U.S. Department of State
FRUS, Vol. III, 1964-68, Vietnam, June-December 1965
Office of the Historian
Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
Department of State
(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of the volume.)
Since 1861, the Department of State's documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991. (22 USC 4351, et seq.) U.S. policies in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson are the subject of 34 printed volumes. Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.
This volume is the second of two for 1965, the year in which the United States committed large-scale combat forces, prestige, and resources to Vietnam, continue the Department of State's expanded coverage of the documentary history of the Vietnam war. The Vietnam volumes for 1965 are extensive and intensive, each documenting 6 months of policy deliberation and decisions. The Foreign Relations volumes on Vietnam are the most comprehensive published collection of documents on the war, surpassing the "Pentagon Papers," which were made public with much controversy during the war. Unlike the "Pentagon Papers," whose authors did not have access to White House files, these Foreign Relations volumes rely heavily on the records of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his aides. They continue the tradition, begun with the first volumes on President Eisenhower's Vietnam policy, of using expanded sources. In addition to extensive research at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, the editors examined and selected records from the Departments of State and Defense and Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the papers of key officials such as General William Westmoreland, Averell Harriman, General Maxwell Taylor, General Harold Johnson, John McNaughton, and Senator Mike Mansfield.
Most of the documents were originally classified. The Historical Documents Review Division of the Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices of other agencies and foreign governments, carried out their declassification.
The following is a summary of the negotiations and policy discussions documented in the volume. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.
In the summer of 1965, U.S. officials engaged in an intensive debate on the expansion of the American commitment to South Vietnam. Convinced that South Vietnam would lose the military struggle without substantial U.S. ground troop support, General William C. Westmoreland, Commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), requested a large-scale deployment of combat and logistical forces, and predicted a need for additional forces in the future. He foresaw a long war involving an increasing number of troops. (17) Westmoreland's call for more soldiers led to the decision to intervene militarily in Vietnam.
The civilian regime in South Vietnam had been unable to gain any political support for its authority. Thus, the military returned to power, ostensibly at the invitation of Prime Minister Phan Huy Quat, with the formation on June 17 of a National Leadership Council. The chairman of the Council was Nguyen Van Thieu, who also acted as the Republic of Vietnam's Chief of State. Nguyen Cao Ky, vice-chairman of the Council, became Prime Minister. (2, 5) The Embassy in Saigon hoped that the Ky cabinet would promote unity, project an improved image, implement reform, and incorporate opposition groups into the South Vietnamese political process. (9) But any such political progress would be slow in coming. The June 19 Charter stated that until a new constitution could be promulgated, sovereignty would rest with the military. (12)
Contrary to the Embassy's hopes, the situation in the south deteriorated during the summer of 1965. Internal political dissension led by militant Buddhists erupted anew in central Vietnam. The ruling military directorate in Saigon used the continuing Communist threat as an excuse to impose a moratorium on political activity and set back efforts to cultivate support among various elements in the south. (134, 138) Reports that the South Vietnamese national police were using noxious gas to quell dissent exacerbated tensions. Although the gas used was not nausea-producing, its application in crowd control continued with MACV approval. (147, 150) Unlike the demonstrators, most South Vietnamese were, in the words of the Embassy, "fence-sitters," but popular resentment of the large U.S. presence was growing. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, who replaced Ambassador Maxwell Taylor in August, optimistically concluded that just 15 percent of southerners sympathized with the Viet Cong, but admitted that the subversive group had an organizational structure superior to that of the South Vietnamese government (GVN). (165, 166) The country could be salvaged only with an infusion of U.S. troops, the South Vietnamese leadership contended. (60)
As the situation deteriorated, the U.S. military effort in Vietnam expanded. On June 16, 21,000 more troops were ordered to Vietnam, and on June 17, B-52 bombers were used for the first time. On June 18, the President agreed to Westmoreland's June 7 request for airmobile battalions. Under Secretary of State George Ball urged limiting the American role. He wanted a standstill cease-fire and bombing halt followed by internationally supervised elections. Ball had insisted that the President keep control of policy and not let the momentum of the impending intervention overtake other considerations. Since there was little indication that American involvement could make a difference in the long run, the United States would be bogged down like the French a decade earlier. (7) National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy argued for a stand-down in the fighting during June, although not as a way of proceeding along the lines that Ball had recommended. To Bundy, the pause would demonstrate the good faith of the American side while placing the onus for the continuation of the war upon Hanoi and even Peking. Bundy hoped for Soviet leverage upon Hanoi to compel it to negotiate and a lessening of growing U.S. domestic criticism. Such a pause would occur not in place of but in conjunction with the escalation. (8)
Proponents of a bombing halt failed to convince the President, who now worried about the military advantage such action would give the enemy. At the June 23 meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), Secretary of State Dean Rusk warned of Southeast Asia's fall to Communist China, while Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara called for an increased application of military force in Vietnam along with a greater emphasis on negotiations. (16) With such hawkish advice, the President rejected Ball's plan for limits on troop numbers. On June 29, the President ordered additional battalions to Vietnam, which pushed the force level to 125,000.
