30. Letter From the President’s Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

I have just returned from a ten day trip to Southeast Asia for the purpose of updating my acquaintance with the area after an absence of a year and a half and of doing work related to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.2 In the five days spent in South Viet-Nam, I talked to our principal officials and visited our major headquarters.

As a general observation, I would say that, since I left Viet-Nam, there has been dramatic progress in resolving many of the serious problems which I knew, particularly those which, in the past, arose from lack of sufficient military resources to cope with the main Viet Cong threat or derived from the chronic political instability which marked the period from the fall of Diem to the advent of the present Ky Government. In the enclosure, I have endeavored to tabulate briefly some of the most notable forms of progress which came to my attention.

Inevitably, in attacking tough problems, we either solve some incompletely or create new ones. Thus, any observer of the Viet-Nam [Page 65] scene, impressed though he is with the visible advances made, to give a balanced report must take note of the many residual problems. This I have tried to do in the second part of the enclosure.

No report is complete without a recommendation. Mine is that your responsible officials be set to work at once to produce plans to deal with these residual problems with a view to obtaining maximum results in 1967. Rather than depend on ad hoc task forces or individual initiatives, I would suggest assigning this task to the Senior Interdepartmental Group (with the membership adjusted as required) which was set up last year by NSAM-3413 to do precisely this kind of work in directing and coordinating complex governmental activities overseas. In attacking these problems, we should try to create the atmosphere of a “victory drive” to dispel any tendency to apathy at home and to exploit the growing confidence which one senses in Viet-Nam.

Sincerely yours,

Maxwell D. Taylor



The following are the important impressions which I received during my visit to Viet-Nam after an absence of a year and a half. For convenience, the record is divided into two sections, one covering indications of progress in the principal sectors of U.S. activities and the second, a short tabulation of principal problem areas which still require solution.

I. Indications of Progress

The Big War (Search and Destroy)

It is more easy to identify progress in this sector than in most of the other areas of GVN/U.S. activity. It is clear that we have gained and may expect to retain the initiative against Main Force units of the Viet Cong and the elements of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Important engagements have been fought and won along the border of [Page 66] South Viet-Nam. South of the DMZ, in the I Corps area, the Marines have decisively defeated elements of two divisions of the NVA in the course of Operation Hastings. Along the Cambodian border of the High Plateau in Operation Paul Revere and subsequent engagements, the 4th Infantry Division has beaten back elements of three NVA divisions which have intermittently attempted to force their way out of the Cambodian base area into the Highlands.

Concurrently with defensive operations along the borders, U.S. and GVN forces have been successful in actions against Viet Cong base areas which have long served as logistic sanctuaries, the most conspicuous success being the recent clearing of the Iron Triangle by the 1st Division and supporting troops. This operation began January 8 and has just ended. Among its accomplishments were the disruption of the enemy command and logistic organization, the seizure of large quantities of supplies to include the rice needed to feed five regiments for a year, and 184,000 pages of documents, many of which have significant intelligence value.

There is reason to feel that our forces can continue to be successful in bringing the enemy main forces to battle by the attack of base areas which must be defended or abandoned at great loss, by the exploitation of the improved quantity and quality of information derived from documents, prisoners and informants, and by giving better protection to the population against the foraging raids of the Viet Cong. To live and fight, the latter must have access to the people and their resources; an effective defense of the population deprives them of this vital access.

In the course of ground operations, our side has been successful in inflicting heavy losses on the VC/NVA. General Westmoreland’s

J–2 estimates their permanent losses in 1966 (KIA, seriously wounded, captured and defected) at about 96,000 and, projecting current trends forward, forecasts that these losses in 1967 will be of the order of 110,000. These estimates appear to be conservative because of the low ratio of killed to seriously wounded, 1 to 1.2, which J–2 uses in computations. The U.S. experience figure is about 1 to 6 for KIA to all wounded and the GVN figure is approximately 1 to 2.2. The latter would seem to be a reasonable figure to use for the VC/NVA since the ARVN do not include the lightly wounded in their WIA reports. In defense of the low ratio which he uses, J–2 points out that we are surely counting among the enemy KIA many of those seriously wounded VS who die shortly in the vicinity of the battlefield.

While the enemy casualty figures, past and projected, are encouraging from our point of view, J–2 believes that the enemy will be able to effect a net increase in his forces during 1967. To do so, he is expected to infiltrate about 7,000 men a month and recruit another 7,500 [Page 67] for a monthly gain of 14,500, and a total reinforcement for the year of 174,000. Thus, J–2 is counting on a net enemy gain in strength of about 64,000 for 1967.

