June 30, 1965
is designed to raise questions and not to answer them, and I am
afraid it may sound unhelpful.
memorandum to the President of June 26 seems to me to have grave
1. It proposes
a doubling of our presently planned strength in South Vietnam,
a tripling of air effort in the north, and a new and very important
program of naval quarantine. It proposes this new land commitment
at a time when our troops are entirely untested in the kind of
warfare projected. It proposes greatly extended air action when
the value of the air action we have taken is sharply disputed.
It proposes naval quarantine by mining at a time when nearly everyone
agrees the real question is not in Hanoi but in South Vietnam.
My first reaction is that his program is rash to the point of
2. The memorandum
itself points out that the test of the success of any program
in the near future will be in South Vietnam. I agree with this
view. But I think it far from clear that these drastic changes
will have commensurate significance in the decisive field. In
particular, I see no reason to suppose that the Viet Cong will
accommodate us by fighting the kind of war we desire. Fragmentary
evidence so far suggests that they intend to avoid direct contact
with major US forces and concentrate their efforts against the
Vietnamese Army. I think the odds are that if we put in 40-50
battalions with the missions here proposed, we shall find them
only lightly engaged and ineffective in hot pursuit.
3. The paper
does not discuss the question of agreement with the Vietnamese
Government before we move to a 200 thousand-man level. The apparent
basis for doing this is simply the increasing weakness of Vietnamese
forces. But this is a slippery slope toward total US responsibility
and corresponding feckleness on the Vietnamese side.
4. The paper
also omits examination of the upper limit of US liability. If
we need 200 thousand men now for these quite limited missions,
may we not need 400 thousand later? Is this a rational course
of action? Is there any real prospect that US regular forces can
conduct the anti-guerrilla operations which would probably remain
the central problem in South Vietnam?
5. The suggestion
of a naval quarantine is particularly drastic and highly important.
I think it should be separated from the rest of the paper. A blockade
by mining would have both greater risks and much greater impact.
It needs a kind of study it has not had (as far as I know) before
it is seriously proposed.
6. This paper
omits certain additional possibilities that should be considered
before a specific program of pressure if adopted:
It is within our power to give much more drastic warnings to
Hanoi than any we have yet given. If General Eisenhower is right
in his belief that it was the prospect of nuclear attack which
brought an armistice in Korea, we should at least consider the
realistic threat of larger action is available to us for communication
to Hanoi. A full interdiction of supplies to North Vietnam by
air and sea is a possible candidate for such an ultimatum. These
are weapons which may be more useful to us if we do not have
to use them.
The paper passes by the possibility that stronger interdiction
of north-south traffic might be possible by combining land,
sea, and air action. I am not persuaded by what I have heard
in casual comments of impossibility of tightening these pressures
by combined action. Is there no prospect that special forces
could hold critical strong points in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh
Trail? It is impossible to tighten controls along the DMZ? Have
we really done all we can in naval patrol?
7. The timing
of an expanded effort needs examination. It is not at all clear
that we should make these kinds of decisions early in July with
the very fragmentary evidence available to us now on a number
of critical points: the tactics of the VC, the prospects of the
Ky Government, and the effectiveness of the US forces in these
8. Any expanded
program needs to have a clear sense of its own internal momentum.
The paper does not face this problem. If US casualties group sharply,
what further actions do we propose to take or not to take? More
broadly still, what is the real object of the exercise? If it
is to get to the conference table, what results do we seek there?
Still more brutally, do we want to invest 200 thousand men to
cover an eventual retreat? Can we not do that just as well where