93. Memorandum for the Record1
Washington, February 29, 1968.
- I believe the Wheeler recommendation should be accepted for four
- —In view of the enemy’s new strategy of intensive engagement,2 the forces are required in Viet Nam if we are to avoid excessive military and political risk.
- —The further U.S. commitment in Viet Nam and the build-up of reserves are required to deflate the widespread view that we are too thin and that pressure or aggression might be successful in the Middle East, elsewhere in Asia, and perhaps, even, in Europe.
- —This is a Presidential election year and a classic period for Communist adventure: we should not go into this period over-extended—either in Viet Nam or in general.
- —Our two most responsible men in the field have asked for additional forces: Westmoreland and Bunker.
- Specifically in Viet Nam:
- —The Communists are acting on the assumption that 1968 is the year of decision: we must accept that and make the decision turn the right way.
- —The Communists are engaging their forces at more than twice the average rate of 1967—quite aside from the Tet peak. Westy is, therefore, thin on the ground in terms of his minimum requirements. The pressure may ease in May; but we cannot be sure; and post-May he will need more forces to retrieve losses suffered in the winter-spring offensive and to have bargaining weight should negotiations emerge.
- —These forces are needed in part to give the ARVN both the assurance about the security of the cities and to make possible joint U.S.-ARVN operations in the Delta and elsewhere in the countryside. We could face a disastrous political situation if the enemy consolidated the countryside and then called for negotiations with the majority of the people in his hands.
- —The present situation—for us and the enemy—is one of both losses and opportunities, since the Tet offensive began. The outcome (say) two [Page 280] months from now of the whole battle since Tet depends on what happens between now and then. If we send some forces now—and Westy knows others are on the way—he will be able to do much more than if he has to work off thin margins.
- —Right now the enemy may be introducing an additional two divisions from the North. The intelligence is uncertain, but somewhat firmer than a few days ago.
- If we accept the Wheeler
recommendation we face, of course, many problems.
- —We must develop a precise list of concrete things we want the GVN and ARVN to do, and use maximum leverage to get the South Vietnamese to do them on schedule. (Incidentally, I regard the GVN performance since Tet as B+, in fact remarkable for a developing nation confronting a desperate attack of this kind. We cannot set impossible standards. We can set precise, maximum realistic goals and hold feet to the fire. Perhaps a Guam meeting with Thieu and Ky might be in order—or even a troop contributors’ meeting.)3 Tab A is a possible list of legitimate U.S. requirements.
- —Since negotiations may be thrust upon us—and we certainly want them if they promise an honorable peace—we must face up to what we think and begin consultations with Thieu. We do not intend to sell them down the river; but we cannot postpone peace—if it is reachable—until every VC is killed or until in some psychological sense the GVN is “ready.”
- The dispatch of additional forces could be the occasion for a new directive to Westy setting the limits of his mission in terms of concrete U.S. political objectives in SVN and Southeast Asia.4
- There may be strong political forces generated in directions we do
not wish to go:
- —Invade Laos, Cambodia, North Viet Nam. We may wish to mount such operations at some time. We should not rule them out. But as I read Westy’s situation, he has his hands full for the next months inside South Viet Nam. I see no reason that, if we recover equilibrium in the late spring, the President should be forced to move where he does not believe it wise to go.
- —Bombing Haiphong. We may (or may not) wish to hit Haiphong and Hanoi harder; but for coming months the weather is bad; we need our air in ground support; the arguments about not engaging the USSR and making Communist China the primary route for supply are still relevant. [Page 281] If the President makes his decisions now, I do not think he can be realistically forced into a policy which cannot now be executed. Several months from now I believe he will still command the capacity to maintain his freedom of decision.
- —Mining Haiphong: Fresh look!5
- —Pull troops out of Europe. This must be met by making our case not merely in terms of Viet Nam but thickening up our total deterrent position. We don’t want a Berlin or NATO crisis. But we have a right to demand of NATO Europe—and Germany in particular—the fullest possible financial and balance of payments cooperation.
From my limited knowledge, Joe Fowler’s assessment—that these moves could break the tax stalemate—makes sense. But, as he has suggested, the whole enterprise—Viet Nam forces, global reserves, taxes—must be put as an Act of National Will, in terms which transcend Viet Nam and, even, Southeast Asia.
I am no expert; but I sense three things:
- —frustration at our defensive posture, and real fear;
- —a hawkish balance in the country;
- —a desire to do something about the situation.6
With appropriate prior consultation with leading citizens—as well as Congressional leaders—I believe the package is viable.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 7, Meeting Notes. Top Secret. Prepared by Walt Rostow. At the top of the page, he wrote: “ARVN & Thieu will take more risk in getting out of the cities if US strikes new stance.”↩
- Rostow added this clause by hand.↩
- Rostow wrote the marginal comment: “or Thieu in Wash.”↩
- Rostow wrote below this paragraph: “But I am not sure another strategy is viable—frontiers/rural/urban.”↩
- Rostow added this point by hand.↩
- Rostow wrote in the margin: “[illegible] ‘long war’.”↩