Now clearly in the minority, Ball countered that such a commitment would result in catastrophe. He believed that the President had to carefully consider U.S. participation in the war. When things turned sour, a withdrawal would have an adverse impact upon American credibility and commitments abroad. (24) Hence, Ball saw this decision as a turning point. "A substantial and careful plan for cutting our losses" would allow the United States to get out of the conflict without a significant decline in prestige. (26) On the other hand, McGeorge Bundy argued that America in 1965 was not colonial France in 1954. "The US in 1965 is responding to the call of a people under communist assault," he asserted. According to Bundy, the position of the administration was strong, even united, at home, and morally justified. The United States could succeed in Vietnam. (33)
Westmoreland was given authority to move his forces anywhere inside South Vietnam. On June 28, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) informed him that he would have an authorized force strength totaling 175,000 men. (28) Westmoreland responded that the projected force of 34 American and 10 allied battalions were insufficient to do the job. Only an overwhelming force could deter Communist aggression in South Vietnam. He wanted more troops to secure the provinces in the central highlands. (31)
On July 1, the President received several important memoranda relating to the likely intervention. McNamara requested an expansion of U.S. forces in Vietnam up to 44 battalions and expanded air strikes. A key part of his strategy for victory would consist of the simultaneous opening of a channel of negotiations with the North Vietnamese, which would assuage the Soviet leadership as well as U.S. public opinion. (38) Rusk wanted to emphasize a maximum effort on the part of the South Vietnamese, but he acknowledged that U.S. ground forces, air action, "other flags," peace negotiations, and pacification in the countryside could supplement the effort. (39) Ball advocated a dovish line of a compromise settlement wherein the United States would achieve less than its stated aims but would reduce its losses significantly. He wanted the President to move quickly toward a formal conference using the North Vietnamese commercial representative in Paris, Mai Van Bo, as the intermediary. Ball did not want to abandon the South Vietnamese as long as they would fight for themselves, but he wanted to keep the U.S. role minimal. By keeping the stakes low, America would avoid the humiliation of a lost war, which would come if it failed to achieve all but a complete victory. (40) Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy proposed a "Middle Way." This short-term alternative would be a test of the military effectiveness of a sizable number of U.S. forces and the reaction to its performance. At this point, the President should not withdraw the troops, but he should not increase them above the 85,000 level already in place. (41) Johnson continued to keep his options open. He did not approve any specific action but set in motion various elements from each of them.
