397. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1
979. Literally eyes only Ambassador from Secretary. I want to assure you that reactions reported our longer telegram2 reflect most careful possible weighing your arguments for immediate retaliation. In this one case we are inevitably affected by election timing. Quick retaliation could easily be attacked as election device here, and this would play back to Hanoi and greatly weaken intended signal. More basically, we believe such action would in practice commit us to some form of tit-for-tat policy that could only be effective if leading rapidly to more systematic campaign of military pressures on north with all implications we have always seen in this course of action. Such a decision is not one to be lightly taken nor is it wise or perhaps even proper for administration to take it in closing two days of campaign while awaiting firm mandate from people.
I want to leave you in no doubt that highest levels feel we are reaching point where policy hardening must be acutely considered. We had been pointing to your return about mid-November to look at whole problem and possible decisions, and this attack may accelerate timing particularly if there should be additional VC moves. At same [Page 879] time, desirability of getting GVN fully appointed and firmly established continues to point to original schedule. We will need to keep in close touch on this and will welcome your views at any time.