Document 12. Memorandum for the Record (1)

Washington, February 3, 1965.

SUBJECT
Discussion with The President re South Vietnam

I told the President that I was exceedingly worried about the developing situation in South Vietnam and that reports received today indicated the prospect of a more serious and immediate political crisis in Saigon than was earlier anticipated. I explained that all reports from the Embassy and the Station indicated that Khanh's arrangements with the Buddhists had come unglued and he apparently was in serious trouble with most of the Generals. Therefore I felt the reports that Khanh's "days or even hours" were numbered were probably true. I therefore concluded that there was a high probability of immediate trouble.

I then pointed out to the President the composition of the Kosygin mission, indicating that with the Chief of the Soviet Air Force, the Chief negotiator for aid, and the Chief Civilian Aviation Minister included in this party, leads me to the conclusion Kosygin would offer military equipment, at least for air defense such as surface to air missiles, supplies and materiel to continue and intensify insurgency and would provide logistic support. In the final analysis we felt that Kosygin would encourage Hanoi to intensify what they were doing now in the way of subversion, political action and guerrilla activities and
to avoid overt military action which would bring a confrontation with the United States. The President read the 2 February Watch Committee Report (2) and then said, "If you were President of the United States, what would you do about it?"

I responded that we must produce a viable Government by breeding acceptable military leadership with the Buddhists and other civilian segments to produce the best possible Government and while this appeared difficult, I did not think it was impossible.

I said even with this we could not win the way we were going and therefore we must take military action against North Vietnam. I advocated bombing of selected targets in North Vietnam, starting in the south and working north and carrying the raids on intensively, that is at least one a day. I said that we should gradually work towards the north but should not strike deeply into North Vietnam territory (as advocated by the JCS) at the start.

The President asked if this would not bring in the Chinese Communists in the air or on the ground. I said there was a possibility that they would come in on the ground but they had little capability in the air. I said we had to face this contingency and be prepared to handle any possible development but added that while Chinese Communist ground intervention was a possibility, I did not estimate it as a probability under the course of action advocated.

The President then asked that I communicate with Bundy through our Chief of Station and develop immediately a cast of characters that might formulate a compatible Government, i.e., military, Buddhists, etc. With respect to Catholics, I said they would be difficult to handle but I did not think they would resort to extreme measures unless the Government established in this way represented a threat to the Catholic community.

The President questioned me concerning consequences of our withdrawal from Vietnam and I said that it would pave the way toward Communist takeover of all of Southeast Asia. I mentioned current moves in Thailand, the situation in Indonesia, and the probable developments in Malaysia under such circumstances.


Footnotes:

(1) Source: Johnson Library, John McCone Memoranda of Meetings with the President. Secret; Eyes Only. Dictated by McCone and transcribed in his office. The meeting began at 3:25 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)

(2) Not found.

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