On July 8 and July 9, the President received strong support for his impending decision for escalation in Vietnam from the so-called "Wise Men," distinguished informal Presidential advisers. The Wise Men met and concluded that Vietnam was a crucial test of the American ability to counter Communism. They suggested the stakes were important enough for the President to authorize whatever combat forces were necessary to prevent defeat. (55) At the same time, the JCS reported that the air strikes were having a minimal impact upon the enemy's ability to wage war. (57) Because of its disappointing results, the air campaign was becoming secondary to the war on the ground. Therefore, the President should proceed with the 34 U.S. battalion (and 10 allied battalion) plan soon, dispatching the troops gradually so as to minimize the impact of the decision. (61, 63) He could even mobilize the reserves, since a joint resolution in Congress could be attached to pending domestic legislation. (80)
At the President's request, McNamara visited South Vietnam to determine whether the large U.S. commitment would force the Communists into a settlement favorable to the GVN and whether it would create an adverse reaction among the Vietnamese people. (54) South Vietnamese leaders asked McNamara for additional U.S. matériel support and the introduction of U.S. fighting units to relieve the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) for pacification duty. (60, 63, 64) After returning from his trip on July 21, McNamara summarized the options at the President's disposal: to withdraw, to maintain the status quo and continue to weaken, or to increase the force levels inside Vietnam and expand the bombing effort, thereby increasing pressure on Hanoi and demonstrating that the odds of winning were against the Communists.
Reinforcing his earlier recommendations, McNamara saw a possible victory in South Vietnam by 1968 with the augmentation of Westmoreland's forces. In conjunction with military measures, McNamara recommended a substantial expansion of the political effort against the Viet Cong (VC) insurgency. These actions would avoid defeat and provide a chance for a favorable settlement. He thought that upwards of 34 battalions, approximately 175,000 U.S. troops (more if there was not a Korean contribution) could satisfy the requirement initially, although an additional 100,000 might be needed by early 1966. He advocated calling up 235,000 reservists and National Guardsmen. (67) Ball predicted that such a massive force risked becoming "lost in the rice paddies." (71)
President Johnson moved cautiously toward a limited effort in Vietnam. (72) His political adviser, Horace Busby, believed that Johnson was walking a dangerous path. What was now proposed was a new type of war: it would no longer be South Vietnam's struggle; it would be "ours." (75) There were, however, no objections to the intervention, and even Ball declared that he would go along with the final decision. On July 22, the President met with his top Defense advisers and Generals. All the Service Secretaries and the JCS believed that it would be a mistake to withdraw. McNamara stressed the new phase of U.S. involvement. "Now we would bear the responsibility for satisfactory military outcome." (76) Troops would be withdrawn only when there was proof that the enemy no longer infiltrated southward. (78) Like McNamara, McGeorge Bundy noted the changed mission with the combat troops now in South Vietnam. The administration had moved from a guerrilla insurgency to a conventional war. (83) On July 24, a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile (SAM) shot down an American aircraft for the first time. The President approved an attack on two SAM sites far from Hanoi. (87, 90)
The formal decision on combat troop deployment came at the NSC meeting on July 27. No one opposed the troop deployment. If the United States was going into Vietnam, it would not be a partial war. (93) Later that day, Johnson briefed Congressional leaders. He insisted that there was "no change in policy." (94) Senator Mike Mansfield (D.-Mont.) and other senior Senators believed that America should not be in Vietnam and told the President that American troops should be extricated as soon as possible. (96) Nevertheless, on July 28, the President announced the decision to the public at a midday press conference. The announcement indicated 28 combat battalions would be sent; 6 more were sent on September 1 without announcement.
