67. Memorandum From the Director of the Program Analysis Staff, National Security Council (Lynn) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Analysis For Vietnam

On several occasions we have discussed the need for analysis on Vietnam. Looking back on our experience over the last few years, it is remarkable how frequently we have let our preconceptions about Vietnam lead us astray even though readily available facts would have told us differently had we analyzed them and made the analysis available to top decision-makers. The examples are legend:

  • —the shortcomings of the Strategic Hamlet Program were obvious to any discerning observer of the rural political and economic situation in Vietnam, but we promoted the program without recognizing that it was often counter-productive;
  • —U.S. force deployments in 1965 were predicted on intelligence estimates of enemy strength that underestimated it by half;
  • —our overly optimistic expectations for the bombing campaign against North Vietnam were attributable to our failure to appreciate the minor influence of manpower and logistic constraints on the North Vietnamese effort in South Vietnam;
  • —our mistaken optimism in 1966 that the North Vietnamese could no longer sustain heavy casualties in the South were in complete contradiction with the facts of North Vietnamese demography; nevertheless, we persisted in our beliefs, which would not have stood up to a few simple manpower calculations;
  • —our excessive expectations for the various “revolutionary-development” type cadre programs can be traced to our mis-reading of the basis for Viet Cong appeal in the villages—mature, highly organized, ideologically motivated, and grievance-responsive political leadership;
  • —the shock of the Tet offensive was in part attributable to our failure to analyze available intelligence accurately;
  • —our tolerance of GVN inaction on crucial issues like land reform has been due to the paucity of the most basic type of political analysis on the Viet Cong movement in the early 1960s. Such analysis would have shown that a large measure of their success can be attributed to their exploitation of tenure-related social and economic grievances;
  • —we have persistently misled ourselves as to the capability of the South Vietnamese forces, refusing to recognize that all the critical indicators—night patrols, small unit actions, desertion rates, etc.—suggest a lesser capability.

I cite these examples because of my concern that there is less analysis of Vietnam matters going on in the government today and such analysis is more infrequently weighed by top decision-makers than at anytime since the 1965–66 period. This paucity of analysis at a time when major changes are taking place in our policy could be extremely costly if we cannot anticipate or understand developments in Vietnam.

I contrast the current situation with our position at the time of the NSSM 1 effort earlier in the year.2

In our compilation of the NSSM 1 responses on pacification, bombing, the Phoenix program, and Vietnamese army performance, we were quite surprised at how far we had progressed by early 1969 toward agreement or at least clarified disagreement, on these subjects. I attribute the progress which took place in 1967–68, which we capitalized on in NSSM 1, to the role of analysis in improving the quality of interagency discussion and program understanding.

For example, in the case of the Phoenix program, every NSSM 1 respondent including MACV and CIA (the program sponsors) agreed on what we could and could not expect from anti-infrastructure activities in 1970. Analysis of the pacification program clarified the category “C” hamlet dispute, which is central to any conclusion on the situation in rural Vietnam. On Vietnamese force effectiveness, we were beginning to understand the reasons for poor leadership (small numbers of NCOs and junior officers in combat and inadequate incentives for combat performance) and high desertion rates (an army lacking in political legitimacy in the estimate of the rural populace, from which it takes most of its recruits).

What was significant about NSSM 1 was that much of the analysis had never before been considered at the White House level, and never before had much effort gone into the resolution of the inconsistencies in the analyses of the departments and agencies. But no new analysis was produced for NSSM 1; it had all been done before.

I am concerned that after a good start with NSSM 1 we have not followed through. We are now getting only a trickle of analysis on Vietnam issues at the NSC level. Therefore, we may be missing an important opportunity to enlighten ourselves on matters of great concern.

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I think we should give careful consideration to whether we have marshaled and analyzed all the available evidence on:

  • —the progress of Vietnamese force modernization and the current performance capability of Vietnamese forces;
  • —the effect on Viet Cong political activities and the rebuilding potential for Viet Cong local force and guerilla units pursuant to U.S. troop withdrawals from the Delta; (This is probably the major unanswered question in Vietnam today.)
  • —the real progress, if any, of the GVN toward the implementation of the recently proposed land reform program for which we have allocated $40M;
  • —the extent to which some of our more successful economic assistance programs might allow us to quicken what has been the quite remarkable eroding effect that our economic assistance has had on Viet Cong political fortunes in the countryside;
  • —the nature of the recently registered gains in pacification effort and their vulnerability to a decline in GVN–U.S. military capability.

The NSSM procedure cannot provide for continuous attention to a particular subject like analysis for Vietnam. What is needed is a special mechanism of a semi-permanent nature to provide continuity to the analysis and serve as a touchstone for those in Washington and elsewhere who can make analytical contributions. This mechanism should give direction to the analysis and serve as a forum for the resolution of analytical questions. It should also focus non-government analytical talent on the problems of greatest concern to us.

One way to accomplish this task would be to establish a Vietnam Program Analysis Group under the aegis of the NSC staff. The group should perhaps be co-chaired by a representative from the State Department or the Defense Department and it should include representatives from OSD, JCS, CIA, OST, and BOB. Such a group could sponsor analytical efforts and provide for the circulation of the analytical work within the government. When appropriate these studies could be forwarded through the NSC framework to the NSC Review Group.

I would recommend that the agenda for the Vietnam program analysis group be determined by you after discussion with State and Defense. The group should not have operational responsibilities. It should fill requests arising from:

  • —the need for analysis on program issues ancillary to pending decisions by the President or members of the National Security Council;
  • —the requirement to have a better analytic understanding of the accomplishments of major U.S. programs in Vietnam (e.g. the pacification, Phoenix, Vietnamization, bombing, land reform, and stabilization programs) as the accomplishments of these programs or our expectations about them become matters of high-level interest;
  • —the requirement to have an assessment of the internal developments following major U.S. program changes in Vietnam, for example, [Page 148] the response of GVN and Viet Cong programs in the delta pursuant to the withdrawal of the 9th U.S. Division.


My views as expressed herein do not reflect any attempt on my part to solicit more work, far from it. I bring these views to your attention as a matter of principle. I think careful scrutiny of the record will show that had we coolly and persistently expended more effort on analysis, our course in Vietnam would have been less perilous.

I recommend that you explore these issues with Richardson and Packard and suggest some sort of program analysis arrangement to accomplish the objectives outlined above. If you wish, I can explore the possibilities at the staff level and give you recommendations on organizations, people and possible roles and agenda.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–001, Vietnam Special Study Group (VSSG) Meetings, VSSG Meeting 10–20–69. Secret; No Dissem. Sent for action.
  2. NSSM 1, “Situation in Vietnam,” January 21, and the Summary of Interagency Responses, March 22, are both printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970. See Documents 4 and 44.
  3. Kissinger initialed the approval option. Below it he wrote, “Do quietly. Let me surface pro” but then crossed it out and wrote below that: “Do memo for Pres. & let us set it up before we negotiate it. Talk to me.” Kissinger’s September 5 memorandum to the President, drafted by Lynn, is printed ibid., Document 115.