58. Notes of Meeting1
NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT’S MEETING WITH SENIOR FOREIGN POLICY ADVISERS
THOSE ATTENDING WERE
- Secretary Rusk
- Secretary McNamara
- General Wheeler
- Clark Clifford
- Walt Rostow
- George Christian
- Tom Johnson
There was a general discussion of the proposed speech to be given by the President on the Pueblo and Vietnam developments.
Secretary Rusk: Some parts of the speech are unnecessary. I do not think it should be given at this time. Extending tours of duty in Vietnam could have a serious effect on the morale of the men.
General Wheeler: I agree with the consensus here. I think this speech should be made when events are clearer in Vietnam and Korea. I would counsel against public announcement of a decision to extend tours of duty in Vietnam. It would alarm the American people rather than reassure them.
The President: We must lay out this situation in a clear logical explanation of what happened. I do accept your advice that it would be ill advised for the President to do this now.
The President then asked Tom Johnson to read the four points of criticism by Senator Robert Byrd (West Virginia).2 The four items follow:
- Poor intelligence.
- Poor preparations for these recent attacks.
- Underestimated Viet Cong morale and vitality.
- Overestimated support of South Vietnamese people and army.
The President said he was alarmed at this and that the attitude expressed by Senator Byrd seemed to be reflected by much of the comment heard in Washington not only by politicians but by the press.
George Christian: The story circulating now is that we must have a confrontation with the South Vietnamese government to get them to do more.
Walt Rostow: We have more evidence now than ever before about South Vietnam’s role in this recent series of attacks. The government was cool. It never broke down. The Vietnamese military took the brunt of the attacks. General Abrams gives them very high marks.
The President: We should get to the Members of Congress information about all of this so that when they return to their homes they know what line to follow.
I want to send South Korea what they need. I am afraid that many people now are working towards the objective of undermining support and destroying our relationship with the South Vietnamese and with the South Koreans, and with many people in this country. There seems to be a great effort to discredit this government and its military establishment. Only yesterday I told Mr. Henry Brandon of the London Daily Telegram that I fully support General Westmoreland and that any talk of his removal is absolutely untrue.3 I took a bit of the steam out of him by showing him an “Eyes Only” cable to General Westmoreland expressing my full support for him and his actions.4
General Wheeler: I talked with General Westmoreland this morning and he said he was deeply appreciative of the message from the President. He said that General Abrams would appear before the Press Corps to outline how pleased he has been with the performance of the South Vietnamese Army.[Page 137]
[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the Pueblo crisis.]
Secretary McNamara: I am very disturbed about what the President said about the leadership, particularly Senator Byrd. He treated Buzz rather badly in testimony this week.
The President: This is all part of a political offensive. They say we had the people believing we were doing very well in Vietnam when we actually were not.
General Wheeler: This reminds me of the time of the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans did achieve tactical surprise both in method and in their timing. They stretched the Seventh Army out like an accordion. The Germans did much like the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, even to wearing United States uniforms. I never heard at that time anybody who wanted to fire General Eisenhower because of bad intelligence. It was a severe defeat for at least one unit—the Army 99th Infantry Division. Having been there, I do know that we lost some of our heavy artillery—15 of our 18 guns. We have had nothing like that during this current battle.
General Westmoreland was aware and concerned about these attacks. He had the highest possible state of alert. Had he not done this, the situation would have been much worse.
We cannot have the precise plans of the enemy without some amazing stroke of luck.
Frankly Senator Byrd surprises me on Khe Sanh, I gave him the best response I could. I tried to put the military victory in context.
The President: I told him he should be defending us rather than attacking us. I disagreed with all points that were made. I say this to let you know what is going on.
Walt Rostow: If the war goes well, the American people are with us. If the war goes badly they are against us. The only way for us to answer this is for the military situation out there to come out alright. I think the men in uniform now have the burden in determining how much support or lack of support we get.
- Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings. Top Secret. The meeting ran from 10:31 to 11:55 a.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- Byrd made his statement at the President’s breakfast for the Congressional leadership that morning. In response to Byrd’s statement, the President replied: “I don’t agree with any of that. We knew that they planned a general uprising around Tet. Our intelligence showed there was a winter-spring offensive planned. We did not know the precise places that were going to be hit. General Abrams said the Vietnamese are doing their best. There was no military victory for the Communists. Just look at the casualties and the killed in action.” (Ibid., Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings)↩
- On the afternoon of February 5, the President met with Brandon in an off-the-record session to discuss the Pueblo, Vietnam, and the domestic political situation. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)↩
- Telegram CAP 80390 from the President to Westmoreland, February 5, reads: “There is some irresponsible talk in the newspapers abroad and here today that we have lost confidence in you. I wish to tell you in the bluntest and most direct way I can that I have never dealt with a man in whom I had more confidence. You and your Vietnamese colleagues have, in my judgment, dealt with the attack on the cities well. It is my judgment that your leadership and Ellsworth’s will bring us much further ahead a month from now than we otherwise would have been. Let us make that happen. I believe that everything you have asked for has been supplied. As you go into this battle, you have my fullest possible confidence and support.” (Ibid., National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech) In telegram MAC 1719 to the President, February 7, Westmoreland replied: “Am grateful to you for your message of yesterday, wherein you expressed your confidence in this command. Be assured we are doing all possible to deal the Communist aggressor a severe blow. There are difficult days ahead, but we are fully confident in our ability to prevail over the enemy. Faithfully yours.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 407, Litigation Collection, Westmoreland v. CBS, MACV Backchannel Messages from Westmoreland, 1–12 Feb 1968 [Folder I])↩