At the press conference, the President also announced he was ready for unconditional discussions with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). (97, 132) U.S. diplomats encouraged peace initiatives by other countries in the hope that some indirect openings would arise. Relations with the Soviet Union had been improving over the last 2 years, so perhaps the Soviets would help. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko told U.S. Ambassador Foy Kohler that while the Soviet Union was interested in undertaking private approaches to end the war, it could not negotiate with the DRV on behalf of the United States. (23) The Central Intelligence Agency concluded that the Soviets wanted to contain their commitment to Hanoi, and thus had sought to deter further American escalation in Vietnam. (58)
Ambassador at Large W. Averell Harriman heard the most promising indications from Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. The United States should undertake a peace initiative with Hanoi, which would not interpret it as a sign of weakness. Harriman responded that the President was waiting for a response from the North Vietnamese. Kosygin retorted that "people with the noise of bombs in their ears are not anxious to negotiate." (59) The Soviet Premier believed that Washington had made a mistake in equating Hanoi with Peking. The North Vietnamese would probably bypass the Chinese and go for a negotiated settlement if bombing ended. He urged that Washington make counter-proposals to the DRV's Four Points (settlement terms that Hanoi had espoused in April). (68)
Many third-party attempts to open negotiations failed. In mid-June, the Premiers of the British Commonwealth met in London and decided to form a mission to contact all interested parties with the goal of beginning a de-escalation. Although welcomed by the United States and South Vietnam, the Soviets, Chinese, and North Vietnamese rebuffed the overture. (6) Yugoslav Premier Joseph Tito and Indian Prime Minister Shastri unsuccessfully called for the suspension of the bombing and the opening of a Geneva-style conference to resolve the dispute. (102) President Nkrumah of Ghana desired a temporary halt to coincide with his visit to Hanoi, but his plea was rejected by the United States on the grounds that Hanoi was already a restricted area and the bombing would end simply if the DRV stopped its aggression against South Vietnam. (111)
There was extensive pressure to take the case of Vietnam to the United Nations. Senator Wayne Morse (D-Ore.), the leader of the campaign, pointed out that the United States could not unilaterally end the war. The United Nations could deal with the hostilities in Vietnam before it became a general war and U.N. action would be a viable alternative to escalation. The administration, however, was leery of any move toward Security Council debate, fearing it would have an adverse impact upon Saigon's morale, would make Moscow more hard-line, and would be seen in Hanoi as weakness. "Given these difficulties," McGeorge Bundy noted, "I am inclined to back away from this one." (10, 18, 19)
The Soviets also opposed such a move. Soviet Ambassador Anatoli Dobrynin told Rusk that his government did not consider the Security Council "a proper forum" for deliberations on Southeast Asia. A pessimistic Rusk proposed that U.S. Representative to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson sound out Secretary-General U Thant on exploring the possibility for a peace conference with the Soviets. The initiative might be worthwhile if it could influence Moscow to decrease its aid to North Vietnam or help to re-establish the Geneva forum. (52) North Vietnam would insist on separate National Liberation Front (NLF) representation as a precondition for talks, which was unacceptable to Washington. On the other side, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko told Rusk, the U.S. requirement for ending infiltration and attacks forced the North Vietnamese to undertake negotiations from a position of weakness. They would never come to the conference table in such an environment. (158)
Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, who replaced Stevenson at the United Nations, advised a more public display of American intentions. The President could express his desire to seek peace by announcing the intervention and, at the same time, trying to obtain in the Security Council a simple resolution calling for an unconditional peace. (82) Presidential adviser Clark Clifford opposed going to the United Nations on the grounds that it was inconsistent with sending in large numbers of troops. (85) The President thought that it should at least be tried, so he asked Goldberg to investigate the feasibility of such a resolution with Thant, allied nations, and the Soviet Union. Rusk perceived such a resolution as a way to placate critics and bring about a settlement process. (87, 89)
Later that summer, Thant did personally appeal to various parties for opening a conference to establish conditions for the cessation of hostilities. Hanoi refused U.N. involvement, and the Soviets and French were not interested in Security Council action. Goldberg appealed directly to Security Council members, insisting that the United States was prepared to work unconditionally for peace. (99, 114) The British did come forward with a resolution on Vietnam that called for a cessation of hostilities along with a North Vietnamese commitment to end infiltration. Since there was no policing mechanism for the agreement, it was turned down by the United States. (106)
