105. Notes of Meeting1
The President: I will be meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow evening. Senators Fulbright, Sparkman, Aiken, and Hickenlooper.2
Secretary Rusk: You should remind them that we were not bombing Hanoi and Haiphong about six months of last year. He (Senator Fulbright) doesn’t seem to give us credit for that.
The President: Well, Nixon has taken note of it. He has accused us of gradualism and stated that we would have ended the war sooner had it not been for this policy of gradualism.3
Secretary Rusk: There may be a point to that. If back under President Kennedy we had recommended and approved putting in 100,000 men it might have saved things.
[Omitted here is discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]
The President: O.K. on that. What about the suggestions of last night?
Secretary Rusk: There is one idea which would throw additional responsibility on Hanoi. (Secretary Rusk read a statement about cessation of bombing.)4[Page 329]
My guess is that it would last about three days. It would not hold up if they attacked Khesanh or the cities. By the time the bad weather had ended, if there is no response by Hanoi, we could resume it.
General Wheeler has some targets with him today. They consider the possibility of bombing inside Haiphong itself. This is not a recommendation yet. We will see what develops.
General Wheeler: I sent General Westmoreland the message you asked me to give him last night. I told him of the report of your committee and that we did not have the capability to send more than 22,000 men to him at this time. But I emphasized that no decision has yet been made on this.
The general said he is going to publicize the offensive U.S. troops are about to undertake.
Clark Clifford: I feel not. If the offensive does not come off as well as planned, we would have an added burden.
Secretary Rusk: Let’s emphasize what we have done after it is over—not our expectations or what we will do.
The President: Let’s don’t get these people to expect more than we can deliver.
Rusk: It’s fatal to promise more than we can get. Also, it is wrong to expect more of the ARVN than we can deliver.
The President: It looks like we should have two or three suppliers of choppers and weapons.
Also, it appears we are about to make a rather basic change in the strategy of this war, if:
- —we tell the ARVN to do more fighting.
- —we tell them we will give 20,000 men; no more.
- —we tell them we will do no more until they do more.
- —we tell them we will be prepared to make additional troop contributions but not unless they “get with it.”
I frankly doubt you will get much out of them unless they have a good coach, the right plays, and the best equipment.
Secretary Rusk: Let’s put on a massive helicopter program. We always can use them. There is substantial demand for their use as civilian evacuation. They will be put to good use, no matter what the number.
The President: Let’s get that firm on a 7-day week, three shifts. I see that Paul Nitze was wrong. They are not on it now. The engines are the limiting factor. Let’s do something to clear that up. Let’s get that M–16 production up too—right away.
Rusk: What about the possibility of getting foreign production of choppers.[Page 330]
General Wheeler: I think the President is aware of the feeling in the Congress about “buying at home.”
Clifford: The chopper firm can go to 3 shifts, six days a week. They need the 7th day for maintenance. It is interesting that the firm is opening a new plant in Charleston, S.C. This will get production up from 200 to 300/month.
The President: Do we want to talk over this strategy change with Congress?
Clifford: That depends on the President’s attitude toward the recommendations.
The President: I am ready to sign on except for how we handle the announcement—what we say and the timing of it.
I would be guided by Senators Russell, Mansfield, Rivers and Dirksen on what to say—as well as talks with the other leaders. I think we should announce the reserve call-up with a full explanation.
I think we should say at the same time that we may ask for specialists and the extension of tours of duty.
Let’s make it clear that we are not going to lengthen the tours in Vietnam. The tour there will still be 12 months.
Buzz, you and Clark go this afternoon and talk with Russell. Tell him you are about to recommend this to the President. See if he can swallow:
- —a call-up of reserves
- —authority to call specialists
- —extension of enlistments.
If he can, let’s see if he can “march it through” the Senate and the Congress.
Clark Clifford: The first thing Russell will want to know is what Westmoreland has asked for.