I have the feeling, shared by many of the American officers outside of Saigon, that these J–2 figures are unduly pessimistic. It is understood that they are based largely on information contained from documents and prisoner interrogations. As a review of all such evidence is not feasible, I would be inclined to accept the J–2 estimates for planning purposes but with the feeling that there is an ample safety factor included in them.

The military progress in Viet-Nam results in large measure from the success and timeliness of the logistic efforts which have made possible the introduction and support of the growing number of U.S. forces. Our troops are magnificently equipped and supplied—if there is a fault, it is that too much equipment not needed in this theater has been brought with them.

They are also much better served now than formerly by the intelligence agencies which now have vast quantities of captured documents and large numbers of prisoners to provide the information which was so hard to acquire in previous years. The intelligence facilities available and procedures employed give the impression of a high order of professionalism. As always, there is a great deal that we do not know about such things as enemy intentions and leadership but our commanders are now far better served than ever in the past in Viet-Nam.

Revolutionary Development (RD)

In recognition by U.S. and GVN alike that RD is the weak sector of our efforts, there is a new intensification of attention and effort which leads to hope for significantly better progress in 1967. The causes for the sluggishness to date are numerous and are difficult to eradicate in the short term. The level of security remains too low in many areas to permit effective and methodical pacification. There have been planning and organizational difficulties in combining the resources of many agencies, GVN and U.S., into effective programs adjusted to the special needs of the forty-three provinces. There is the chronic shortage in the paramilitary and police forces needed to exploit the successes of the search and destroy military operations. While the 59-man RD cadres are expanding toward a year-end total of some 50,000, they are yet to prove themselves in action and there is a final target figure of 80,000 to be reached to meet estimated requirements. Even if this requirement can be met without a notable dilution of quality, there is still considerable question as to the capability of these cadres to spearhead the GVN civil activities in the fields of local government, self-help and local [Page 68] security. It may be that we are expecting more from them than they will ever produce. At the same time, because of the exaggerated importance attached to them, there is the danger that, when these cadres are not available, the province authorities will use this fact as an excuse for inactivity.

The province chief is still a vastly overburdened official. While we are simplifying our organization for RD by setting up the Office of Civil Operations discussed below, Vietnamese governmental direction and resources still reach the province chief over many channels. For military help he must look to the ARVN command channel; for Revolutionary Cadre, elementary education, agriculture and public works to the Ministry of Revolutionary Development (General Thang); for police to the head of the National Police (Colonel Loan) and for other forms of ministerial support in such fields as finance, industry, public health and public welfare to a half dozen other ministers in Saigon. Until the GVN, like the U.S. Mission, consolidates responsibility for the many forms of civil aid in support of RD, it will never be possible to get really efficient administration at the vital provincial level.

These are serious obstacles which will impede progress in 1967 unless they are overcome by energetic countermeasures. Among the latter, the two most promising are the reorganized U.S. civil efforts in the Office of Civil Operations under Deputy Ambassador Porter and the new emphasis on the pacification mission of ARVN forces.

The Office of Civil Operations (OCO) appears soundly conceived and appropriately designed to achieve its purpose of integrating all U.S. resources contributing to the civil side of RD. It has just become operational and will need several months to demonstrate its capabilities. Its success will depend largely on the quality of the individuals staffing the key positions.4 While there is some skepticism in Saigon as to its ultimate effectiveness, it is important to give it maximum support and every opportunity to make good during the coming months. Otherwise, a more drastic organizational solution must be sought.

A similar comment may be made with regard to the RD mission of the ARVN. The decision has been taken at the senior ARVN level to make available roughly half of the infantry battalions for use at the provincial level in support of RD, and a training program is in progress to prepare these battalions for this assignment. There are doubts among some Americans with regard to the eventual success of this project. Much will depend upon the loyal acceptance of the mission by the general and field-grade officers of ARVN. There is no question about the [Page 69] need for these troops on RD missions and it is essential that all U.S. influence be put behind this decision of the Vietnamese high command to assure its effective implementation.

While we are justified in being dissatisfied with current progress in RD, there has been some forward movement. Ambassador Lodge estimates that some 59 percent of the population is now securely under government control in contrast to the 54 percent which was considered secure a year ago. In appraising progress, it is a mistake to expect in the short term rapid and dramatic advances in the RD programs. By its nature, this kind of development will be slow. Much depends upon military success in achieving the necessary minimum levels of security. Progress also depends on the development of able administrators, a class which is in critical short supply in Viet-Nam, and is not easily improvised.

We should recognize that, in a sense, RD is a form of growth which will never be completed. Rather, it will blend imperceptibly into the nation-building process from which will evolve the Viet-Nam of the future. Thus, it eludes precise measurements of progress made against short term goals.

