324. Notes of Meeting1

CMC at 0830 Monday 5 August ’68 after spending weekend at Ranch, to Nitze, GME, Warnke, Pursley, Henkin2—for Goulding

Re V.Nam—finally, Sunday p.m., CMC saw LBJ alone3

I said we have now substantially done everything it was our obligation to do:

  • —we have prevented subjugation
  • —we have turned enemy back
  • —we have developed ARVN
  • —Now we shld find basis for settlement in Paris—Now! (N. Vam army only 30% of population—They can go on & on forever but we can’t! (due to domestic situation!)

I ended up by taking position we have been ready since San Antonio last Sept ’67 to stop bombing if only they would talk. We shld be relaxing our attitude whereas a hardening has taken place—this is wrong direction “So I have a new approach to Paris.”

I outlined my new approach—a week after Repub Convention LBJ should: 1) a TV speech program to say

  • —one week from today Bombing will stop
  • —he’ll notify Hanoi
  • —he is prepared to have negotiations start substantive talks
  • —he’ll answer they not take advantage
  • —they’ll agree to demobilize
  • —stop firing across D.M.Z.
  • —stop mil. [movement across the] D.M.Z.
  • —a continued cessation of shelling of Saigon

If Hanoi chooses not to accept, they would say so—to the world. If they said nothing, their silence to whole world would be assent & we could stop the bombing & be ready for substantive talks.

At same time—or before—a private letter to Kosygin telling him & asking his help.

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This would notify the world of our de-escalatory move.

If Hanoi

A) rejects

or B) silent & then leveled an attack

no problem in resumption of bombing. It would get full support.

!!! LBJ says he didn’t agree with anything CMC had said, but it was “interesting.” He then made a speech on “firmness.” He’d rather lv office with a “fine military solution” than be craven.

However, he did say “talk to Rusk
Then he asked CMC to put on paper these 2 make CMC think there is a possibility.

CMC then refers to this morning’s Harriman report on a conversation in Paris with Sov Amb Zorin. Zorin asked Harriman “what’s going on?????” All well until Honolulu communique, then Rusk press conference, then LBJ’s.4 You’ve guessed it!!!

CMC says he has to agree with Zorin!

CMC further amplifies his pt. of view that it’s to our advantage to get out whereas G.V.N. wants lot more time; yrs more of our money & effort.

CMC wants to reduce the level of combat—this is calculated to do that.

CMC: The President has rejected 100% out of hand the last Harriman-Vance approach—(The flaw was just private approach to Hanoi—But this puts it up to them in such a way they’d be on the spot)

Pres’s offer would be public & he’d be protected by the publicity: He couldn’t be privately double-crossed!

Nitze notes we are approaching the ceiling of men in V.Nam.

CMC: we can not, we must not go over the ceiling of 549,500.

Nitze: J.C.S. trying to find a gimmick of not counting invalids etc etc etc

CMC—No! Even on a temp. basis we must not go over—politically it’ll be murder.

[Omitted here is discussion of potential arms control talks with the Soviet Union.]

0930 Staff meeting

CMC—“Paris is our only real hope for an early resolution of the conflict in SE Asia” & he notes in troubled tones the confusion of the past week—the alleged “hardening” of U.S. position.

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Gen. Wheeler confirms solid evidence of an impending attack—although we’re doing all we can to thwart & spoil forthcoming attacks. The “lull” is merely a cycle; they’re making a political virtue (i.e. the lull) out of a military necessity (need to re-train & re-equip).

Westmoreland makes a self-confident speech about how much we know about the enemy & how we’ll lick the offensive.

CMC asks why do they go into attack when we’re so much better off than in Tet?

Westmoreland—“They have no choice—For morale reasons they must go on offensive.”

CMC—needles Westmoreland—how does it help morale to go in & get licked?

Westmoreland no answer; Wheeler tries to help him out.

CMC—says Is it possible that they really aren’t go[ing] to launch attacks—but that all enemy is doing is filling out his units? Just rebuilding to be prepared for whatever may come out of Paris?

Wheeler says reconnaissance & intelligence all pt. to an attack.

Gen. Walt #2 USMC says only victory enemy has had was psych victory here in U.S. during Tet. He’s going to try to do the same again.

(GME personal view is that Tet simply woke up Am. people to facts in V. Nam that it was a lousy war we shldn’t be in & that we couldn’t win. I disagree that it was a psych. defeat: … It was a psych. awakening!)

[Omitted here is discussion of potential arms control talks with the Soviet Union.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, George Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts (1 of 2). No classification marking.
  2. Daniel Z. Henkin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
  3. Although Clifford was a guest of the President in Texas that weekend, no meeting between him and the President is recorded in the Daily Diary. (Johnson Library) However, Clifford’s talking points for the meeting are in his handwritten notes entitled “Talks with LBJ,” August 4. (Ibid., Clark Clifford Papers, Mr. Clifford’s Pencilled Notes, Vietnam)
  4. See Document 318.