155. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Komer) to President Johnson1

Hereʼs my think-piece on where to go from here on the civil side. Itʼs long but every word counts, so I hope youʼll plow through it.

Iʼve shown it only to Bob McNamara (since itʼs his ox I want to gore, I thought this only fair). He said to tell you he “strongly supports” it, which made me feel Iʼm on the track.

The key point is that neither Porter in Saigon nor the civilian agencies are thinking boldly enough or pushing hard enough to galvanize the civil side. Porter needs a pep talk (McNamara and I will give him one too) and to be told that itʼs his job to take hold and run the civil side (not just understudy Lodge).

Weʼve laid on the first meeting with Porter for 11 a.m. Thursday2 (followed by impromptu press conference), then later perhaps the Congressional briefing you had in mind (by Monday I hope we could crow about devaluation). Is the attached war plan generally in accord with your views?



R.W. Komer


Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Komer) to President Johnson

Before you talk with Porter,4 here are the ideas which I am slowly maturing as I grab hold on Vietnam.

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The civil side—our “other war”—is even more central than I had realized. Indeed it may be the critical determinant of success or failure in Vietnam. Our military buildup has already reversed the trend toward defeat. As it continues, we can seize the initiative even more and outmatch any increase in Hanoiʼs infiltration. We can also selectively increase our direct pressure on Hanoi. But I doubt that we can definitively contain the guerrilla threat primarily by military means. We can chase the VC and PAVN around the countryside, maul them when we catch them, and weaken their resolve. Yet without a major pacification effort to secure the countryside and give Vietnamʼs war-weary people a sense of hope as well as security, this military process could be well nigh endless—and infinitely more costly.

We also have to cope with a likely prolongation of the political turmoil of the last few months. The Buddhist extremists may have been balked for the moment, but we are committed to a democratic process which—necessary as it is—will create perhaps as much instability in the short run as it offers hope in the longer run.

This leaves the pacification-social reform side of the equation. I suspect that only through an effort in this field, more fully complementary to our military effort can we achieve success.


The Problem of Scale. So far I havenʼt said anything new. You and your advisors signed on to the above in Honolulu. What may be new, however, is my growing conviction that we are not thinking big enough, or moving fast enough, on the civil side to complement our military effort adequately—or achieve reasonably quick results.

Some crude comparisons of scale are instructive. We are spending perhaps $15–18 billion on the military side and only $700–800 million on the civil side. Weʼve deployed about 300,000 troops compared to about 3,000 civilians. The ARVN contribution is about 700,000 (plus around 80,000 Vietnamese working for defense construction, etc.) while the GVN civil servants, police, cadre, etc. number on the order of 250,000. Of course, such gross comparisons are misleading—but they illustrate the basic point.

Moreover, Porter and I have so far concentrated (and I think rightly so) on essential measures to prevent disaster, and to provide basic building blocks for a future civil effort:

Coping with inflation, created largely by our own buildup, was Problem No. 1, because left unchecked it could undermine the country. With luck, weʼre on the verge of real success:—(1) if Ky goes through with devaluation, it will be a major step; (2) if DOD actually limits the local impact of our buildup to end-FY 1966 levels, weʼll at least prevent a whole new inflationary thrust—though weʼll still have the existing one; (3) a variety of steps—including military takeover of Saigon port—[Page 421]should reduce port and inland distribution bottlenecks so that we can keep supply more in phase with demand.
We are also reforming and streamlining the aid program to reduce corruption, increase efficiency, and meet growing Hill and press criticism.
We have underway a doubling of RD cadre output—the most promising rural pacification device—and are energizing the new Ministry of Revolutionary Development (clearly the best outfit in an otherwise feeble GVN).


Need for an Expanded Effort. But the above is far from enough. Weʼve prevented economic collapse, and this in itself is good. But we arenʼt going anywhere fast. If we continue along present lines, and at the present pace, it may be years before we generate a major positive impact So weʼve got to think bigger on the civil side:

Even at the accelerated rate, the cadre and RD program will take years to blanket the countryside. It lags far behind in ability to secure and hold what US and ARVN forces can initially clear. The police program is also too small and unambitious for its internal security mission.
As Orville Freeman will attest, itʼs incredible that in 11 years in a rural country, even during wartime, weʼve accomplished so little in agriculture.

Our overall economic aid program is not big enough—or good enough—to permit more than slow progress. It will only suffice to feed the people, help contain inflation, keep such little industry as exists going, prevent epidemics, slowly expand basic education. Nonetheless, AID is programming little more for FY 1967 than for FY 1966. Nor could AID, as presently organized, spend much more efficiently. It was never set up to run massive logistic, relief, and rural construction programs in a war-torn country with little infrastructure left, and to do so through a feeble “government” which works fitfully at best. AID has on board only 2,900 plus of the 3,900 US and local employees called for, and at the present rate of recruiting wonʼt reach strength for another year or two. Nor is 3,900 probably enough.

