100. Editorial Note

On March 2, 1968, the Clifford Task Force began its comprehensive reassessment of Vietnam policy by considering a preliminary draft of a memorandum to the President. This memorandum and its accompanying backup materials were prepared in the Department of Defense by a staff under the direction of Leslie Gelb of the Office of International Security Affairs (ISA) and was reviewed by the Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Paul Warnke, Deputy Assistant Secretaries Morton Halperin and Richard Steadman, and Assistant Secretary for Systems Analysis Alain Enthoven. The staff compilers suggested that an increased level of forces alone would not lead to the achievement of the U.S. political or military objectives in South Vietnam. The enemy would match any augmentation, the additional troops would be inadequate to drive the Communist forces out of South Vietnam, having 700,000 troops would lead to a “total Americanization of the war” which would serve to undermine the effectiveness of and confidence in the South Vietnamese Government (GVN), and the call-up and consequent expenditures would lead to severe domestic problems within the United States. The only way to achieve eventual success was for the GVN to provide effective military and political leadership for its people. Thus, the preliminary memorandum concluded, U.S. troops should no longer engage in attriting the enemy through search and destroy operations. Instead, U.S. combat units should confine their operations to providing security for the populace and to supporting operations undertaken by the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). For text of this memorandum, see The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, pages 561–568. The interagency memoranda and reports comprising the backup material numbered over 40 attachments and are in the Johnson Library, Alain Enthoven Papers, Draft Presidential Memorandum on Vietnam 1968.

Notes of the meetings of the Clifford group have not been found. However, the meetings are described in Townsend Hoopes, The Limits of Intervention (New York: David McKay, 1969), pages 171–181; Larry Berman, Lyndon Johnson’s War (New York: Norton, 1989), pages 176–180; Herbert Schandler, Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pages 143–156; and Clark Clifford, Counsel to the President, pages 492–496.

In an article he wrote in 1969, Clifford noted the general tenor of the answers to the questions he sought to address during his review. Clifford received no assurances that the additional 200,000 men would turn the tide; instead there was “no way of knowing” how many more soldiers might be needed. He further found that the augmentation [Page 308] would require a reserve call-up of approximately 280,000, an increased draft call, and an extension of tours of duty. Clifford also was told that the enemy could match the build-up, that the costs of the build-up would be $12 billion by 1969, that bombing would not stop the war or decrease U.S. casualties, that U.S. troops would continue to carry the load since the ARVN “were not yet ready to replace our troops,” that there was “no plan for victory in the historic American sense,” and that there was “no agreement on an answer” as to how long it would take to win the war of attrition. See Clark Clifford, “A Viet Nam Reappraisal: The Personal History of One Man’s View and How It Evolved,” Foreign Affairs 47:4 (July 1969), pages 601–622.

According to The Pentagon Papers, the group did not reach a consensus on a new strategy but requested that Warnke and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Philip Goulding draft a new and “less controversial” paper than the preliminary memorandum. The new Draft Presidential Memorandum was discussed by the Clifford group on March 3. It recommended:

  • “1. Meeting General Westmoreland’s request by deploying as close to May 1 as practical 20,000 additional troops (approximately 1/2 of which would be combat).
  • “2. Approval of a Reserve call-up and an increased end strength adequate to meet the balance of the request and to restore a strategic reserve in the United States, adequate for possible contingencies.
  • “3. Reservation of the decision to deploy the balance of General Westmoreland’s new request. While we would be in a position to make these additional deployments, the future decision to do so would be contingent upon:
    • “a. Continuous reexamination of the desirability of further deployments on a week-by-week basis as the situation develops;
    • “b. Improved political performance by the GVN and increased contributions in effective military action by the ARVN;
    • “c. The results of a study in depth, to be initiated immediately, of a possible new strategic guidance for the conduct of U.S. military operations in South Vietnam.” (The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, page 573)

The final version of the Draft Presidential Memorandum is printed as Document 103.