322. Memorandum for the Record of Discussion at the Daily White House Staff Meeting1
- Mr. Bundy presided throughout the meeting.
- Honolulu. Mr. Bundy opened the meeting, commenting that he was very impressed with the idea of traveling by jet to distant places and holding a conference.2 The fact that he was able to get a good night's sleep before arriving in Honolulu and that the whole trip was so effortless and comfortable made a deep impression on him.
Bundy commented that his overall impressions of the conference itself were diffuse, and that this was probably significant. He then went on to make a few specific points. There is no country team in Vietnam at the present time in any real sense. It is clear that Harkins feels he does not have the Ambassador's confidence, and this is affecting US operations in the country. Lodge is clearly the dominant personality, but it is not at all evident that he can handle the job he is now faced with. He is a strong-willed close operator who keeps only his personal staff involved. This was just the type needed during his first months in Saigon when he was supposed to create a posture which would indicate to any would-be revolutionist that the US would not automatically side with Diem.
Now, however, what is needed is a good manager, who can develop a team to do a very complex job. Lodge apparently has neither the inclination for nor the interest in this type of management task. In short, the course the US country team will chart in Vietnam is by no means decided upon. As for the military side Bundy made a passing reference to General Harkins' somewhat shaky performance, and then passed on to say that it was undoubtedly difficult for him to operate under Lodge, particularly after Nolting from whom there was normally complete backing. Now Lodge represents an independent source of power that can not be relied upon to move always in the direction General Harkins might wish.
As to the meetings, Bundy said that briefings of McNamara tend to be sessions where people try to fool him, and he tries to convince them they cannot. As for the military reporting, someone told Bundy that for the first time it was realistic about the situation in the Delta. It was uncertain whether the change resulted from the fact that US military now believed they could criticize the Vietnam war effort without fear of criticizing the government itself, or whether it was something more fundamental.[Page 626]
Bundy was impressed with the argument by an AID man that fertilizer could be a big help in winning the war in the Delta. He said that everyone recognized that the strategic hamlets, even though associated with Nhu, had to remain the center of the war effort.
Turning to the regime itself Bundy said it was too early to see what course it would follow, but it was clear that the coalition of generals might not last. The regime was concentrating on continuing the war and, more important, seems determined to focus on the war in the Delta, thus hitting at the Viet Cong resource base.
[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Vietnam.]