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

1.
I have now personally reviewed your cables 1754 through 17572 and have considered them with Secretaries of State and Defense. [Page 168]I am delighted to find that we have a very high measure of agreement.
2.
Your comments on various sections of McNamara report3 make good sense to all of us, and report has been revised to meet most of your points. Revised version as approved today in National Security Council follows by air.
3.
We have also shortened and amended the White House statement4 to reconcile it with your comments. Different people seem to view the past differently, but there is no point in letting such differences worry us as we go forward.
4.
Specifically with respect to the comments in your 1757 your whole-hearted support of first eleven recommendations covers our most important efforts which are still in South Vietnam. On your additional comments, I have reached the following conclusions:
(1)

I think additional actions against Laos and Cambodia should be intensively examined. We have agreed that cross-border ground penetrations should be initiated into Laos along any lines which can be worked out by Khanh and Phoumi with Souvanna’s endorsement, and I will authorize low-level reconnaissance there wherever the present high-level flights indicate that such reconnaissance may be needed.

The questions of further U.S. participation and of air and ground strikes against Laos raise tough diplomatic issues and I have asked Rusk and McNamara to concert a further recommendation. My first thought is that it is important to seek support from Souvanna Phouma and to build a stronger case before we take action which might have only limited military effect and could trigger wider Communist action in Laos.

On Cambodia we find ourselves hard put to keep abreast of the rapid changes Sihanouk introduces into the scene.5 Our impression is that bilateral GVN-RKG talks may now be in progress and State has [Page 169]sent you some thoughts on those prospects.6 However, in the event of further deterioration, I would expect to authorize hot pursuit.

On overt high- or low-level reconnaissance over North Vietnam, we are not ready to make a decision now. I have asked that political and diplomatic preparations be made to lay a basis for such reconnaissance if it seems necessary or desirable after a few weeks, for military or political reasons, or both.

(2)

As I read your comments on John McCone’s points, the main items are those discussed above on Laos and Cambodia. We agree that Mekong traffic is a trump card, and State has already sent you a message on this question.7

We agree that large-scale Chinese Nationalist incursion would be a mistake, but high quality advisers are different matter and we will send further thoughts on that.

(3)
I have ordered a review of your paper of October 30.8 My own inclination is to favor such pressures, short of overt military action.
(4)
Like you, I reserve judgment on such overt U.S. measures against North Vietnam. Question of direct retaliation for attacks on Americans is more complex. As I understand it from McNamara mission, these attacks are not an immediate present threat, but you are authorized to prepare contingency recommendation for specific tit-for-tat actions in the event attacks on Americans are renewed.

Your cable does not mention it, but Bob McNamara has reported your concern about the effectiveness of our representations to the French. I have discussed this matter with Bohlen and we now plan that he will raise these matters with General De Gaulle personally when latter returns from Caribbean. Department is drafting instructions and will circulate them for your comment before they are final.9 Meanwhile we may wish to consider whether at some point it would be fruitful for you to go to Paris yourself to explain the realities of the situation to the General. In the light of your wartime connection with France, this possibility seems to me to have real merit.10

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted in the White House and approved by Rusk. Transmitted as telegram 1454 to Saigon, which is the source text.
  2. In these telegrams from Saigon, March 15, Lodge commented on the March 13 draft of the McNamara report. Lodge thought that the situation in South Vietnam had been growing worse since May, not September, 1963. He took exception to the view that U.S. officials in Vietnam were any more “frustrated” than was normal “in the tropics dealing with orientals,” and noted that CIA “old hands” reported some improvement in the lower Delta. Lodge thought that most former province chiefs were incompetent, did not consider the jailed Generals a threat to Khanh’s control of the army, and blamed the poor showing of South Vietnam in reacting to the Viet Cong’s challenge on the Diem government’s policies and legacy. As for McCone’s views, Lodge doubted that a meeting between Sihanouk and Khanh would accomplish much, and he considered stopping traffic on the Mekong bound for Cambodia and hot pursuit of Viet Cong into Cambodia as justifiable because Cambodia was no longer a “bona fide neutral.” Lodge opposed the idea of Chinese Nationalist troops in Vietnam, although he thought they and the South Koreans might serve as advisers. He opposed recommendation 12 of the McNamara report, recommended his idea of a “diplomatic carrot-and-stick approach backed by covert military means” in dealing with North Vietnam, and reserved judgment on overt U.S. military action against the North. (All ibid., POL 27 VIET S, except telegram 1756 which is POL 32 CAMBODIA–VIET S)
  3. Supra.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 86.
  5. Sihanouk rejected a proposal for a quadripartite conference on Cambodia, rejected bilateral talks with South Vietnam on frontier differences, and sent a mission to Hanoi to discuss South Vietnamese border matters.
  6. Apparent reference to telegram 1452 to Saigon, March 17. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 8 CAMB)
  7. Not further identified.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. V, pp. 656–659.
  9. See footnote 3, Document 92.
  10. Telegram 1454 does not bear President Johnson’s signature.