In sum, while weʼve accomplished a good deal since Honolulu, especially in containing inflation, the rest of civil side is still barely off the ground, and not going anywhere fast.

My Solution. I donʼt want to argue for grand schemes which canʼt realistically be achieved in the short term. But a substantial gearing up of civil programs is (a) essential; (b) can be achieved fairly quickly by such measures as temporary turnover to our more efficient military of functions AID just canʼt do as well; and (c) would pay greater return per dollar and man invested than almost any other US investment in Vietnam:
Administrative Steps. There is still too much “business as usual” on the civil side, both in Washington and the field. This will take time to correct; the lead time needed for most “civilian” enterprises seems to be [Page 422] two or three times longer than it would take our military to do the job. So if we want quick results, there is no substitute for borrowing from DOD. Iʼm fortified in this by a strong suspicion that borrowing say two percent of its Vietnam assets (less than one percent of its manpower) could give us a much higher percentage of improvement on the civil side. And this would be in the militaryʼs own interest as well as the nationʼs.
So my first proposal is to turn over more civil logistics functions to the military. AID is simply not geared up to the unfamiliar task of providing at least half the needs of a civil economy in wartime. Unlike its operations in other countries (where it works through a halfway decent local government and infrastructure) AID has to do just about everything in Vietnam—from managing the whole import program, scheduling ships, improving port facilities, and clearing goods to distributing them in-country. AID has sought to go about this by setting up a roughly parallel logistics organization to that of our military. But the lead time needed is great and AID is understandably less efficient. Hence my solution is for our military to provide temporarily as many logistic services as it can do more efficiently by simple extension of its existing machinery, e.g. take over scheduling of AID shipping, Saigon port, the bulk of in-country transport, medical supply, etc. Otherwise we just wonʼt get the job done soon enough. Then, when AID has shaken down it can plan in orderly fashion to take over again later.
Strengthen Porterʼs mandate. Though you put Porter in charge of Vietnam civil programs, he is still kept far too busy running the Embassy to devote more than part-time to it (Lodge confines himself mainly to high policy). Porter must be freed to do the civil job—more than enough for any one man—and get others to run the Embassy. Porter also needs a good chief of staff and more staff of his own, as heʼs now coming to realize. At present he has only a part-time Colonel from MACV; its contribution needs to be upgraded.
We need better coordination of the civil and military efforts. We are still running two wars, even though the military makes a major contribution to the civil side. I may be wrong, but I sense that Westy may be devoted too much to search and destroy, and not enough to slower moving clear-and-hold operations, to preventing the siphoning off of civil resources to the VC, and to helping the pacification effort. Rice control is a good example. The Delta delivered 700,000 tons of rice to the cities in 1963. This year we expect to get only 260,000 tons. We ʼre meeting this shocking deficit by importing PL 480 rice—and maybe this is right. But Porter and Westy ought to be working harder on control of this key resource—for example by pressuring General Quang in IV Crops. At present the Vietnamese economy is feeding the VC and Cambodia, while we feed the cities.
Gearing up the Civil Side. Once we relieve AID of matters it canʼt handle efficiently, we can get it focussed better on the problems which only it can manage. Here are the actions I think needed—not AIDʼs alone—for the purpose:
Expansion of RD Ministry Operations. This most promising of the GVN ministries needs more US support. There are complaints of shortages of men, cement, and concertina wire from the provinces. Letʼs ship in more. Letʼs start planning now for CY 1967—civil agencies rarely plan ahead. And we must help the GVN strengthen its village and hamlet administration.
Further Expansion of Cadre and Police. We have planning exercises underway at least, but they will entail an argument over civil vs. military use of manpower. My proposal is to have the argument now, in the shape of discussion of a manpower budget, which will provide a framework for more rational US/GVN manpower use (and hopefully more manpower for the civil side).
Expand the US civil advisory role at district level. We donʼt really know enough about whatʼs happening at the cutting edge down in the village or even district. Instead weʼre dependent on what the Vietnamese tell us (which is notoriously unreliable). MACV is the only US agency with advisors below the province (roughly two captains and three sergeants at district headquarters). Of course, these MACV advisors spend much of their time on pacification matters. But this is not their primary function. So if we want to expand operations in the critical countryside, and monitor effectively what is done there, we need people with primary civil side duties at district too. But we canʼt recruit civilians fast enough for even the province level vacancies as yet. Once again my solution is quick and dirty—borrow temporarily from MACV three bright young captains and sergeants to work primarily to pacification in each of the 200 odd districts where our people can now function. This adds up to only about 600, who could be kept in uniform and supported logistically by MACV just like the other district advisors. Operationally, however, theyʼd be under Porterʼs direction. Iʼd experiment first with say 10 districts right now—and then the 26 districts in the National Priority Areas.
Porter should also be given clear and unequivocal authority over civilian agency operations in the regions and provinces. At present he shares this fuzzily with USIA, AID, and CIA. We need a unified chain of command on the civil side, reaching from Porterʼs office down to the districts. He should have—and assert—unequivocal control over all USG officials, from whatever agency, assigned to pacification operations. I would also favor strengthening his organization by giving to each of his Provincial Representatives a fund of up to $10,000 annually in piasters to be spent, subject to Porterʼs approval, on small-scale projects of high political [Page 424] impact where speed and flexibility are crucial for effectiveness (such a plan worked well in African countries where rural problems are similar).
Step up our agricultural effort. Freemanʼs program may contain too much now, but AIDʼs has too little for the peasant in this agricultural country. The program needs better direction, agricultural experts at provincial and district levels, a systematic effort to develop a local seed industry, expanded fertilizer distribution, and a stepped-up animal husbandry effort. Both Freeman and Gardener have also urged a broad-scale approach to irrigation, drainage, flood control, and rural water supply systems. We should at least make a beginning, though local security is a prerequisite.
Forestry. We are exporting lumber, which is in tight US supply, to Vietnam at exorbitant prices while forest reserves there are untapped and saw mills are operating at 40% capacity. Help to this industry is in Vietnamʼs interest and our own. Local security is the hooker, so letʼs get Westy in the act.
Defector Programs (Chieu Hoi) have had a tremendous pay-off for a peanut US contribution ($ 700,000 this year). The program is now deteriorating instead of building up. It needs new direction, and better backing than AID is now giving it. Here again Iʼd borrow some MACV bodies.
Reaching the very young VC. You urged at Honolulu that a psy-ops plan be developed to reach the VC age group in the 9 to 15 year old bracket. Little has been done to counter the long VC lead with this group. Iʼd like to get a small group of real experts onto this.
Resource Control and Economic Warfare. Weʼre not doing enough of either, largely because it falls between stools (CIA, MACV, AID). Surely we ought to be able to outbid Cambodia for rice. Keeping rice and aid commodities from being diverted to the VC ought to have a substantial pay-off at relatively modest cost. More Mission, MACV, and AID support and enthusiasm is the key.

