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89. Notes of Meeting1

[PARTICIPANTS]

  • Rusk, McNamara, Clifford, Katzenbach, Bundy, Rostow, Califano and McPherson

McN: Westmoreland wants

105,000 by 1 May

100,000 in two increments: part by 1 Sept, part by 31 Dec

Total: 205,000 men, all but 25,000 (air) in Army and Marines.

This will require a sizeable reserve call-up (minimum 150,000) as well as increased draft. In total, an increase in uniformed strength of 400,000.

In expenditures, at least $10 billion extra in FY 1964. With automatic $5 billion in FY 1970, this will put FY 1970 DOD budget at $15 billion above current FY 1969 figure.

Alternatives for President's speech and program: [Page 261]

1)
Go with full 205,000. Ask for present surtax request plus additional taxes. Announce economic program (possibly controls on interest, production controls, etc.).
2)

Go with full 205,000, economic program, and announce new peace offensive.

Rusk: Basis for peace in Southeast Asia: ending of Communist assaults in Laos, Thailand; we will stop bombing North of 20th parallel if NVN withdraws from Quang Tri province; or stop altogether in that event; or other specific proposal.

McPherson: This is unbelievable and futile.

3)
Status quo on forces, with a change in strategy. End US commitment to defend every province and district capital. Protect essential areas. Fight enemy wherever he fights; end search and destroy.
4)

(Clifford) Another possibility that should be considered—and I am not pushing it—is announcement that we intend to put in 500,000 to million men.

McN: That has virtue of clarity. Obviously we would have decided to put in enough men to accomplish the job. That and status quo both have the virtue of clarity. I do not understand what the strategy is in putting in 205,000 men. It is neither enough to do the job, nor an indication that our role must change.

5)
(Bundy) We must also prepare for the worst. SVN is very weak. Our position may be truly untenable. Contingency planning should proceed toward possibility that we will withdraw with best possible face and defend rest of Asia. We can say truthfully that Asia is stronger because of what we have done in past few years.

Katzenbach took call from Habib in Hawaii. Reports Habib is “less optimistic” about political situation in Saigon than he was when he went out. Reports that there is serious disagreement in American circles in Saigon over 205,000 request. Bunker has doubts about this.

Rusk: If we have to call up reserves, we should take some of our troops out of Europe. Europeans will have to put some more in for their defense.

McN: Agree, if we call 400,000.

State of military situation:

Rusk, Rostow think enemy took beating in Tet offensive. Rostow says captured documents show enemy was disappointed, may be unable to mount heavy coordinated attack on cities. Rusk reminds that enemy took 40,000 casualties. No US units out of operation. Rostow says if we can re-inforce Westm. now, he should be able to handle situation until good weather comes to I Corps and NVN.

[Page 262]

McN: What then? Let's not delude ourselves into thinking he cannot maintain pressure after good weather comes. (Rostow apparently had air attacks in mind.)

McN: We are dropping ordnance at a higher rate than in last year of WWII in Europe. It has not stopped him.

Bundy: SVN forces uncertain, but almost certainly not as strong as were before. Assessment due from MACV on Feb 29.

Clifford: Look at situation from point of view of American public and Vietnamese. Despite optimistic reports, our people (and world opinion) believe we have suffered a major setback. Problem is, how do we gain support for major program, defense and economic, if we have told people things are going well? How do we avoid creating feeling that we are pounding troops down rathole? What is our purpose? What is achievable? Before any decision is made, we must re-evaluate our entire posture in SVN. Unfortunately Pres. has been at ranch with hawks.

McN: Agreed. Decision must not be hasty. Will take a week at least to work out defense and economic measures, if we go big. Wheeler, Habib will meet with Secretaries Wednesday morning2 at breakfast with President. Decision should certainly not be announced that night.

General impression: prevailing uncertainty. Radically different proposals were offered and debated, none rejected out of hand. We are at a point of crisis. McNamara expressed grave doubts over military, economic, political, diplomatic and moral consequences of a larger force buildup in SVN.

Q[uestion] is whether these profound doubts will be presented to President.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, March 19, 1970 memo to the President on the Decision to Halt the Bombing, 1967, 1968 [I]. No classification marking. The notes are handwritten by McPherson.
  2. February 28.
  3. In telegram CAP 80610 to the President at the LBJ Ranch, February 27, which notified him of this meeting, Rostow wrote: “A wide range of views were stated and explored. The only firm agreement among Secretaries Rusk and McNamara, Katzenbach, and Clifford was this: The troop issue raises many questions to which you ought to have clear answers before making a final decision. Therefore, it is recommended that you not make a final decision at breakfast tomorrow but, after listening to General Wheeler, order a team to go to work full-time to staff out the alternatives and their implications (perhaps Clark Clifford could chair this intensive working group). They ought to report in a few days.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 3, Tabs A–Z and AA–OQ)