107. Summary Record of the 526th Meeting of the National Security Council,1
The President opened the meeting with the Congressional Leaders by saying that his purpose was to bring them up to date on recent developments. Various Council members would report on current situations. He first called on Secretary Rusk for a summary of developments in Brazil.
[Here follow Rusk’s briefing on Brazil and subsequent discussion.]
The President then turned to a discussion of our policy toward Vietnam. He referred to his meeting with Ambassador Lodge2 in which he told the Ambassador that he was to carry out a unified policy. The President mentioned that he had made personnel changes in USIA and CIA which the Ambassador suggested. He said there were alternative policies for Vietnam but that the Administration had chosen one following a National Security Council discussion of Secretary McNamara’s report3 which he made upon his return from his fourth trip to Vietnam. The President said he wanted the Congressional Leaders to know the policy of the Administration. He was not asking those present to commit themselves on the policy. His purpose was to be certain that those present knew exactly what we are trying to do in Vietnam. He then called on Secretary McNamara.
Secretary McNamara apologized for the absence of General Taylor who he said was indisposed and obliged to remain at his quarters. He then described how the situation in Vietnam had grown worse, especially since last September. The Viet Cong controls 40% of the territory but a lesser percentage of the total population. The people of Vietnam were becoming apathetic toward the war. This had the effect in the military of increasing the desertion rate. Many fortified hamlets had been overrun or disbanded-some civil guards had turned in the weapons with which they were supposed to defend these hamlets. The security in many areas was less than it had been. The political structure in the hamlets and villages had almost disappeared. Frequent changes of hamlet leaders and village chieftains had produced a vacuum into which the Viet Cong had moved. The changes of local leaders caused by the changes of the central government in Saigon [Page 223] had contributed to local disorganization in village and provincial governmental life. In addition, the Viet Cong was receiving larger weapons primarily from Communist China.
Secretary McNamara then summarized the various policy alternatives for Vietnam:
- We could withdraw entirely and allow the area to be taken by the Communists.
- We could agree to a neutralization of the area which, in effect, would mean permitting it to fall into Communist hands.
- We could broaden the military campaign by taking the war to other areas, such as North Vietnam. This alternative we had seriously considered.
- We could make the present program of assistance more effective. This is the course we have chosen to follow.
Secretary McNamara then spelled out the military action categories which were contained in his report but which were not recommended to the President for approval. He said that General Khanh did not favor broadening the military action at present because he felt that first priority should be given to solving the problems of security in South Vietnam.
Secretary McNamara summarized the various parts of the current expanded program. He said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff supported the program adopted, but the Chiefs felt that to be successful in South Vietnam the war would have to be taken to North Vietnam. He said that the twelfth recommendation in the report called for preparations so that we would be in a position to broaden the war if the adopted program did not succeed in solidifying the situation in South Vietnam.
Senator Dirksen asked whether General Harkins were going to be retained in Saigon. Secretary McNamara said under normal procedures General Harkins will retire on July 31st. He had performed magnificently. It may be that he would be called back to Washington in the next few months prior to the date of his retirement. The President said that the best officer in the U.S. military forces for this assignment had been sent as General Harkins’ deputy in anticipation of his taking command. He said this officer is General Westmoreland.
Senator Saltonstall asked whether, under the new McNamara program, U.S. soldiers would be participating in the fighting or whether they remained as advisers to the South Vietnamese. Secretary McNamara replied that they would continue their present role of advising.
[Here follows discussion of Panama.]
Senator Morse said that the Panamanian agreement was a great agreement and he congratulated the President and the Secretary of State. He said, however, he felt obliged to say that he disagrees entirely [Page 224] with the program for South Vietnam. He said that the only way to solve the Vietnam problem was by using SEATO and the UN to achieve a peaceful settlement.
The President said that there was no effort to compromise Senator Morse’s position or involve him in the Administration plan for Vietnam. Senator Morse replied that he understood, however, that Premier Khanh had called him a traitor. President Johnson replied that “no one in this room has called you a traitor.”
Senator Dirksen said he wondered whether SEATO was viable. Senator Mansfield replied that in his view SEATO was a paper tiger, adding that the President’s policy toward Vietnam was the only one we could follow.
The President said we had recently attempted to find out what De Gaulle was trying to accomplish in Southeast Asia. On the basis of Ambassador Bohlen’s talk with De Gaulle we had learned that the French have no plan or program.4 The President concluded by saying that we have now adopted an expanded program for South Vietnam and we will push it as hard as we can.
Senator Dirksen asked whether the press reports coming out of Saigon were accurate. Secretary McNamara replied by saying that there were a host of wars going in Vietnam. Each dispatch is right but covers only one facet of the problem. Therefore, it is not an accurate description of the whole problem. We tried to get as full a picture of the situation as we could and traveled widely in the area. The picture we did get was quite different from that appearing in the press.
[Here follows discussion of Panama and Africa.]
Senator Humphrey stated that the President’s statement on Panama was excellent. He said our forbearance and patience had paid off. With respect to Vietnam, he asked what would be the extra cost of the new program. Secretary McNamara replied that this was very difficult to estimate but he doubted that it would exceed $50 million additional.
Senator Humphrey asked where we expect to get the Vietnamese to carry out the new program. Mr. Bell replied that numbers of Vietnamese were going back to Saigon from exile. In addition, the program called for greatly expanded training of Vietnamese civil administrators. He doubted that there was a problem of obtaining people to take the civil training courses.
The President, noting that Secretary Rusk had to leave the meeting to keep an earlier appointment, asked Under Secretary Ball to report on his recent activities.
[Here follows discussion of subjects unrelated to Vietnam.]