Bombing of the North

There is no doubt in the minds of U.S. representatives in South Viet-Nam as to the effectiveness and essentiality of the bombing campaign in the north. They are convinced that it impedes infiltration and imposes an ever increasing burden on the economy and government of North Viet-Nam. The big question among the U.S. military is how to intensify the air campaign and increase its contribution to an early settlement. They are convinced that there are still untouched targets which, if struck, would add materially to the effectiveness of the present program. Such targets include key elements of the North Vietnamese power system (such as the Hanoi transformer); steel, cement and chemical plants supporting the war effort; untouched components of the transportation system (locks on the inland waterways and railroad yards); and, in high priority, the port of Haiphong. Our commanders believe that if allowed to attack a target system restricted only to avoid significant civilian casualties, they could achieve greater results than now in a shorter time and with fewer airplane losses.

Political Progress

In this sector, progress as represented by the work of the Constitutional Assembly and the movement toward constitutional government and presidential elections, has been most encouraging. While there are still unresolved problems in drafting the constitution, U.S. observers expect its promulgation on schedule in March. Thereafter, they look to presidential elections a few months later, probably about September,[Page 70]and hope for as successful an election as that of September, 1966, when the delegates to the Constitutional Assembly were elected by a vote of 80 percent of the eligible voters.

While not ruling out the possibility of a civilian President, American official opinion in Saigon tends to regard Generals Ky and Thieu as the most likely candidates. There is a difference of opinion as to which one would make the stronger candidate. Thieu is regarded as the more desirable in terms of experience and stability but he is not generally popular and suffers politically from being a Catholic and an alleged Dai Viet. Our U.S. representatives agree that it would be most unfortunate to have a campaign in which both generals run in competition but are inclined to believe that the military themselves will see to it that this does not occur.

A point of complete agreement is that the USG should keep its hands off the presidential election and allow an uninhibited expression of Vietnamese choice.5

Economic Progress

On this complex subject, it is sufficient to say that, following devaluation, prices have tended to level off and that the pressures of inflation, while remaining strong, appear to be under control for the moment. The government gold reserves are about $300 million, and we are trying to get GVN agreement to reduce this reserve to $250 million. The Saigon Port remains a problem but with the completion of Cam Ranh Bay and the improvement of auxiliary ports, we have been able to meet military requirements and to carry out an assistance program totalling $455 million in 1966. The anti-inflation line has been held but the battle is still on and a final victory has not been won.

Progress Toward a Settlement

There is a general feeling among our senior officials in South Viet-Nam that progress toward a settlement is good in the sense that we have scored successes, political and military, which create a situation [Page 71] conducive to successful negotiations. However, there is general uneasiness over our negotiating positions (or lack thereof) with regard to many of the important matters which must be dealt with in a settlement. In Embassy Telegram 7630, October 3, 1966,6 the Embassy was authorized to undertake a commitment to the GVN which contains the following language:

“… the U.S. will not withdraw our troops before security is assured or GVN is able to cope with terrorism or while the Viet Cong infrastructure remains intact; South Viet-Nam will not be left without protection.”

Since that time, there have been statements like the Manila Communiqué7 and passages in public addresses of senior officials which appear to Saigon to be incompatible with this commitment.

Other causes for concern include an apparent lack of comprehension in Washington of the problems of arranging a cease-fire on acceptable terms and a fear that we will cease our bombing of the north either as a price for the initiation of negotiations or in exchange for unverifiable assurances of some sort from Hanoi. There is no agreement as to how we would behave if the enemy should avail themselves of the so called “fade away” option. The feeling is that we should move rapidly to develop positions on these points before we are surprised by Hanoi initiatives.

II. Problems

Our principal remaining problems in South Viet-Nam are those arising from the inadequacy of progress made to date in the sectors discussed above. On the Big War front, a primary question is how best to use U.S. ground forces during the coming year. MACV has indicated in the 1967 Campaign Plan the intention to continue the primary effort of U.S. forces against the Main Forces of the VC/NVA and to intensify that effort by continuous aggressive actions against enemy units and bases with priority given to areas which contain 77 percent of the population of South Viet-Nam. At the same time, the plan recognizes the necessity for supporting RD without specifying the level of U.S. effort. This is a mission which, if uncontrolled, could generate requirements for large increases in U.S. forces and, hence, needs to be carefully monitored.

For the moment, four U.S. infantry battalions are earmarked to support RD in the old battleground of Long An Province southeast of [Page 72] Saigon. This will be as a test of the effectiveness of U.S. forces operating against small guerrilla bands deeply imbedded in a heavy rural population. Until firm conclusions can be drawn from this experience, I would hope that we would not commit any more of our forces in this kind of static mission.8

To avoid further demands for U.S. troops on this kind of duty, we have the problem of getting an adequate return from the ARVN units committed to the new pacification mission. RD is essentially a Vietnamese job and we will make a great mistake if we try to take it over.