On July 28, the President had sent the U.N. Secretary-General an explanation of his actions in Vietnam and asked him to determine whether the Soviets would be interested in initiating a peace process. On August 12, U Thant proposed a two-part basis for a settlement that included foreign troop withdrawal and supervised elections. (119) The U.S. Government agreed with Thant's suggestions that cessation at first could be de facto, and then formalized later in a conference. Thant transmitted this offer in a note to the Chinese, Soviets, and North Vietnamese (who again rejected the offer). (129) Security Council members questioned whether the United States really wanted negotiations, or if its efforts were for international public opinion. According to Goldberg, the administration had to reiterate strongly the call for unconditional negotiations in order to avoid such condemnation. (175)
In discussions with Harriman, Kosygin had suggested that Washington follow through with some offer to Hanoi. (59, 68) Thereafter, secret talks began with Bo in Paris. Retired diplomat Ambassador Edmund Gullion, a former Deputy Chief of Mission in Saigon, undertook this sensitive assignment, known as the "XYZ Affair." Gullion was codenamed X and Bo became R (or Rupert). In these talks, Bo appeared not to insist upon prior withdrawal before formal discussions. (98) He described the "modalities" of withdrawal as flexible and the Geneva terms as a "valid base" for the settlement of the war, but insisted that only the NLF represent the South Vietnamese people. (113) The United States in turn wanted an "unconditional Geneva Conference" and the withdrawal of all foreign forces. Washington would suspend its bombing campaign only for adequate reciprocal actions and would not allow for an NLF "role as a right" in South Vietnam. (115) Bo wanted the United States to give proof of its acceptance of the Four Points: U.S. withdrawal had to precede unification and the NLF had to be equated with the GVN.
The United States could not accept these conditions. As the war in Vietnam escalated in the early fall, the DRV negotiating position became more intractable. In his August 13 meeting with Bo, Gullion found him "rigid, even retrograde." Bo would not say if the Four Points had to be accepted wholesale before the convening of a peace conference. Gullion found some encouragement in the fact that Bo failed specifically to mention the continued bombardment of North Vietnam as an obstacle to negotiations. Otherwise, there was little progress. (120) Two days later, they had a positive session. Gullion asked Bo what "proofs" were necessary to begin talks. Bo replied that the end of the bombing was "tangible evidence" of U.S. acceptance of the Four Points as a basis for discussions. (122) On September 1, Bo retreated on the terms for ending the fighting in Vietnam. The United States would have to withdraw its troops before any elections could take place and would have to end the bombing unilaterally. (133) By November 1, diplomat Paul Sturm, codenamed Y, had taken over from Gullion. The North Vietnamese representative saw nothing new in the messages that Sturm conveyed, so the contact soon ended. (185) The key DRV requirement remained an unconditional suspension of the bombing campaign.
The intelligence community concluded that the DRV could be persuaded by new air attacks that its goals were unachievable and thus moved toward compromise. But the Director of INR, Thomas Hughes, dissented, protesting that escalation of the bombing campaign would undermine U.S. insistence that it was fighting in Vietnam for limited objectives. In any case, Hanoi would refuse to negotiate, and the Chinese and Soviets would become more involved. (148) Chester Cooper of the NSC believed that while Hanoi had given an "impression of greater flexibility," it had rejected unconditional discussions and U.N. intervention and insisted on the Four Points as the "sole correct basis" for a settlement. (152) The Soviets may have had a real interest in seeing negotiations begin, but China was pressuring Hanoi not to negotiate. (154, 158)
Based on discussions with the North Vietnamese, Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Peter told his American counterparts that as long as the bombing went on, the DRV leaders would not entertain the idea of negotiations. The United States could seize the initiative by ending military operations in Vietnam and, according to Peter, the DRV would surely reciprocate. Rusk disagreed, pointing out that the Communists did not reduce their activities in Laos after the 1962 Geneva Accords. (159) Lodge argued that following Peter's advice to cease the bombing would be "a very serious blow." The Romanian Government also claimed that Hanoi no longer insisted upon withdrawal of U.S. troops before negotiations, although the DRV had kept its requirement of recognition of the NLF program as the basis for these talks. (168)
