120. Notes of Meeting1


The President: Dean, we are very proud of you up there today (testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Vietnam and Foreign Aid).2

Secretary Rusk: As you all know, I testify again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. I do not want to be caught off guard up there tomorrow by anything which you may be discussing here today. Should I leave or stay?

The President: You have had a rough day. Why don’t you go on and get rested for tomorrow. You and Clark can get together later to go over what we have discussed.

(The President and the group then reviewed at length the recommendations and answers to questions which are attached.)3

The President: I see that Westmoreland prefers Alternative Two. (The President then read: “I prefer the second alternative. By providing seven additional maneuver battalions as compared to three in the [Page 370] first alternative, it maximizes my combat firepower …”—from General Westmoreland’s cable to General Wheeler 11 March 1968).4

This would be roughly 30,000 men?

General Wheeler: Yes, sir.

The President: Was Westmoreland limited in this?

General Wheeler: Yes, we told him this was all that we had the capability of providing in this time period. I recommend that we send him these men as soon as we can. Of course, it will be necessary to call up the reserves to do this.

The President: Can we relate this 30,000 to a specific request from General Westmoreland?

General Wheeler: The first increment he asked for out of the 206,000 was 90,000. But as I said this is all we can provide in this period. But this does not relate to a specific request from him.

Secretary Clifford: In this cable, he says that the second alternative is better than the first.

There then was a general discussion of force levels. General Wheeler said that if the President approves the recommendations the total troop level would be brought up to 578,000 including Program 5 (525,000) completion, the elements of the 82nd airborne and Marine RLT already sent, along with the new troops.

The President: I do not want to be having a seminar on strategy back here while our house is on fire. I want to get Westmoreland what he needs to get him through this emergency period. Let’s get those civilian contractors working wherever possible and get some strong, tough strawbosses running things out there.

(About a twenty minute discussion followed on the specifics of the attachments.)

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. Those attending were the President, Rusk, Clifford, Nitze, Wheeler, Taylor, Helms, Rostow, Christian, and Tom Johnson. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. On March 11–12 Rusk appeared in a public hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the first time in over 2 years. Except for a brief statement on foreign aid the first day, Rusk responded to the Committee’s questions on Vietnam and specifically on the impending troop augmentation decision and the 1964 Tonkin Gulf incidents. Rusk also described the reassessment then being undertaken by the administration on Vietnam, an exercise that he referred to as an “A to Z review.” In addition to putting Rusk on the defensive by criticizing Johnson’s Vietnam policy, Fulbright and the other Senators unsuccessfully pressed for a pledge that the administration would consult with the Committee prior to reaching any final decision. See The New York Times, March 11–13, 1968. In a telegram to Bunker assessing his appearance at Fulbright’s hearings, Rusk noted: “As I assess the internal mood of the country here, I am deeply convinced that (a) the performance of the South Vietnamese and (b) some clear news of important military successes would help most of all in morale on the home front.” (Telegram 129797 to Saigon, March 14; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. Not attached. In this March 11 memorandum to the President, Clifford listed seven questions and appended responses. These questions concerned Westmoreland’s add-on package request, the Marine Corps figures, the status of the troops “in the pipeline,” additional tactical aircraft, reserve call-up, Program 5 deployment, and equipment for allied forces. (Johnson Library, Clark M. Clifford Papers, Vietnam (1 Feb 68–15 Mar 68) [1])
  4. See footnote 3, Document 115. In a memorandum to the President prior to receipt of this telegram, March 11, 9:50 a.m., Rostow noted: “As instructed, I have spoken with General Wheeler as well as Clark Clifford. The questions were put to Westmoreland. There is as yet no reply. The reply may come in today. General Wheeler says that he hopes there will be a little time to ‘scrub down’ Westmoreland’s recommendations before they come to you. Therefore, he is inclined to think that it would be better to make the critical decision tomorrow rather than today; but he and Clifford will be in touch with me later.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 4, Tabs N–Z and AA–KK)