McNaughton's Observations about South Vietnam, 4 January 1965

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 683-684

DRAFT: January 4, 1965-Observations Re South Vietnam-JTM

1) (Scarcely needs to be said: Pique should not be allowed to make policy.) [This is a comment on Max Taylor's attitude toward Khanh and his dissolution of the high national council.] [Author of bracketed material not known.]

2) Our stakes in South Vietnam are:

(a) Buffer real estate near Thailand and Malaysia and
(b) Our reputation.

The latter is more important than the former; the latter is sensitive to how, as well as whether, the area is lost.

3) The best present estimate is that South Vietnam is being "lost." From the point of view of the real estate this means that a government not unfriendly to the DRV will probably emerge within two years; from the point of view of our reputation, it will suffer least if we continue to support South Vietnam and if Khanh and company continue to behave like children if the game is lost.

4) The situation could change for the better over night, however. This happened in the Philippines. This is another reason for d - - - - - - perseverance.

5) We should continue to try to do better inside South Vietnam. ("The people do not support the government; their indication is that the GVN treats prisoners badly; etc.")

6) Essentials of U.S. conduct: (a) continue to take risks on behalf of South Vietnam. A reprisal should be carried out soon. (Dependents could be removed at that time.) [This attitude reflected my own arguments, for better or worse.]; (b) keep slugging away. Keep help flowing but do not increase the number of U.S. men in South Vietnam. (Additional U.S. soldiers are as likely to be counterproductive as productive.) [MACV and the JCS were pushing for a logistic command and increased logistic support troops in Vietnam; McNaughton withholding the line on total U.S. troops at this time.] (c) do not appear to lead in any negotiations. Chances of reversing the tide will be better and, if we don't reverse the tide, our reputation will emerge in better condition; (d) if we leave, be sure it is a departure of the kind which would put everyone on our side, wondering how we stuck it and took it so long.

7) If things slip, have, plans to shore up Thailand and Malaysia.

Note from a McNaughton Draft in 1964:

There has been no decision taken putting on the same value scale (a) desirability of various outcomes, (b) undesirability of various efforts and (c) undesirability of having tried and failed. For example:

(1) Is a collapse at a 75,000 level worse than an inclusive situation at a 200,000-400,000+ level? Probably yes;
(2) Is a 60 percent chance of a compromise better than a 40 percent chance of winning? Probably yes if the compromise is tolerable;
(3) Is a 40 percent chance of compromise in 1966 better than a 40 percent chance of winning in 1967? Query.

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