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

Dear Mr. President:

At your Tuesday luncheon last week,2 you invited me to consider alternative ways to make General Westmoreland Ambassador to Viet-Nam in succession to Cabot Lodge. I have done so and the following are my conclusions.

The advantages of selecting Westmoreland arise from his personal attributes of leadership; his deep experience in the intricate problems of Viet-Nam, both civil and military; his immediate availability; and the opportunity which his appointment offers to put all U.S. resources under the effective direction of a single official. Likewise, there would be the advantage of improved leverage on the Vietnamese military which Westmoreland with his military prestige and added authority as Ambassador could exert in influencing the trend of the important political events which lie ahead.

On the negative side of the balance sheet, I can see at least two possible items—the opportunity afforded the critics to charge that the military have taken over to the detriment of our non-military objectives and the difficulty which Westmoreland may have in keeping out of the direct conduct of the war and shifting his interests and talents to the broader field of the direction of all U.S. activities. But in the absence of a very outstanding civilian candidate for Ambassador, I feel that in the selection of Westmoreland, the pros outweigh the cons by a substantial margin.

If this conclusion is accepted, it then becomes a question of how to readjust the top echelons of the U.S. organization in Viet-Nam to such a decision. I feel that in making changes, the following points should be taken into account:

To unify responsibility for the total U.S. effort, Westmoreland should be concurrently Ambassador and Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. military forces in South Viet-Nam. As Ambassador, he would report to the President through the Secretary of State and as Commander-in-Chief, through CINCPAC, the JCS and the Secretary of Defense.
Westmoreland will need three able assistants, an Army 4-star general to exercise direct command over the U.S. military effort, a civilian of Ambassadorial rank to run the U.S. civil field activities, now incorporated in the new Office of Civil Operations, and a senior State Department official to run the U.S. Mission in the usual manner of a Deputy Chief of Mission.

With regard to the conduct of civil field activities, I would be inclined to keep them for the time being separate from the military channel of command under the Office of Civil Operations. If after several months it becomes clear that this arrangement is not sufficiently cohesive, then it may be desirable to integrate the U.S. military and civil structures to provide a single channel of direction and resources leading from Saigon to U.S. agencies and activities in the field.

Hoping that these comments may be of some use in resolving this important question,3


Maxwell D. Taylor
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Westmoreland, William C. Secret; Eyes Only. The letter is on the stationery of the Institute for Defense Analyses. In an attached covering note to the President, February 10, Rostow wrote: “Herewith Max Taylor’s administrative recommendations should Gen. Westmoreland be made Ambassador in Saigon.”
  2. The President discussed Vietnam with Taylor, Rostow, McNamara, and Rusk on January 31 from 2:20 to 3:20 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No notes of the meeting have been found.
  3. In a February 10 memorandum to the President responding to his request for commentary on the Taylor letter, Komer offered his full agreement with its conclusions. (Ibid., National Security File, Files of Robert Komer, Memos to the President, January–May 1967) In a February 11 memorandum to the President, Katzenbach termed as “unwise” the move to nominate Westmoreland, since it would indicate a military dominance over the essentially political struggle by giving the appearance of a “military occupation” of Vietnam. (Ibid., Files of Walt Rostow, Westmoreland, William C.)