234. Letter From Director of Central Intelligence McCone to President Johnson1
Dear Mr. President:
I remain concerned, as I have said before to you, Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara, over the limited scale of air action against North Vietnam which we envision for the next few months.
Specifically I feel that we must conduct our bombing attacks in a manner that will begin to hurt North Vietnam badly enough to cause the Hanoi regime to seek a political way out through negotiation rather than expose their economy to increasingly serious levels of destruction. By limiting our attacks to targets like bridges, military installations and lines of communication, in effect we signal to the Communists that our determination to win is significantly modified by our fear of widening the war.
In these circumstances the Communists are likely to feel they can afford to accept a considerable amount of bomb damage while they improve their air defenses and step up their insurgency in South Vietnam. If they take this line of action, in the next few months they can present us with an ever-increasing guerrilla war against the reinforced Viet Cong in terrain and circumstances favorable to the Communists.
If this situation develops and lasts several months or more, I feel world opinion will turn against us, Communist propaganda will become increasingly effective, and indeed domestic support of our policy may erode.
I therefore urge that as we deploy additional troops, which I believe necessary, we concurrently hit the north harder and inflict greater damage. In my opinion, we should strike their petroleum supplies, electric power installations, and air defense installations (including the SAM sites which are now being built). I do not think we have to fear taking on the MIG’s, which after all the ChiNats defeated in 1958 with F-86’s and Sidewinders.
I am not talking about bombing centers of population or killing innocent people, though there will of course be some casualties. I am proposing to “tighten the tourniquet” on North Vietnam so as to make the Communists pause to weigh the losses they are taking against their prospects for gains. We should make it hard for the Viet Cong to win in the [Page 522]south and simultaneously hard for Hanoi to endure our attacks in the north.
I believe this course of action holds out the greatest promise we can hope for in our effort to attain our ultimate objective of finding a political solution to the Vietnam problem. This view follows logically, it seems to me, from our National Intelligence Estimate of 18 February 1965,2 which concludes that the Hanoi regime would be more likely than not to make an effort to “secure a respite” by some political move when and if, but not before, a sustained U.S. program of air attacks is damaging important economic or military assets in North Vietnam.
I attach a copy of my memorandum of April 2nd, which may not have come to your attention, since it argues this case in a little more detail.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXII. Top Secret. The last paragraph of McCone’s letter indicates that it was sent to President Johnson sometime after April 2.↩
- Document 139.↩
- Also addressed to McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and Taylor, and also printed in Pentagon Papers: The New York Times Edition, pp. 440–441.↩
- Apparently a reference to Document 228.↩
- See Document 196.↩
- The 12-week program of air strikes against North Vietnam was described in Wheeler ’s memorandum JCSM–221–65 to McNamara, March 27. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 1265, Vietnam 381)↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.↩