223. Notes of Meeting1

Elsey-Warnke-Goulding-Pursley

CMC 11:05 a.m.

LBJ call Sun. am./very friendly to LBJ.2

[Page 658]

Symington called too.

I.

1st accomplishment of CMC press conference.3 No doubt in minds of Americans any more since his press conference.

S.V.Namese attack on LBJ started at time of bomb halt & continued for 12 days.

a)
—cables show it. They deliberately started a campaign of vilification.
b)
—Am. newspaper articles such as Keyes Beech prompted by Saigon.4
c)
—intercepts & intelligence showing statements by Thieu, Ky et. al. against LBJ, (e.g. S.Vietnamese amb. to Seoul5 quoting Thieu & Ky saying LBJ was engaging in political trickery.

‘I happen to know LBJ didn't end the bombing on 31 Oct. just to elect Humphrey because I've never believed he wanted Humphrey to win!” CMC Sunday 17 Nov. ‘68.

Bunker on [November] 11th reported no sense of urgency at all—January is plenty of time to do anything.6

Then came CMC press conference & overnight Saigon suddenly became urgent & caught the point.

CMC's point: Do you wait & let Saigon tear us to pieces—lie, lie, lie—

LBJ can't do it. So CMC decided somebody had to tell the truth—

  • —about LBJ
  • —to the Am. people
  • —to the world
  • —to Saigon—i.e. letting Thieu& Ky know U.S. Gov't is up to their tricks.

The S.V.Namese attacks were unwarranted & dishonest; someone had to answer them & CMC did.

All CMC did was stick to facts—no conclusions, no personal vilification—I ascribed no motives—just the facts.

Now there is no doubt in minds of Am. people or the press as to the truth in what happened.

This is corroborated by press stories, cartoons & editorials.

[Page 659]

GME makes point that only CMC could have done this. LBJ couldn't. State wouldn't. CMC was only one who could & would, & would have credibility. (CMC jumps at this.)

Second accomplishment of CMC press conference.

II.

We got Saigon moving. On 29 Oct., at time we first were ready to stop, they balked. They continued to balk, right up to CMC press conference.

Despite State, Bunker, etc. etc., nothing was happening.

Proof positive: Bunker's cable of 12th 0730 a.m.7 that Saigon is not moving at all & wants to wait until January.

& Thieu's brother told Embassy on some day we need lots of time. Not only weren't they moving—they had no intention of moving & were counting to dig up more & more objections. Movement in Saigon started on 14th reported by Bunker “logjam has broken—”

Saigon galvanized into activity after “righteous indignation.”8

CMC question—does this sound too self-serving?

(GME answer—No—you're just citing facts.)

Now, however, movement has slowed. State is slowing down & softening.

S.V.Namese is trying to test us by quibbling over words in a joint statement.

Bui Diem dashed home & tells everybody to move!!!

But they aren't moving for last 2-3 days.

III.

Maybe the S.Vamese. Don’t want to move!!!

a)
political—the longer they put off, the better SVNam will be.
b)
economic—
c)
military—they're in No danger at all.

Various reasons to support this:

  • It makes no diff. to SVNam how many Amers are killed.
  • The longer it goes on, the better armed the ARVN will be.
  • 549,500 troops pour gold in!!!
  • The ruling clique is incredibly corrupt & shipping gold by the ton to Swiss banks.
  • The U.S. shld. not go on fighting & dying just for these guys.

All this leads to conclusion we'll never come to an agreement with Thieu & Ky because they Don’t want agreement!

IV.

Re the criticism that CMC broke new ground & made new policy by stating “we'll go it alone if needed:”

CMC was merely re-stating a State Dept cable of 8 Nov; & it was re-stated by State 14 Nov in cable & publicly by State same day.

V.

What should our policy be from now on?

(CMC refers to a memo from Mort Halperin GME has not seen.)9

Course A—

Just continue our present course but numerous problems

  • —continual erosion on DMZ & on attacks on cities.
  • —growing disaffection in U.S.

Course B—

Postpone talks but hold private talks with Hanoi.

Course C—

Start expanded talks—holding open a seat for Saigon.

He'll end up Strongly on Course “C”.

Recommended course

  • —Send written message to Thieu setting date for talk in Paris
  • —will go with him or without him
  • —we must not permit talks to stall
  • —we must reduce level of combat & start troop withdrawal
  • LBJ has borne the brunt—& must not be cheated out of any credit for:
    • —for lowering the level of casualties
    • —no reason why he can't bring [home] 5-10,000 troops.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, George Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts (1 of 2). No classification marking.
  2. At 9:30 a.m. that day, Clifford called the President at his Texas Ranch. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) No record of this conversation has been found.
  3. See Document 213.
  4. See Document 189.
  5. The South Vietnamese Ambassador to the Republic of Korea was Nguyen Van Kieu, Thieu's brother.
  6. See Document 214.
  7. Document 214.
  8. Telegram 42651 from Saigon, November 14. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI)
  9. Not found.