8. Letter From the Permanent Representative to the United Nations (Goldberg) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Lodge)1
I am writing you from your old hot seat, having just returned from my brief trip to the Vatican, Paris and London, which I undertook at the Presidentʼs request.2 From these two vantage points, I thought you might be interested in my own feelings regarding the key decisions ahead—particularly those relating to the resumption of the bombing.
First, and of overriding importance: the envoys and messages despatched by the President during the past two weeks, as well as current discussions with foreign diplomats in Washington, have one essential purpose: to enlist the aid of others in finding out whether, as often claimed by both our friends and foes, our bombing of North Vietnam has in fact been a decisive obstacle to Hanoiʼs agreement either to begin negotiations or to reduce its military activities against South Vietnam.[Page 23]
In my view, it is vital that the initiatives we have thus set in train be allowed a reasonable time to produce a convincing answer to this question. Further, I believe that during this period it is essential the United States avoid any action which would lay us open to charges of insincerity or bad faith in our current peace offensive or, at the minimum, of being too impatient to permit adequate time for a meaningful response from Hanoi. I am convinced that an immediate resumption of the bombings would lay us open to such charges—not only from friend and foe, but also from some of the very parties whose assistance we have sought in the past two weeks. Finally, along this same line of thought, I believe that a resumption of the bombing prior to or during Shelepinʼs forthcoming trip to North Vietnam would not only be widely considered provocative but would be almost certain to rule out whatever chance there may be of his advising Hanoi that it should react in a forthcoming way to our current peace offensive.
Second: It goes without saying that the Administration is approaching a time of great decision concerning our future actions in Vietnam—decisions which will directly and substantially affect the lives and fortunes of all Americans. While I do not doubt the American people will accept whatever sacrifices are necessary to protect vital national interests, I think it would be a serious political mistake for the Administration to make and carry out these decisions—without first demonstrating beyond any reasonable doubt that no stone has been left unturned in the effort to begin negotiations on Vietnam. To do this, I consider it necessary that the suspension of bombings be continued long enough so that no significant number of Americans will believe or can claim the Administration has not fully tested Hanoiʼs willingness to negotiate. As you have probably seen, the latest opinion poll shows that over 70% of the American people favor the bombing pause.
In my view, a full test of its impact is even more necessary if, as you suggest, the Communists are determined to drag out the conflict in Vietnam until the 1968 elections.3 If such is the case, our task at home will not be to convince the American people they must live with a cold war—as in Europe during the late 1940s and early 1950s; rather, it will be to convince them to learn to live with a hot war of growing proportions and costs for three more years.
Let me say in conclusion that I would, of course, want to reconsider the position I have outlined above if there were convincing evidence that the political disadvantages, both domestic and international, which I see to an immediate resumption of bombing were outweighed either by the military disadvantages of prolonging the suspension or by the growth of [Page 24] significant dissatisfaction with our actions among South Vietnamese leaders. In all frankness, however, I must say that the information available to me from Washington sources is far from convincing me that such is now the case. I shall of course follow your future reports with the closest attention, particularly in regard to these two points.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret. In a January 7 covering memorandum under which he forwarded the letter to Read for dispatch to Saigon, Sisco noted that it had been requested by the President and read and approved by Rusk and Ball. (Ibid.)↩
- Goldberg returned to Washington on January 2 following his European tour.↩
- See paragraphs 3A and 3B of telegram 2399, Document 6. For Lodgeʼs response to Goldbergʼs comments, see Document 20.↩