U.S. domestic dissent became a complicating factor in the attempt to open negotiations. Significant antiwar protests began in August. Lodge advised the administration to convince the public that it had left no stone unturned in its pursuit of peace talks over the last 6 months, but he remained a hard-liner who publicly encouraged the idea of total military victory and non-recognition of the NLF. (124, 162, 174, 176) The President shared Lodge's views that the United States would not accept anything that allowed a Communist takeover. (192)
Contacts between the Embassy in Saigon and the NLF, however, did take place in the fall of 1965. (45, 46, 47) The Embassy was at first reluctant to parley with the NLF, believing that any such contacts would demonstrate an "overeagerness to negotiate" and undermine South Vietnamese morale. (47, 48, 50) The overture from the NLF came through the auspices of the Vatican. Archbishop Palmas, Apostolic Delegate to Saigon, told Lodge that a "former Vietnamese cabinet minister" had contact with an NLF representative who wanted to see him. This individual headed a faction within the NLF opposed to Hanoi's domination and was seeking an end to the fighting in South Vietnam. Lodge viewed the approach as possibly significant. Any leak of this contact would damage relations with the South Vietnamese, so Rusk authorized "a very cautious probe of this feeler." (191) The individual's credentials were delivered first in order to ascertain his validity. (193)
Lodge agreed to receive an NLF representative, provided he was a high- ranking official. Rusk hoped that the meeting would result in splintering the NLF by bringing about important defections. (217, 219) It never materialized. Palmas believed that his informant had been "cheated and deceived" by the VC or that Hanoi had quashed the effort. (232) Lodge and Palmas met again on December 5. The individual was ready to see Lodge, but the Ambassador demurred, insisting that he had to meet with someone identified in advance as holding senior rank. On December 31, Palmas informed Lodge that the NLF "minister" was unable to meet with him. Despite the disappointing results, the United States continued to hope that a split would develop within the NLF that could be exploited in the future. (276)
U.S. policymakers were also forced to respond to NLF threatened and actual terrorist acts. The administration had asked the South Vietnamese to delay a scheduled execution of VC cadres in response to what it considered as "blackmail" for the non-execution of U.S. prisoners. It failed to dissuade the VC leaders, who subsequently executed one of the American soldiers held captive. The next day, the VC bombed the My Canh restaurant, an establishment popular with U.S. personnel, killing 23 Americans. (20, 21, 22) An attempt to prevent VC reprisal executions of U.S. prisoners of war was made by trying to secure International Red Cross, British, or other third-party protection for American prisoners. However, the Embassy predicted that Hanoi would reject any such designation. (167, 173)
Leaks to the press about various peace initiatives and the resulting public pressure did result in a Christmas holiday pause. In November, Professor Giorgio LaPira went to Hanoi at the request of Italian Foreign Minister Amintore Fanfani. On November 20, Fanfani told President Johnson that the North Vietnamese strongly desired a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Ho Chi Minh simply wanted a cessation of hostilities and adherence to the Geneva protocols. (205) Fanfani said that Hanoi actually had a "very deep suspicion" of Peking and was not bound by China to continue the military struggle. Furthermore, the DRV had omitted any stipulation of U.S. withdrawal as a prerequisite to talks. (207) All the United States had to do was issue a statement in support of the Geneva principles, and pledge eventual withdrawal. The DRV, however, would not negotiate with the GVN. (210, 211) LaPira's identity was soon leaked to the press, however, causing North Vietnam to disassociate itself from his initiative. (263) In addition, the Stevenson-U Thant talks of 1964-1965 were also revealed by journalist Eric Sevareid in a Look magazine story. (203)
The peace moves did not deter U.S. military efforts. The military buildup that occurred during the fall of 1965 proved insufficient, and the JCS wanted its operational authority expanded and more troops placed at Westmoreland's disposal. Upon the advice of Admiral Ulysses Sharp, Commander in Chief, Pacific, the JCS recommended a stepped-up military campaign against the north. (125, 130) The military wanted to expand the bombing beyond its present pattern to include the Hanoi-Haiphong area, IL-28 and MIG airbases, and SAM sites within the capital and port area. (136) The JCS recommended bombing the SAM sites and airfields in the previously restricted area around Hanoi. (140) McNamara became concerned that while the bombing had some usefulness in terms of interdiction, it failed to deter overall VC capabilities in South Vietnam and was causing significant damage for the United States in public opinion terms. (100) McNamara therefore opposed the JCS- recommended strikes for late September. The President supported him, and the strikes were not approved. (142) The President opted for a graduated bombing program in the hope that Hanoi would become more conciliatory over time as America demonstrated its will to persevere.
