335. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President1

Welcome back!2

Our only really serious international problem is South Vietnam, but that could hardly be more serious. The immediate situation is that we just do not know whether Khanh still has it in him to resume full control. Taylor and Johnson saw him today3 and urged him once more to do so, and he indicated that he probably would go back to Saigon later this week and see what he could do. We here all agree that we ought to stay with him solidly, so that if he falls it will in no sense be our doing. A draft letter of encouragement from you to him is being considered by Max Taylor overnight,4 and we should have his advice on whether to use it in the morning. Meanwhile, Taylor’s return home has been rescheduled tentatively for September 7, and if things have not improved by then, our current inclination is to have Alexis Johnson come instead and keep Max on the job out there.

The larger question is whether there is any course of action that can improve the chances in this weakening situation. A number of contingency plans for limited escalation are in preparation. They involve three kinds of activities—naval harassments, air interdiction in the Laos panhandle, and possible U.S. fleet movements resuming a presence on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin. The object of any of these would be more to heighten morale and to show our strength of purpose than to accomplish anything very specific in a military sense—unless and until we move toward a naval quarantine.

One other possibility which we are discussing is the increase of a U.S. military presence in South Vietnam, perhaps by a naval base, or perhaps by landing a limited number of Marines to guard specific installations. Bob McNamara is very strongly against the latter course, for reasons that are not clear to me, and you may wish to question him on it if we have a luncheon meeting tomorrow.

A still more drastic possibility which no one is discussing is the use of substantial U.S. armed forces in operations against the Viet Cong. I myself believe that before we let this country go we should have a hard look at this grim alternative, and I do not at all think that [Page 724] it is a repetition of Korea. It seems to me at least possible that a couple of brigade-size units put in to do specific jobs about six weeks from now might be good medicine everywhere.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Aides File, McGeorge Bundy, Memos to the President. Secret. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1979, 107C.
  2. The President had been in Texas to celebrate his 56th birthday.
  3. See Document 333.
  4. See Document 334.