114. Draft Scenario Prepared in the Department of Defense1


Most Important: Change objectives from do-what-it-takes-to-make-the-North-stop-it to do-what-it-takes-to-force-a-GVN/VC-compromise.
Recognize that we are on a losing wicket in Vietnam. While the military situation is not going badly, the political situation is in “terminal sickness” and even the military prognosis is of an escalating stalemate.
Make private Presidential decision to seize upon the I Corps troubles as the vehicle for disengagement by the United States. Success will require secrecy and completely loyal execution. (Query how to bring Lodge on board and how to deal with Congressional leaders.)
Choose between two approaches: (a) Fast (“fed up”) withdrawal, and (b) slow (“patch up but squeeze the GVN”) approach. The former [Page 328] would be wise only if GVN left-footedness or anti-Americanism becomes extreme.2
While a new Saigon government is being formed (now), deliver a US “ultimatum” to all interested parties (including Buddhists) that they must shape up or we will ship out. We could either (a) insist now that they compromise with the VC or (b) assume that they will be be able to shape up, so that compromise with the VC would come later.
Ensure that US civilian and military personnel in Vietnam can be protected.
Initiate an effort to re-educate US and world opinion:
That our commitment is to support a representative government and a people who help themselves (and that the GVN has now shown itself not to be representative and that the people of South Vietnam have demonstrated that they will not help themselves).
That the South Vietnamese case is unique—unlike the case of our other “clients” (giving the reasons in detail).
That we have more than delivered the goods in blood and treasure in Vietnam—enough to honor our guarantee and enough to cause any aggressor to pause lest an equivalent amount be delivered against him in another case.
Consult with key allies—ROKs, Australians, New Zealanders, Japanese, etc.
Continue US aid and deployments to and actions in “cooperative” areas and continue strikes against North Vietnam and Laos if and only if solid efforts are being made toward working out a compromise with the VC. (Of course, if we were surprised by the appearance of a Magsaysay, we could change our strategy.) If no such efforts toward compromise are made, stop new deployments, move into a unilateral US ceasefire, and withdraw into enclaves preparatory to departure from Vietnam.
Press for an international conference, moves in the UN and an election.
Be prepared for serious deterioration in Vietnam, shock in Asia, damage to our influence throughout the world, gloating by the Communists, and political back-lash at home.
Take initiatives in Asia and elsewhere to offset and diffuse the issue.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Vietnam Files: FRC 77–0075, Vietnam, 1966. Top Secret; Sensitive. Presumably drafted in OASD/ISA. The source text is stamped: “Sec Def has seen, 9 Apr 1966.” Attached to the source text is a 14-page draft paper, “Some Thoughts About Vietnam,” dated April 4. Referring to the paper printed here as “a possible scenario,” the paper concludes: “All factors taken into account, we should seriously consider seizing the opportunity offered by the I Corps crisis to change our policy with respect to Vietnam and to disengage from the war there.”
  2. At their meeting on April 15, the Joint Chiefs of Staff took note of a report, JCS 2343/805–1, April 14, “Assessment of Political Unrest in SVN As It Affects US Military Efforts,” which concluded: “The United States should continue to prosecute the war in Vietnam as long as requested by the South Vietnam Government and confront the prospect that a regime could come to power which would seek to end the war and request the withdrawal of US forces. The United States should plan accordingly.” The Chiefs then agreed to direct the Joint Staff to draw up terms of reference for a study on how to withdraw U.S. forces from Vietnam, if required. (Note by the Secretaries, April 20, and attached report; Department of Defense, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 9155.3. (30 Mar 66) IR 6091)