189. Memorandum From the Deputy for Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (Komer) to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

Let me take advantage of Harry McPherson,2 who is staying with me and swilling my booze, to pass on my latest thoughts.

To start with better news first, a month in country has not led me to change my view that we are gaining momentum and that by the end [Page 461]of next winter it will be clear for all to see that we have gained the upper hand. In other words, while the war might not be “won”, we will clearly be winning it.

In fact, the one thing that could go most seriously wrong in 1967 is the political process. Thieu and Ky, in their squabbling, could produce a major setback. On the one hand Ky, in desperation because Thieu (despite his assurances of military solidity) has chipped away some of his support, might resort to blatant election rigging. On the other hand, we might face a situation in which none of 5–6 serious candidates gets enough of a vote to give him a solid mandate—thus opening up another period of political jockeying at our expense. Either would be bad from our viewpoint.

Casting “the American vote” may be the only way to forestall such dangers. This in turn has obvious disadvantages, but Washington and the Mission should face up to this issue. At least we should make a conscious choice rather than let one be made by default as is happening now. And with elections three months off, there is little time left to decide. Gene Locke and I are deliberately playing an activist role on this one, so as to give you and Bunker a basis for choice.

I’m very much of two minds on the other gut issue you now confront—more US troops. On the one hand, I am more convinced than ever that we can get a lot more for our money out of the Vietnamese, at peanut cost to us in more advisers, more equipment, more incentives, more insistence on canning incompetents and weeding out the corrupt. I hope you’ll encourage Bob McNamara to raise unshirted hell on this one. Then Abrams and I will carry through.

The real question is not whether we need more US troops to “win” the war in the South, but rather how fast we want to win it. I hesitate to guess, but would hazard that we have a 50–50 chance of achieving a clear upper hand by mid-1968 without major US add-ons, if everything else breaks our way. By then, the deterioration of the VC should be amply evident. But Westy, as a prudent commander, naturally wants a reserve for contingencies and feels under great pressure for results.

One last thought. Further bombing escalation in the North may not be as interesting, from a military or political point of view, as “lateral escalation” to disrupt the infiltration routes in Laos and Cambodia. Since the actual effect of the planned barrier is unknown, we should seriously consider other options too. I would not even suggest this did I not feel that the alternatives confronting you (in terms of calling up reserves as well as bombing) might be even more painful. Also, such great pressures are building up among the US military here for getting at the sanctuaries, they might soon generate greater hawk problems back home.

Whenever I quail at all my problems of getting pacification moving, I think of the problems you confront. I’d rather be pacifier than [Page 462]President, and you can depend on me to keep after my share of this war.

Respectfully,

Bob Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential File, ND 19/CO 312, Vietnam (Situation in), June 1967–Sept. 1967. Eyes Only. An attached covering note from McPherson, June 14, reads: “Bob Komer asked me to pass this on to you.” According to a notation on the note, the President requested that McPherson send the memorandum to McNamara.
  2. McPherson visited South Vietnam from late May through early June, when he departed for Israel. For his report to the President, see Document 197.