Document 32. Memorandum for the Record (1)

Washington, June 8, 1965, 1 p.m.

SUBJECT
Cabinet Room Meeting on Vietnam

PRESENT WERE

  • The President
  • For State: Messrs. Rusk, Ball, William Bundy, and Ambassador Taylor
  • For Defense: Messrs. McNamara, Vance and General Wheeler
  • For the White House: Mr. McGeorge Bundy
  • For CIA: Richard Helms

1. This meeting which ran from 1300 to 1430, with the President joining it at 1330, consisted of a rather wide-ranging discussion of the Vietnamese problem. No decisions were made, it being agreed that Mr. Bundy would convene a meeting with General Taylor on Wednesday afternoon (2) to prepare points for decision which could be raised with the President at a session to be held on Thursday morning. (3) This procedure may, of course, be changed, but this was what was forecast as of 1430, 8 June.

2. There was considerable discussion of General Westmoreland's recommendations for United States military increases contained in telegram COMUSMACV-19118 of 7 June. (4) Mr. McNamara informed the President that if these recommended increases were put into effect, it would raise the total of United States forces in Vietnam to 151,000. This figure is made up of 70,000 in place by the end of August, plus 46,000 more requested in the Westmoreland telegram, plus 35,000 recommended for later decision. This total figure would go up to 170,000 if Korean, Australian, and other national units were included. General Taylor explained that the Westmoreland telegram grew out of MACV's concern over the poor fighting performance of the ARVN in recent battles and fear that a break-down of fighting morale might occur among the South Vietnamese. He pointed out that the principal failure was on the part of the Second Division and that steps had already been taken to relieve its commander. General Taylor also noted that desertions in the ARVN were of such a rate that between mid-February and mid-May there had been a net gain of only 11,000 in ARVN total strength. In other words, desertions were off-setting recruitments to a degree which had not been accurately forecast. (There seemed to be some disagreement between Mr. McNamara and General Taylor over the monthly rate of desertions, Mr. McNamara using the figure of 10,000 and Taylor using the figure of from 3,000 to 4,000.) By the end of the meeting, it seemed to be reasonably agreed that the logistics of the situation were such that only a certain number of American troops could be introduced into South Vietnam prior to September and that this in and of itself would tend to defer and to limit the basic decision as the whether the strength of American forces should be allowed to climb to any figure like 150,000. Mr. McNamara was advocating what he referred to as a "limited cost and limited risk" option, and this turns out to be almost identical with what the logistics will in any event permit.

3. The Department of State representatives asked at what point in a build-up of United States forces does this war become a "white man's war". General Taylor replied that he did not know and that it was for this reason that he preferred a slow, "incremental" build-up. Mr. Bundy pointed out that a progressive build-up might develop to a size that was unacceptable, at which point the President discussed the problems we will have with the Congress and with our allies as we add substantial numbers of troops.

4. On the political side, General Taylor discussed the current squabble between Suu and Quat and indicated that he could well do without Suu right now. He said that Suu was constantly welshing on agreements, that he had no particular attributes or political base. General Taylor indicated that if the present government were to fall, the next one would doubtless be a military dictatorship.

5. Mr. McNamara received approval for Rolling Thunder XVIII. One question was raised as to whether this should include Target 43 or Target 28. It was decided to go for Target 28. Otherwise, there was no disagreement on targets.

6. Mr. Rusk asked if there was any evidence of substantial military movements in either Communist China or North Korea. I answered in the negative. (I have asked Mr. Jack Smith to report regularly on this query.)

7. The President asked General Taylor, upon his return to Saigon, to get the South Vietnam Government "on the record" as being opposed to any negotiation between it and the Viet Cong. In response to a question as to what the bombing in the North has achieved aside from giving the South Vietnamese Government some stability for the last ninety days, General Wheeler pointed out that there has been a sizable military benefit in the form of the difficulties which the North Vietnamese have had in moving men and supplies into the South. He said he was convinced that it had thrown a distinct block into the time-table of Viet Cong attacks.

8. The President asked that all options be reviewed, that our objectives in Vietnam be specified, and that recommendations be made later in the week as to how we should proceed with the Vietnamese war.

Richard Helms
Deputy Director


Footnotes:

(1) Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (Helms) Files, Job 80 BO 1285A, Chrono as DDP and DDCI, 1 Jan-31 Dec 65. Secret. Prepared by Helms.

(2) June 9.

(3) See Document 343.

(4) Document 337.

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