181. Message From the President to the Ambassador in Vietnam (Lodge)1

I have been giving the most intense consideration to the whole battle for Southeast Asia, and I have now instructed Dean Rusk, Bob McNamara, Max Taylor, and John McCone to join Felt in Honolulu for a meeting with you and a very small group of your most senior associates in Southeast Asia to review for my final approval a series of plans for effective action.

I am sending you this message at once to give you private advance notice because I hope this meeting can occur very soon-perhaps on Monday.2 Dean Rusk will be sending tomorrow a separate cable on the subjects proposed for the meeting,3 and Bob McNamara will put a plane at your disposal for the trip.

In the light of my message to General Harkins asking him to return on June 244 and in the light of the undesirability of having our two senior military officers away from Saigon at the same time, I suggest that you bring General Westmoreland to this meeting and leave General Harkins in charge of the war.

Finally, I have received from Forrestal a direct account of your belief that there is need for change and improvement in the civilian side of the country team.5 We have reached a similar conclusion here, and indeed we believe that it is essential for you to have a top-ranking officer who is wholly acceptable to you as chief of staff for country team operations. My own impression is that this should be either a newly appointed civilian of wide governmental experience and high standing, or General Westmoreland himself, and I am asking Rusk and McNamara to discuss this problem with you privately and in detail. [Page 394] You can be sure that we will leave no step untaken to insure effective support for your over-all command.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Eyes Only. Drafted by McGeorge Bundy and initialed and approved by Rusk. Transmitted as telegram 2087 to Saigon, which is the source text.
  2. June 1.
  3. In telegram 2095 to Saigon, May 27. (Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 ASIA SE)
  4. Not found.
  5. Document 178.
  6. Telegram 2087 does not bear President Johnson’s signature.