TOP SECRET DECLASSIFIED
NOTES OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH HIS FOREIGN POLICY ADVISERS: 03/26/1968
The President is briefed by Generals Wheeler (JCS) and General Abrams (XO/MACV); the policy advisers respond:
Ridgway: I agree with the summary as presented by McGeorge Bundy.
Dean: I agree. All of us got the impression that there is no military conclusion in sight. We felt time is running out.
Dean Acheson: Agree with Bundy's presentation. Neither the effort of the Government of Vietnam or the effort of the U.S. government can succeed in the time we have left. Time is limited by reactions in this country. We cannot build an independent South Vietnam; therefore, we sould do something no later than late summer to establish something different.
Henry Cabot Lodge: We should shift from search and destroy strategy to a strategy of using our military power as a shield to permit the South Vietnamese society to develop as well as North Vietnamese society has been able to do. We need to organize South Vietnam on a block-by-block, precinct-by-precinct basis.
Douglas Dillon: We should change the emphasis. I agree with Acheson. The briefing last night led me to conclude we cannot achieve a military victory. I would agree with Lodge that we should cease search-and-destroy tactics and head toward an eventual disengagement. I would send only the troops necessary to support those there now.
George Ball: I share Acheson's view. I have felt that way since 1961--that our objectives are not attainable. In the U.S. there is a sharp division of opinion. In the world, we look very badly because of the bombing. That is the central defect in our position. The disadvantages of the bombing far outweigh the advantages. We need to stop the bombing in the next six weeks to test the will of the North Vietnamese. As long as we continue to bomb, we alienate ourselves from the civilized world. I would have the Pope or U Thant suggest the bombing halt. It cannot come from the President. A bombing halt would quiet the situation here at home.
Cy Vance: McGeorge Bundy stated my views. I agree with George Ball. Unless we do something quick, the mood in this country may lead us to withdrawal. On troops, we should send no more than 13,000 support troops.
General Bradley: People in the country are dissatisfied. We do need to stop the bombing if we can get the suggestion to come from the Pope or U Thant, but let's not show them that we are in any way weakening. We should send only support troops.
Bob Murphy: I am shaken by the position of my associates. The interpretation given this action by Saigon would be bad. This is a "give-away" policy. I think it would weaken our position.
General Taylor: I am dismayed. The picture I get is a very different one from that you have. Let's not concede the home front; let's do something about it.
Fortas: The U.S. has never had in mind winning a military victory out there; we always have wanted to reach an agreement or settle for the status quo between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. I agree with General Taylor and Bob Murphy. This is not the time for an overture on our part. I do not think a cessation of the bombing would do any good at this time. I do not believe in drama for the sake of drama.
Acheson: The issue is not that stated by Fortas. The issue is can we do what we are trying to do in Vietnam. I do not think we can. Fortas said we are not trying to win a military victory. The issue is can we by military means keep the North Vietnamese off the South Vietnamese. I do not think we can. They can slip around and end-run and crack them up.
TOP SECRET DECLASSIFIED
Cabinet Meeting:03/26/68//White House:
Generals Wheeler and Abrams brief the President on the outcome of the Tet Offensive; the President responds:
"Our fiscal situation is abominable. We have a deficit running over 20. We are not getting the tax bill. The deficit could be over 30. If it does, the interest rate will raise. The British pound may fall. The Canadian pound may fall. The dollar will be in danger. Unless we get a tax bill it will be unthinkable.
"They say to get $10 in taxes we must get $10 in reductions of appropriations. We have to take one half from non-Vietnam defense expenditures. That will cause hell with Russell. If we don't do that we will have hell. What happens when you cut poverty, housing and education?
This has been complicated by the fact it is an election year. I don't give a damn about the election. I will be happy just to keep doing what is right and lose the election.
"There has been a panic in the last three weeks. It was caused by Ted Kennedy's report on corruption and the ARVN and the GVN being no good. And now a release that Westmoreland wants 206,000 men, and a call-up of 400,000. That would cost $15 billion. That would hurt the dollar and gold.
"The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. The country is demoralized. You must know about it. It's tough you can't have communications. A worker writes a paper for Clifford group and its all over Georgetown. The people are trying to save us from ourselves. You must bear this in mind.
"Bobby advocated: (1) Rusk resigning. (2) Placing the war in the hands of a Commission. I said no.
"I will have overwhelming disapproval in the polls and elections. I will go down the drain. I don't want the whole alliance and military pulled with it.
"Ambassador Goldberg wants us not to bomb North Vietnam for three weeks. Secretary Clifford has a plan to stop above the 20th parallel, and his infiltration. We must have something.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they repealed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Senator Russell wants to go in and take out Haiphong. Senator McCarthy and Senator Kennedy and the left wing has informers in the departments. The Times and the Post are all against us. Most of the press is against us.
"How can we get this job done? We need more money in an election year, more taxes in an election year, more troops in an election year and more cuts in an election year.
As yet I cannot tell them what they expect to get in return. We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request, leaks, Ted Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy.
"I would give Westmoreland 206,000 men if he said he needed them and if we could get them."
TOP SECRET DECLASSIFIED
The meeting opens with General Earle Wheeler giving a presentation accounting for the recent Tet offensive in South Vietnam. Others at the meeting add and respond. President Johnson then adds comments:
"The big problem is the impression we make with the public... We have to be careful about statements like Westmoreland's when he came back and said he saw 'light at the end of the tunnel.' Now we have the shock of this Tet Offensive.
"Ho Chi Minh never got elected to anything...He is like Hitler in many ways... But we, the President and the Cabinet, are called murderers and they never say anything about Mr. Ho. The signs are all over here. They all say 'Stop the War'. But you never see any of them over there. Then he launches the Tet attack, breaks the truce and escalates by firing on 44 cities, all the time we are offering a bombing pause.
"It is like the country lawyer who made the greatest speech of his life but they electrocuted his client. We are like that now...
"We have got to guard against over-optimism now. We have got all these proposals...From the Javitses and the Gavins, Fulbright and the Kennedy boys and Romney and the rest.
"I want the State Department and the military, Bob McNamara and Dean Rusk to look at all these proposals, get me a paper on how these opinions and options...Analyze them and let me know how we can escalate peace.
"We have our shirttails out all around the world...We have people out traveling, hunting for peace...Just when you think there may be some progress and you draw circles around Hanoi and Haiphong, just at that time you're answered by a cannon shot."