Memorandum from Henry Rowen to William Bundy, enclosing Rowen's and McNaughton's Comments on the Draft Paper, 23 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 643-644


23 Nov 1964

TO: Mr. Bundy
FROM: Mr. Rowen


These comments are partly McNaughton's and partly mine. If John disagrees with any of them, he'll let you know later in the day.


23 November 1964


Subject: Comments due Monday Noon, November 23, 1964

I make the following suggestions relevant to your draft paper:

1. Add to the "US Objectives and Stakes" this factor: "The desire of the US to emerge from the crisis without an unacceptable taint because of the methods it used."

2. With respect to Option A in "Broad Options," restore the concept you had in your original draft to the effect that "We would accept the risk that South Vietnamese elements would themselves open negotiations with the liberation front or with Hanoi directly probably to a cease fire and to a coalition government that would admit the liberation front."

3. With respect to Option C in "Broad Options," the negotiating part of the definition should be changed to indicate that the United States would not be a party to negotiations in the early stages. Talks of some kind should start fairly early but they should be carried on by the South Vietnamese.

4. We think that the following three points should be made in connection with the advocacy of the Option A position:

a. It gives us more time than Option C before actions are taken against North Vietnam and before any US negotiations are begun. I suspect that, taking account of the possibility that the new Government may surprise us all by achieving some success, this increased delay may be a good thing.
b. It is more consistent with the image of a "Vietnamese war" with only US "requested help." This minimizes the price that the United States will pay if, despite our efforts, an unfavorable outcome results.
c. Specifically, it lends itself better than Option C to the Vietnamese doing their own negotiating-which, as indicated above, is better than a course of action in which the United States is doing the negotiating.

5. Regarding the analysis of Option B, we have no comments other than that this option appears highly undesirable-(a) it is quite unlikely to work, (b) it involves substantial risks of escalation, (c) it will appear to the world to be an "extremist" course of action, (d) it commits much more of the prestige of the US to a highly dubious course of action.

6. Regarding the analysis of Option C:

a. Our main point is the one regarding negotiations made in para 3 above. Course C (and even more Course B) involves an increase in the US stake in Vietnam without having a high probability of success. If it turns out badly, it may be quite important for the GVN to have negotiated its future with the US being in the position of a good friend willing to take risks of a major war in SEA; the US should not put itself in a position where it can be plausibly accused of having "sold out Southeast Asia."
b. We doubt the wisdom of any "firm Presidential statement" at the beginning of such a moderate course of. military actions. The deeds themselves should carry the freight.
c. Somewhere in the analysis of Option C should appear the concept that we might achieve a level of harassment of North Vietnam that would be adequate for our purpose; this is the "Corcoran" idea.
d. We must, somewhere, wrestle with the JCS problem regarding the DRV air capability. That is, they have stated that, as a military matter, the DRV airfields and POL have to be taken out very soon in any sequence of strikes against North Vietnam. This is a problem with both Options B and C.
e. The issue on US ground deployments to SVN should flag the point that this would increase the sense of US commitment without contributing much directly to the conduct of the war.
f. Option C should state clearly our judgment that the DRV would probably "hold firm" not only through our initial military actions but also well into and perhaps through all the way of a second phase of US actions.
g. Reprisals should be given a special paragraph-one which (i) notes that we could have an escalation of reprisals, and (ii) may make much more "noise" than the controlled squeeze that we are trying to apply to North Vietnam. As for the first of these two observations, there may be some merit in being able to pursue this route in harassing North Vietnam; it avoids US commitment to a program unrelated to any specific acts by the VC.

7. As for "Immediate Actions," some of the above comments apply:

a. We think the United States should avoid "tough public statements," but should rely rather on its deeds.
b. Although it is not stated in your draft, we think it should be understood that there will be no US negotiations going on during this phase.

8. I suggest that your Recommendations section be something like the following:

The choice between Options B and C on the one hand and Option A on the other turns largely on the degree of confidence we have in six estimates:

1. That the situation in South Vietnam is in fact very bad and that it will continue to deteriorate rapidly, despite the best we can do under the present ground rules (or any ground rules not allowing at least some strikes on North Vietnam)

2. That we can devise and will be able politically and militarily to carry out a scheme of military pressure on North Vietnam sufficient to cause the DRV leadership to knuckle and to diminish meaningfully its assistance and direction to the VC.

3. That VC activities in South Vietnam will be meaningfully reduced by such a DRV reduction in assistance and direction.

4. That the GVN would remain intact during a campaign against the North and would make profitable use of a respite in VC activities.

5. That the risk is not high of escalation to major conflict or of having to disengage later when we have even more chips on the table.

6. That the US would not be tainted too much because of the methods used or because a compromise settlement coming out of Option C might be widely interpreted as a US "sell out" of Southeast Asia.

It is our judgment that the odds are better than even that all six of the above propositions are true if a moderate course of pressure on North Vietnam is pursued. We, therefore, recommend that Options A and B be rejected in favor of Option C.

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