Doing the Above will take More Money as well as More Bodies. Once again, the way to get an immediate add-on is from a man whoʼll take decisions—Bob McNamara. AID is thinking only in terms of $650–700 million for Vietnam in FY 1967 (including about $100 million in PL 480), at most $50 million more than the $640 million programmed for FY 1966. But we are already considering $63–116 million more in add-ons, plus considerable dollar purchase of piasters. While I canʼt quantify yet all the further proposals Iʼve made above, Iʼm thinking for forward planning purposes in terms of at least $200 million more in FY 1967 than FY 1966.

One way to get the money is a supplemental—if DOD goes for one in January, we could tack AID on. If DOD doesnʼt, however, Iʼd be dubious of AIDʼs chances. AID is already trying to cut some $80 million of over-commitments in FY 1966 programs, and has no stomach for a new round [Page 425] of hearings before Fulbright et al. Another solution is to cut AID programs elsewhere. But these are already pared and will probably have to be pared some more to absorb Hill cuts. Nor do we want to rob Peter to pay Paul.

So the only quick answer (at least to carry us till a supplemental) is to bury a good chunk of the civil programs in the DOD and CIA budgets (the latter for RD cadre costs). My principle would be to have DOD itself pay for (instead of being reimbursed) all that it provides to the civil side. At a rough guess this might be on the order of $100–150 million ($25 million for operating Saigon port, $18–23 million for cadre and police ammo and ordnance, $20–40 million for medical supplies, $10–15 million for in-country airlift, $17 million for mothball ships, etc.) DOD is already providing major help to the civil side on a non-reimbursable basis—but it might be easier all around to hide another $100 million or so in a budget so big it could hardly be found.


Conclusion. The above civil program is still painfully imprecise. It also ignores the gut issue of how to get a feeble GVN to play ball. But at least it starts us going somewhere, with a sense of urgency comparable to our military effort, at a piddling fraction of its cost. I believe that up to $200 million more so spent—even wastefully—would still pay more return per dollar than the same $200 million spent in any other way. And it will suffice to galvanize the civil side—which otherwise will limp along as primarily an anti-inflationary dole without making any contribution positive enough, quickly enough to complement properly our military push.

My program is not dramatic—but it will help win the war.

R.W. Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Komer Files, Memos to the President, March-June 1966. Secret. Komer sent copies of the attachment to Rostow and Taylor under a June 17 covering memorandum in which he stated that the President was “strongly in favor” of his proposals. (Ibid.)
  2. June 16.
  3. The President checked neither of these options and instead wrote: “See me, L.”
  4. The President met with Porter and Komer from 11:10 to 11:45 a.m. on June 16. Leonhart and Zorthian joined the meeting for 10 minutes at 11:35 a.m No record of the discussion has been found. (Johnson Library, Presidentʼs Daily Diary)