4. Telegram From the White House to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1
CAP 65331. For Ambassador Bruce from McGeorge Bundy. The following message has been passed to Derek Mitchell for the Prime Minister:
- The President is keenly interested in the Prime Minister's imaginative proposal for a mission of Prime Ministers,2 and has just asked me to make sure the Prime Minister has full information on the President's own thinking about Vietnam at this stage. It is obvious that it is of the highest importance for our two governments to mesh their decisions and statements with great care in order to get the full advantage of our respective actions.
- I think Bruce has already told you we cannot move up the proposed special bombing operation in South Vietnam without weakening the plans for a prompt follow-up on the ground. A postponement would be manageable, but does not seem to help the Prime Minister. Accordingly, we think it best to proceed on schedule, but we will quite understand if the Prime Minister thinks it wise to conduct his discussions with other Prime Ministers in such a way as to leave them in no doubt of his belief that the Americans are determined to make increasing use of appropriate conventional weapons against concentrations of Viet Cong armed forces. We will also make it clear that this operation and the London proposal are wholly separate and unrelated in their origins.
I think Ambassador Dean also knows in a general way of our thinking about additional ground force deployments. McNamara will today be explaining our existing decisions to enlarge our number of ground force battalions to 13, with supporting air and logistic strength such that the overall force strength in South Vietnam will be about 70,000. He will also explain that while no further decisions have been taken, we[Page 12]expect to do what is necessary in South Vietnam. Within the next week or so the President is likely to face decisions which may lead to further deployments which would bring total U.S. forces there to a level between 90 and 100,000. (This last figure is for the Prime Minister's private guidance only; it is obviously extraordinarily sensitive and could easily be changed upward or downward after further analysis here.)
These deployments again are in response to the overall increase in Viet Cong numbers and activity which has been developing over many months.
- It is also probable that as the monsoon season continues, General Westmoreland will find it necessary to use his discretionary authority to commit U.S. ground forces to supporting combat action. Such a commitment very nearly occurred in recent days in the area of Dong Xoai and might occur at any time from now onward.
- The President continues to reject the proposals which are urged by some in this country for radical extension of the bombing operations against North Vietnam. In particular, the operations are still carefully limited to military targets in which danger to civilians is minimized. The President has never believed that bombing would bring Hanoi to the conference table on the run. He believes rather that the real contest is in the south and the purpose of the bombing has been to interfere with supply and support from the north, and to give clear evidence to both sides in the south of American determination and strength. These limited objectives are being met and no unlimited objectives are being substituted for them.
- The President equally rejects the notion of withdrawal and abandonment. This is not a point which needs to be argued to the Prime Minister.
- A third course of action is simply to allow the increasing efforts of the Viet Cong in the south to go without effective reply. This course has also been rejected. The increased efforts which we will be making will, however, remain within the framework of our determination to support and assist the Vietnamese themselves.
- We have made repeated efforts to get this dangerous business into a conference room. The record of intransigence in Hanoi and Peking is clear, and our own judgment is that no different answer can be expected until after the monsoon fighting. Nevertheless, the President welcomes the readiness of the Prime Minister to make another try. The President fully agrees with the view of the Prime Minister and of Sir Robert Menzies that even if the mission fails in its immediate purpose, it should succeed in showing just where the responsibility lies.
- So far, I have spoken of the President's own thinking. Let me, in closing, report that I talked with Oliver Wright about the cease-fire question which was discussed between the Prime Minister and Bruce. I have [Page 13]not yet had a chance to discuss this with the President, but my guess is that he would strongly prefer to have any explicit discussion in this area start from here. The great difficulty about a cease-fire is that the U.S. can easily stop what it is doing by a single order and the results can be seen immediately. Terror and subversion and infiltration are not so easily monitored. We keep a continuing review of the possibility of actions and proposals in this field, however, and we fully understand the importance which might attach to this question in the light of other events scheduled for June.