But it took political craft to accomplish his goal. He quietly drew up a plan for withdrawal and then sent his two top military advisors Maxwell Taylor and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on a fact finding tour to publicly confirm that a massive escalation in American troops would be a resounding failure. The South Vietnamese government was corrupt and unpopular, the resistance was well armed, fiercely ideological and battle tested after years of war against the French. The US would have to permanently garrison tens of thousands of troops, at a cost of billions, risk large scale casualties with little hope of victory.
Kennedy did not live long enough to thwart the generals. They got their war. It dragged on for years, cost thousands of American lives, killed and maimed thousands of civilians, reinforced the image of America as a global bully, created massive political chaos at home, and jaded a generation of young persons who now saw the US policy makers as liars and deceivers.
Obama knows this tragic history. He has read many of the books on the Vietnam catastrophe, which tell how the war ripped apart a nation, and totally discredited the once highly popular and promising presidency of LBJ. He's heard from the experts and seen all the polls that show the war is unpopular.
For a brief moment in September it appeared that Obama's dither on Afghan troop escalation might be a JFK moment. The right elements were in place to turn his dither into a no to the generals on escalation. Polls showed that Americans were opposed to escalation. The overwhelming majority of Democrats openly voiced opposition to war funding increases and escalation. A number of military and foreign policy experts said the war was unwinnable and told him why. With public worry and unease rising over the economy, and an unfinished health care reform battle, escalation seemed even more absurd.