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


  • Vietnam

This memorandum is designed to help to clarify the issues that are likely to be before you at 10 A.M. Monday.2 As I see it, the problem of our next steps with respect to Vietnam falls into four parts:

Action in South Vietnam itself.
Action relating to Cambodia and Laos.
Action against North Vietnam.
Relations with France.

Following are my comments on each item.

1. Action in South Vietnam itself.

I think we have agreement all around on Item 1, which remains the most important of the lot. Bob McNamara assured me today that his twelve recommendations fully cover everything Lodge is asking for within South Vietnam, and then some. He further assures me that Lodge himself spoke of six crucial needs for action in Vietnam, and that all six are more than covered within his recommendations.

2. Action relating to Cambodia and Laos.

The McNamara report is so drafted as to leave you leeway in these two areas. It would authorize hot pursuit and ground operations over the Laotian line, but it is noncommittal about operations across the Cambodian border. McCone and Lodge would like to go further, especially with respect to Cambodia, and I find that Dean Rusk is also strongly inclined to move in this direction if the right combination of political and practical steps can be devised. I think there is room here for you to move in a direction which is at once useful to South Vietnam and effective as a response to the Ambassador’s own desires. We will not have final plans on this tomorrow morning, but I think the field is a productive one and that a good resolution can be found. I think it is particularly desirable that we should have Lodge work on the practical process of this matter with Khanh directly.

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3. Action against North Vietnam.

On this one we have agreement between McNamara and Khanh, at least for the present, that overt action against North Vietnam is undesirable. There is also agreement that the covert program should be intensified. As a practical matter, McNamara believes that this program will not amount to very much, and I agree with him, but I believe it essential that we authorize Lodge to strengthen it in any way that he can work out with Khanh. The one specific Lodge request which is still outstanding in this area is his proposal of late February that we warn the North Vietnamese of direct retaliation in response to any terrorist attack on Americans. McNamara tells me that the concern over the lives of Americans had been greatly reduced by the time of his visit last week, and that therefore this is not now a live issue. But at the end of the current deliberations, you will wish to go back to Lodge again.

4. Relations with France.

It is now agreed that Bohlen should go to work directly with General De Gaulle, as soon as possible after the General’s return from Mexico. This will not be for about another ten days. The Department will be drafting a detailed instruction to Bohlen this week, and Dean Rusk’s current intent is to let Ambassador Lodge and Ambassador Bohlen both comment on this instruction before it is made final. This seems to us the best we can do to keep all parties in line.

There are other questions which need to be discussed tomorrow morning, like the shape of the White House statement to follow the more formal meeting on Tuesday. For internal Pentagon reasons, McNamara is very eager to put out a substantial account of the current situation in terms which are acceptable to his military colleagues. I myself doubt that this should be done at the White House level, and we will have alternative statements for your consideration in the morning.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security Files, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. II. Secret.
  2. From 10:12 to approximately 11:15 a.m. on March 16, the President met with McNamara, Ball, Taylor, and McGeorge Bundy in an informal meeting to discuss the McNamara report. No record of the meeting has been found. For the approved report, see Document 84.