two-tenths of one per cent of the popular vote (120,000 votes); 49.7% to 49.5%. There were serious allegations of voting abuses in Texas and Illinois. Though it is a matter of record that Kennedy intended to withdraw from Vietnam if he had been re-elected in 1964 (whether he would actually have done it was another matter), it was Kennedy who first got America deeply involved. Johnson won in his own right in 1964 with a massive landslide; 61% of the vote and a 15 million vote margin. Thereafter, he introduced a raft of ‘Great Society’ domestic legislation, from medicare to civil rights, famously losing the south to the Democrats for a generation. Notoriously, LBJ escalated American involvement in Vietnam. In effect, ‘tough’ foreign policy bought him the support to get his liberal domestic agenda through. Put more bluntly, the Vietnamese paid for American civil rights. It was not until 1973 that Richard Nixon was able to drag America out of Vietnam with some honour. In religious terms, an East Coast Catholic was followed by a man drawn from the Southern Baptist tradition who was, in turn, followed by a West Coast Quaker. That last piece of information is surely the most ironic of all. Nixon, the ‘warmongerer’ of my childhood memories, stated in his inaugural address that “the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker.” Looking, in retrospect, at his first term – China, Vietnam, détente, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty – he could lay some claim to that title. And there may be lessons for Obama in all of that history, for Nixon first escalated the war in Vietnam and surrounding countries before negotiating a ceasefire and effective American withdrawal.