On these figures, I want to know if they should include the 31,000 for Korea and the naval cruisers and destroyers. 511,000 total strength sounds large; 454,000 sounds better.
I think the lower figure (without the 31,000 for Korea and the naval vessels) is easier to sell.
General Wheeler: I think we should work on three solutions, and the JCS is doing that:
Solution One: The full package of 511,000. This includes the troops for South Korea and the naval vessels.
Solution Two: This includes 8,500 men for Korea for the security of the air bases. It would drop out the two cruisers and the 15 destroyers.
Solution Three: No cruisers. No destroyers. No troops for South Korea. On this, I suggest we talk in terms of a call-up of 240,000 with an end strength of 450,000.
General Taylor: Have we promised the Koreans anything?
The President: No.
Secretary Rusk: In Korea, they have a population which is entirely with its forces. We do not want a conventional war. And we do not see any evidence of any offensive intervention by North Korea into the South.
The President: Let’s get Colt working around the clock on those
M–16s. Also let’s consider opening two additional sources of supply. Waive that contract with Colt, if necessary before June. Let’s get on with this. Don’t wait until June either.
General Taylor: Is that the fully modified version of the M–16?
General Wheeler: Yes.
General Taylor: Is the powder any problem?
The President: Is that the ammo?
General Wheeler: There is no problem on that. They have worked this out.5
The President: I agree with General Johnson on this proposal to hurry-up the dispatch to Vietnam of 3 maneuver battalions. Their current ETA is March 28, April 6, and April 15.
What about the 2,250 B–52 capability?
General Wheeler: We can give him surge capability, but not a sustained level.
Clark Clifford: Are you (The President) authorizing me to take whatever steps that are necessary to increase chopper and M–16 production?
The President: Yes. Let’s also give the South Vietnamese the best equipment we can.
Get the engine company high behind. Let’s see if somebody else can’t make that engine.
Secretary Rusk: I think we should investigate the possibility of foreign production.
The President: Let’s also look at the fixed wing plane proposal. That proposal will run $2.29 billion.
[Omitted here is a brief discussion of Berlin.]
The President: I will talk with Russell about the Gulf of Tonkin. He may have put Hollings up to proposing that the resolution be withdrawn, and then vote against his own motion to get people to take sides.[Page 332]
The hawks want the others to put up or shut up.
[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the retrieval of a Soviet missile.]
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, March 19, 1970 Memo to the President on Decision to Halt the Bombing, 1967, 1968 [I]. Top Secret. Drafted by Tom Johnson. The meeting lasted from 1:14 to 3 p.m. Those attending were the President, Rusk, Clifford, Wheeler, Helms, Taylor, Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) The notation “ps” on the March 6 covering memorandum transmitting a copy of the notes from Tom Johnson to the President indicates that the President saw the notes.↩
- See Document 109.↩
- In a speech at Hampton, New Hampshire, March 5, Nixon contended that new leadership could win the war by applying greater pressure. See The New York Times, March 6, 1968.↩
- The statement drafted by Rusk read: “After consultation with our allies, I have directed that U.S. bombing attacks on North Viet-Nam be limited to those areas which are integrally related to the battlefield. No reasonable person could expect us to fail to provide maximum support to our men in combat. Whether this step I have taken can be a step toward peace is for Hanoi to determine. We shall watch the situation carefully.” In a March 6 memorandum to Nitze, Warnke argued that the North Vietnamese would not be able to accept this statement as indicative of a true bombing cessation. “Consideration should therefore be given to making the announcement, as worded, but accompanying it with a complete cessation of bombing in North Vietnam north of the DMZ,” he noted. “The indications are that, whatever its legal status, the North Vietnamese would not regard bombings in the DMZ as inconsistent with a bombing halt.” (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1304, 1968 Secretary of Defense Files, VIET 092.2)↩
- By the end of 1967 all M–16 rifles had been overhauled to prevent jamming and other malfunctions primarily attributable to the type of firing powder used.↩