342. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President1
- Courses of action for South Vietnam
The attached memorandum (Tab A) records briefly the consensus which has been worked out with Max Taylor in recent days.2 This course of action is the best we can design for the central purpose of thickening the thin fabric of the Khanh government in the next two [Page 747]months. Everyone regards this as the first priority task, and the American actions are all framed with this as their primary purpose. Our consensus now runs against any plan to force substantial escalation before October, at the earliest. My own guess is that unless there is a very marked change in Saigon, we will still be cautious a month from now, although Bob McNamara is a little more aggressive than the rest of us.
This paper does not discuss long-range actions, but you should know that in the longer perspective nearly all of us are agreed that substantially increased pressure against North Vietnam will be necessary if we are not to face the prospect of a gradual but increasingly inevitable break-up of our side in South Vietnam.
I also attach at Tab B a Special National Intelligence Estimate which was approved today.3
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XVII, Memos. Secret. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 561–562, and Pentagon Papers: New York Times Edition, pp. 357–359.↩
- The meetings took place September 7 at noon and September 8 at 11:05 a.m. Rusk, McNamara, McGeorge and William Bundy, Manning, Taylor, and Wheeler attended both, while McCone was present at the second. Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) The first meeting is described in United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967, Book IV, pp. 25–27; and Taylor summarized both meetings briefly in Swords and Plowshares, pp. 320–321. In his diary, Taylor also notes that there was general agreement on the recommendations in telegram 768 ( Document 339), but “there was a rather sharp debate over the timeliness of provoking North Vietnamese action.” (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T–272–69)↩
- Document 341.↩
Secret. Drafted by William Bundy. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 561–562. For an earlier draft, also dated September 8, see ibid., pp. 560–561. In anticipation of Taylor’s return and in response to the deteriorating situation in Saigon, McNaughton and William Bundy had begun drafting papers on Vietnam on September 2. McNaughton’s first and second drafts, dated September 2 and 3, of a seven-point “Plan of Action for South Vietnam” are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XVII, Memos. The second draft is also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 556–559.
Bundy’s paper, “Possible Courses of Action for South Viet-Nam,” initially drafted on September 3 and revised on September 5, was similar to McNaughton’s but had only five sections: Analysis of the Present Situation, Actions To Be Taken in Any Event, Major Additional Action We Might Consider Within South Viet-Nam, Major Additional Courses of Action Outside South Viet-Nam, and Summary and Conclusions. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XVII, Memos) Both papers were pessimistic about the situation in Vietnam and presented a range of possible U.S. actions to improve it. The text printed here represents the consolidation and revision of the Bundy and McNaughton drafts in light of the discussions on September 7 and 8.↩