In mid-July, McNamara had devised a plan, based on recommendations from MACV, for the phased use of U.S. troops in Vietnam. Phase I would be an attempt to reverse the losing trend by deploying a total of 175,000 troops in strategic defense. In Phase II, beginning in early 1966, 100,000 more troops would be deployed to engage in strategically offensive operations against the enemy in high priority areas. In Phase III, additional forces might be needed to eradicate the enemy if it still maintained a military force. (67, 132) But now, MACV and the JCS wanted an increase in force levels to 210,000 from 175,000 men, while McNamara was reluctant to go above 200,000 men. (149, 153) Agreeing with McNamara not to exceed the mark of 200,000, the President approved an increase in force levels to 195,000 men. (155)
During the fall, some of Johnson's key advisers called for a temporary cessation of the fighting. On October 22, William Bundy argued for the feasibility of a second pause during 1965. Washington had to "play down the element of threat" to make the pause credible, yet the underlying assumption was that bombing would resume when the pause expired. (178) Three options existed: 1) a pause followed by Phase II deployments, 2) no pause and deployments, or 3) halting all deployments but continuing bombardments. (181) McGeorge Bundy realized that the nature of the war would change drastically with the Phase II deployments in which U.S. troops would assume the dominant role, and so recommended a pause at this point before moving forward. (183)
On November 3, McNamara told the President that Phase I would be completed by early 1966, and the "favorable outcome" predicted in his July 20 memorandum would be achieved. McNamara's preference was thus for a "hard-line pause" with resumption of U.S. bombing followed by troop deployments if concessions were not forthcoming from the DRV. A bombing pause would gain favorable public opinion, which would lead to an easier acceptance of additional troop deployments. He did concede, however, that the enemy had an excellent chance of hanging on. (189) Rusk opposed the continued escalation in bombing because the enemy was "weakening." He wanted the bombing "leveled-off." (194) Thus, agreement existed on the dispatch of combat personnel, but not on the proposed pause. (198)
In mid-November, the first major battle between U.S. and Communist main force units occurred in the Ia Drang Valley. Given the number of enemy casualties, the U.S. military concluded that attrition could work and that it should continue its policy of seeking out the enemy. Continued infiltration of troops from North Vietnam, however, made up for attrition, matching the U.S. build up and pushing up the costs of escalation. MACV's requirements kept rising. At the end of November, Westmoreland estimated that the forces he needed for Phase II had risen to 200,000, thereby increasing the total required force level from 275,000 outlined in July to 410,000.
Following a short trip to Saigon, McNamara presented to the President a stark account of the deteriorating military situation in which he predicted the existing troops would be inadequate for military progress. In conjunction with a significant augmentation of forces, he recommended a bombing pause, since this greater strength could not guarantee success. (212, 222) He had lost confidence in the U.S. ability to succeed militarily in Vietnam without great costs. If the President was going to keep U.S. forces in Vietnam, he would eventually have to send 600,000 men by the end of 1967.
