24. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Komer) to President Johnson1
What’s Happening in South Vietnam. Though few were as foolhardy as I in predicting it last October, more and more people now tend to agree that we are doing a lot better in Vietnam. The trend line is up on the military, political evolution, and economic fronts. The VC/NVA are hurting, and it is beginning to show. Even pacification is beginning to move, though far from enough as yet. There are signs that Hanoi is beginning to rethink the problem. The convulsion in China may prove a major bonus.
But we still aren’t doing as well as we should—and can if we force the pace:
- Evidence is gradually accumulating that the VC/NVA is reverting more to a guerrilla-type strategy under our successful military pressures. But is Westy shifting fast enough toward a counter-guerrilla strategy (i.e. clear and hold) to keep up with this enemy shift?
- The political transition to an elected government is going well, but there are major risks of civil/military or northerner/southerner crises which could lead to critical setbacks. The stakes are so great that we can’t afford to sit by passively without using our influence to insure a safe transition. Rostow and I have been pushing this for weeks now, but it won’t happen unless you lay down the law.
- Pacification is creeping forward, but not much more. Nor will it move faster so long as it is left mostly to the civilians with 20% of the assets, while the US/ARVN military (with 80% of the assets) still give it only a lick and promise. There is still a grievous lack of integrated, detailed civil/military pacification planning in Vietnam.
- There is also an appalling lack of vigorous, integrated management of our Vietnam affairs in Saigon. Westy operates quite independently of Lodge and Porter. In Washington, the Katzenbach-Vance-Rostow-Komer group has been a useful forum for exchanging ideas every two weeks or so, but not the executive committee I hoped for (mainly because Nick is swamped with other matters).
- Some Quick Fixes. If we want to maximize
the chances of accelerating results in 1967–68, we ought to consider
some radical steps. These can only be taken from Washington.
- Management. State can’t pull together and oversee the running of this $20–25 billion railroad. First, it’s mostly McNamara’s railroad. Even the civil side (say one-twentieth of the total) had to be lodged in the White House to be run at all. In any case, the State people are no managers. State’s top echelons spend a lot of time usefully on the negotiating track, but not on generating the movement in Vietnam which will largely determine whether Hanoi can be brought to the table. The need is so urgent that you might even want to make Bob McNamara chairman of a Washington “executive committee”. He could get us all around the table regularly and make sure things happen. I’d gladly work in harness with him.
- Vigorous top management is even more urgently needed in Saigon. I won’t say any more about Lodge, but Porter can’t fairly be charged with managing a pacification enterprise that is necessarily mostly military. The 90-day trial period will shortly be up without much more happening than consolidation of the civil side under Porter (long overdue, but not enough). So I’d urge you get Taylor’s and McNamara’s views on what more needs to be done.
- We badly need to decide on what kind of elected government best suits our purposes in Vietnam, or at least what we can tolerate and can’t. There is plenty of evidence that the military intend to run, and even rig the election if necessary. Do we want this?2
My trip to Saigon3 can be a vehicle for carrying the word on these matters, or at the least getting a solid line on them for you. All I need is your blessing and State/DOD cooperation. Hence I suggest that at Tuesday lunch you get a reading from Rusk/McNamara on current status, and tell them what you want done.4
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Meetings with the President, January–June 1967. Secret. A typed notation at the top of the source text reads: “Eyes Only Mr. Rostow,” suggesting that the memorandum was sent through Rostow. On January 11 Komer had sent the President a memorandum that listed the top priorities of 1967 for South Vietnam: the promulgation of the new Constitution and the swearing-in of a new government, the use of the ARVN to increase pacification, successful local and national elections, the launching of a national reconciliation program, and measures to keep down inflation. (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXIII)↩
- During a January 30 meeting with Komer, McNamara recommended a concentration of pacification effort few select areas to ensure greater success by bringing all resources to bear simultaneously. (Note from Komer to McNamara, January 31; Washington National Records Center, RG 330, McNamara Vietnam Files: FRC 77–0075, Vietnam (January–February 1967)) Komer had previously advised such an effort in telegram 120338 to Saigon, January 17, which he attached to the note to McNamara.↩
- Komer left for a 10-day trip to South Vietnam on February 4.↩
- Komer met with the President, McNamara, Rostow, Rusk, and George Christian at the Tuesday Luncheon the next day from 1:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of the meeting has been found.↩
- Printed from a copy that indicates Komer signed the original.↩