Our best contribution to RD can be made through an efficient execution of the mission of the OCO. By example, we must induce the GVN to tidy up its organization for RD, something fairly easy to do if General Thang’s Ministry for Revolutionary Development were given broader powers. But if we can never entirely perfect the GVN performance in this field, there is no excuse for ineffectiveness of the U.S. effort. Henceforth we have two large U.S. organizations working side by side, MACV representing our military resources and OCO representing the non-military. Together, they must work out and implement interlocking plans which will keep the civil effort geared in place and time to the progress of the military campaign. Too often in the past, the latter has run away from the former so that military success has resulted in no permanent gain in RD. It would seem reasonable to give OCO about six months to prove itself and then review the situation.

Although I have mentioned the favorable progress toward constitutional government, success in this field is so critical that all remaining problems related to it should be watched closely to assure timely resolution. But too much zeal on the U.S. side can be harmful. To have maximum lasting effect, this must be a genuine Vietnamese success without direct U.S. influence or involvement in shaping the outcome.

In preparing for a settlement of this conflict, we have the problem of eliminating the uncertainties and of firming positions on the points mentioned in the discussion above. Specifically, we need answers to such key questions as the following:9

What price should we exact for the cessation of bombing in the north?
What forms of verification are essential to protect ourselves against unfulfilled Communist promises or the traps of a phony de-escalation?
What role in negotiations will we concede to the GVN and to our allies who are contributing military forces?
How will we avoid a stalemate in negotiations on the pattern of Panmunjom?
How can we prepare U.S. and international public opinion for the tough positions which the U.S. must take in any settlement which will achieve our basic objective of an independent Viet-Nam free from aggression?

There is an overall problem which is the critical one—how to make 1967 the year of victory in Viet-Nam. There is a fair chance to do so but it will require a maximum, simultaneous effort across the whole range of U.S./GVN activities. We must do better in our ground operations in the south, raise the level of the air operations in the north, inaugurate a constitutional president, hold the line against inflation and show significant progress in RD in the principal areas of population. If we can do these things in Viet-Nam while conducting ourselves at home in such a way as to show that, regardless of pressures, the U.S. will not change its course, I have the feeling that the Vietnamese situation may change drastically for the better by the end of 1967.

Maxwell D. Taylor10
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Gen. Taylor (2 of 2). Secret. A handwritten “L” on the letter indicates that the President saw it. A covering note from Rostow to Secretary Rusk indicates that the Taylor report was to be a topic of discussion at the next day’s luncheon of senior foreign policy advisers. Taylor returned from an 11-day trip to Vietnam on January 28. For his statement to the press regarding his visit, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 844–846.
  2. In a January 9 note to the President, Taylor described his forthcoming official visit to Vietnam as a “refresher course in the realities of the local situation.” According to a marginal notation on Taylor’s note by the President’s secretary, Johnson talked with Taylor at 1:19 p.m. and “heartily agreed” with the trip. The President encouraged Taylor to “take any imaginative people you want who might come up with new ideas.” (Message from Taylor to the President, January 9; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Gen. Taylor (2of 2))
  3. Dated March 2, 1966; scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIII.
  4. OCO was awaiting the arrival of 150–200 personnel. (Memorandum from Leonhart to Komer, January 24; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXIV, Memos (A))
  5. In a January 12memorandum, Komer warned against a “hands off” attitude and called for a program of action to limit “the risks of setback.” Although the United States should avoid any overt “interference,” he suggested that the Embassy warn the ARVN leadership not to attempt any coups, encourage a broad coalition, and discourage politicians from antagonizing the military. Direct political action was also an option to be explored. (Ibid.) In a January 27 memorandum to the President, Komer continued to call for a strong decision at the highest level for political action in Vietnam. “At the moment the drift is favorable, but there are plenty of storm signals. In the Santo Domingo case, as I understand it, we decided we couldn’t afford to ‘lose’ the election, and saw that we didn’t. Unless we make the same kind of decision now, and follow it up closely, we’re running great risks.” (Ibid., Files of Robert Komer, Memos to the President, Jan-May, 1967)
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 258.
  7. The October 25 Manila communiqué, issued by the Seven-Nation Conference, established as a fundamental part of a future peace settlement the mutual withdrawal from Vietnam of all belligerents. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 867–871.
  8. The troops were temporarily deployed to support an experiment in unified pacification management with the ARVN.
  9. A February 6 memorandum to the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Sharp contained his answers to these questions. (National Defense University, Maxwell Taylor Papers, Amb. Unger Correspondence) Westmoreland sent his responses to Sharp in telegram 89063, February 7. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXV, Cables) For the responses of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to these questions, see Document 90.
  10. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.