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

A Top Manager for Saigon. Iʼve talked this over with our little sub-cabinet “war cabinet” of Katzenbach, Vance and Rostow (and only with them).

Except for the few obvious candidates who are probably unavailable, we have some differences as to who or even what type of man ought to replace Lodge. For example, they tend to react in terms of imagery—we need a “public presence” and preferably a Republican. To me, Vietnam itself has become so big an issue as to dwarf the role of any ambassador in Saigon. The only imagery that will really count in 1967–68 is whether we seem to be winning the war. So itʼs much more important that we get the man best capable of producing than whether he is suitably prominent. First and foremost, this means a top manager who can run a $20–25 billion show, make the military perform, and quietly lead the GVN by the nose.

It also means, if we want early results, an insider who already knows his Vietnam. We donʼt have time to break in a totally new man.

Where I think we all agree is that your choice for Vietnam might well be the single most important appointment you make in 1967–68. It is my own belief that the right “top manager” in Saigon could make a major difference between success and lack of it in 1967–68. This is frankly based on a more optimistic appraisal of our Vietnam prospects than McNamaraʼs, for example, but I think he underplays the political and psychological factors.

The only two candidates who would almost unquestionably meet all non-political criteria are McNamara and Mac Bundy. If neither is in the cards, Iʼd think next of a DOD-type manager whoʼd know also how to move the military. You say Vance is out, so Iʼd suggest McNaughton. He may grate on some people, but heʼs a first-class doer. Nitze would be a poor third in this category. Ros Gilpatric would also be well qualified, but could we get him?

Tough-minded managers are harder to come by at State. Katzenbach would be great but—. Doug MacArthur or Alex Johnson would be the only pros Iʼd even consider. Everyone I know agrees that Ellsworth Bunker has [Page 884] all the judgment needed, but he like Harriman may be too old (even though we could back them with a strong staff).

When we get to others on the outside Iʼm on less firm ground. From the Cabinet there are Goldberg, Freeman, and John Gardner You know their management abilities far better than I, but theyʼd all need at least six crucial months to learn the ropes. If Lodge left in February, this would mean September before they really found their feet.

The same is equally true of non-government people. To mention some names, however, Doug Dillon looks perhaps most interesting. Vance speaks highly of Governor Connallyʼs managerial ability. Nelson Rockefeller is certainly public-spirited. Tom Gates is probably not good enough. Clark Clifford is, but would he go to Saigon? Scranton may be available, but Nick says he hasnʼt got it.

Rather than a largely unknown quantity (can we afford one if results are what we want?), Iʼd opt if necessary for McNamaraʼs solution—give Westy the job. Iʼm out of my element on the political calculus, but hazard that it would be a popular appointment with most Americans (as was Max Taylorʼs); the “intellectuals” are against us anyway. Westy knows the drill, has real clout with the GVN, would take orders (unlike MacArthur), and would listen to political advice from the bright State types we could put at his side.

On the other hand, even an unknown quantity from the above list of 19 would in my judgment be better than keeping Lodge on. Cabot really wants to come home (not because he smells defeat or is disgruntled) but because heʼs done two tours (now 26 out of the last 30 months). He actually feels that overstaying his time increases the odds of physical harm—heʼs a nut on security. If you have not already done so, Iʼd urge you have Dean Rusk sound Cabot out and give an independent confirmation.

Whoever replaces Lodge, it is important that Porter stay—not just for continuity but because heʼs good. If you agree, Rusk should also tell Porter this (it will save having to do so later).

R.W. Komer

P.S. I attach two long papers which I hope youʼll read. The first is my prognosis of how we can “win” by 1968 if we really sweat it.2 The second is my outline plan for how to do so.3 If we can decide on some such plan [Page 885] before 1 January and pick the right man to carry out the mandate, I believe weʼll have chosen the optimum road to solving the biggest (and messiest) problem on our plates for 1967–68—and the prerequisite to solving all the others. My recipe does not guarantee success but, as I wrote Bob McNamara, does anybody have a better one?

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LXII. Secret.
  2. Attachment to Document 318.
  3. “A Strategic Plan for 1967 in Vietnam,” dated November 29. (Johnson Library, Komer Files, McNamara-Vance-McNaughton) In an introduction to his Strategic Plan, Komer stated that it should be read in conjunction with McNamaraʼs October memorandum (Document 268) and Bundyʼs and his papers (attachments to Documents 318 and 319). “All three have a common central thrust, even though they differ in detail and emphasis, and in the prospect they foresee as likely.” Komerʼs Strategic Plan provided the basis for a draft NSAM, Document 336.