McGeorge Bundy was "marginally against the pause," (202) but his feelings changed within the week due to the Ia Drang fighting and an article by Eric Sevareid in Look magazine claiming that the United States rebuffed a U Thant peace initiative which had the support of North Vietnam. It appeared as though the United States had not gone far enough, and there was a political necessity to show that Washington was as serious about peace as it was about fighting on the battlefield. (208) By December 4, there was a "favorable consensus" within the administration on the bombing pause. "We think this is the best single way of keeping it clear that Johnson is for peace, while Ho is for war," Bundy asserted. Also, if the pause did indeed lead to negotiations, then implicitly Hanoi would have relented on its stipulation that Washington must accept the NLF's program as a pre-requisite. There was "no trap;" a defensible reason could be found to restart the bombing when necessary. (215) But the administration did not define what constituted a favorable response from Hanoi and what would trigger a bombing resumption. Nevertheless, Bundy contended, the pause would be a bona fide peace initiative; a way of moving toward a diplomatic settlement of the war. (220)
Others wavered over the suitability of the pause. After traveling to South Vietnam, Senator Mansfield and a fact-finding party concluded that the pause would not be effective "unless coupled with broader U.S. initiatives in other fields." (227) The pause was the best hope for peace, as it might divide North Vietnam from China, but it had its risks. "This is a conflict in which all the choices open to us are bad choices," he summarized. (233) Special Assistant to the President Joseph Califano was opposed to the pause "as a dramatic gesture," especially when the JCS objected to it. However, some overture was "necessary." (228) Ball wanted to end the bombing of North Vietnam altogether. (229) He presented his "heretical view" to the President, arguing that the bombing program had extreme negative consequences, especially in terms of hardening the will of the North Vietnamese people and government, and should be terminated.
President Johnson was convinced that the pause could be a first step toward peace and that any discussions that arose would moderate the growing discontent over the war. "The weakest chink in our armor is public opinion," the President confided to his advisers, and a bad public image was something that could undermine his entire agenda. (231) Califano thought that a Christmas-through-Tet pause, in conjunction with diplomatic moves, would be a sincere expression of the administration's interests in peace talks. The President approved this time-frame, and on December 17, he decided tentatively on a month-long pause, although he would determine the continuance of the halt as it progressed. (226, 228, 231)
A protracted discussion on the eve of the pause, weighing its advantages and disadvantages, indicated Johnson's doubts. The risks were minimal, McGeorge Bundy assured the President. "We can resume bombing at any time." On the other hand, Clifford believed that the pause would be ineffectual. McNamara noted that the pause would give the Soviets, who did not want to confront the United States over Vietnam, a "way out" and allow them more latitude in any effort they might undertake to resolve the conflict. (234, 235) The JCS worried about the military impact of an extended cessation. (238) Despite the reservations of the JCS, Lodge, and Rusk, the President enacted a 30-hour truce on Christmas eve. (242) Military operations in South Vietnam resumed on December 26, but the bombing of North Vietnam did not. On December 27, Johnson decided to continue the pause for a week and soon thereafter decided to defer resumption of the bombing until later in January. (254)
The pause generated a number of new diplomatic contacts. The administration believed that it demonstrated that the United States was not the obstacle to peace; encouraged Soviet help, and revealed Hanoi's intransigence. (241, 251, 253) Walt Rostow, Chairman of the Policy Planning Staff, recommended establishing contacts with North Vietnamese representatives during the pause. (243) On December 23, Rusk asked the Hungarian Government to follow up on Peter's October inquiry as to what the DRV would do if the United States stopped bombing. On December 27, Hanoi responded to the overture by insisting that the United States would have to negotiate on conditions presented by the NLF. The administration replied that it would not enter into direct negotiations with the NLF, but would instead allow it representation in the talks if Hanoi ceased its aggression. The United States did need an indication of what Hanoi would do to reciprocate when direct talks commenced. (257, 258)
The peace overture during the extended pause became known as Pinta. Washington wanted to make clear that the halt was a serious move toward peace which required a suitable concession from North Vietnam to keep the process moving forward. The President sent representatives to 34 countries in an effort to get through to the North Vietnamese. The Vatican, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, the United Nations, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Laos, New Zealand, and the Philippines were informed directly of the U.S. peace initiative. (263, 265, 268, 271, 273, 275) The most significant contacts of the multi-pronged effort included the resumption of Sturm's meetings with Bo in Paris, Harriman's discussions with Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki, and Ambassador Henry Byroade's parley with DRV representatives in Burma. (261, 262, 266, 269)