Memorandum of Meeting on Southeast Asia, 27 November 1964

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 674-676


Nov 27, 1964

November 27, 1964

Present: Sec Rusk
Sec McNamara
Amb Taylor
Mr. McCone
Gen. Wheeler
Mssrs. Ball
McGeorge Bundy
William Bundy

1. The question was raised of what message to the GVN would make them perform better. Ambassador Taylor thought that he must have a strong message but that any threat of "withdrawal unless" would be quite a "gamble." It was noted that it was still possible to stress that we could not help as we would like unless the GVN did shape up.

2. There was discussion of whether we could carry on "unilateral" military actions if the GVN collapsed or told us to get out. The consensus was that it was hard to visualize continuing in these circumstances, but that the choice must certainly be avoided if at all possible.

3. Ambassador Taylor noted that "neutralism" as it existed in Saigon appeared to mean throwing the internal political situation open and thus inviting Communist participation. There was discussion of neutralism in the sense of withdrawal of external assistance, and the opinion was expressed that external assistance would remain essential unless the VC was defeated and that neutralism either in the sense of no more external assistance or in the sense of a free political system could not be maintained unless this was done.

4. Ambassador Taylor, upon being asked about the problem of administrative cumbersomeness, said that some progress had been made and that this problem could be handled if the GVN itself got going. He expressed the general view that newspaper reports exaggerated the weakness of the present government, that Huong had many fine qualities, and that he, Vien, and Khanh could mesh into a reasonably effective team if they could handle sniping from the Buddhists and students. The Ambassador noted that there was no prospect of a widely based Assembly for some months, but that such an Assembly, if it came, could be serious in causing general static and possibly leading to some Communist representation. In answer to a question, Ambassador Taylor said that General Khanh was performing quite effectively, was out in the field except for weekends, and had made many military command changes of which General Westmoreland approved. Khanh had said that he would make no more changes.

5. Ambassador Taylor noted that General Westmoreland had prepared a report of the military situation, which he would distribute to the group. Westmoreland was generally more optimistic than he, Taylor, and saw many signs and possibilities of improvement on the military side. Westmoreland would be inclined to wait six months to have a firmer base for stronger actions. However, the Ambassador said that he himself did not believe that we could count on the situation holding together that long, and that we must do something sooner than this. Secretary McNamara noted his disagreement with General Westmoreland's views. The view was expressed that the political situation was not likely to become stronger but that nonetheless the US was justified in taking measures along the lines of Option C. Ambassador Taylor noted that stronger action would definitely have a favorable effect on GVN and South Vietnamese performance and morale, but he was not sure this would be enough really to improve the situation. Others in the group agreed with this evaluation, and the view was expressed that the strengthening effect of Option C could at least buy time, possibly measured in years.

It was urged that over the next two months we adopt a program of Option A plus the first stages of Option C. The likelihood of improvement in the government seemed so doubtful that to get what improvement we could it was thought that we should move into some parts of C soon.

6. Ambassador Taylor gave details of the kind of message he would propose giving to the GVN. (This will be incorporated into the draft scenario for discussion at the next meeting.)

7. There was discussion of the infiltration evidence, and it was agreed that State and Defense should check statements made by Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, and General Wheeler on this subject, so that these could be related to the previous MACV and other estimates and a full explanation developed of how these earlier estimates had been made and why they had been wrong in the light of fuller evidence.

8. Ambassador Taylor stressed the importance of police forces and said that we would recommend holding the Popular Forces at the present level but stressing additional police. He noted that the police had better pay and perquisites than the armed forces and thought that this was right.

Ambassador Taylor raised a series of questions which he did not think had been adequately covered in the papers. (This list will be circulated separately.)

9. It was agreed that we needed a more precise and fully spelled out scenario of what would be proposed if a decision were taken to adopt a general program along the lines of Section VII of the Draft Summary (Immediate Actions), with or without a decision to move into the full Option C program at some time thereafter. Mr. Wm. Bundy undertook to produce a draft scenario along these lines for discussion at the next meeting of the group, which was scheduled for 11:00 am on Sat., Nov. 28.

FE: WPBundy: mk

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