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Foreign Relations Series Volume Summary
1964-1968, Volume IV
Vietnam, 1966


Table of Contents:                                                            Read the Volume Online
Foreword
Summary
The Bombing Pause and Renewal of the Bombing
The Senate Hearings on Vietnam
The Honolulu Conference and the Buddhist Protest
Escalation of the Bombing
Reorganization of Pacification and Appeals to the Viet Cong
The Manila Conference and the Debate Over Military Strategy
Peace Initiatives
Marigold
Planning for 1967

Foreword

(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this 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.). Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all the necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

Volume IV, Vietnam, 1966, is one of seven Foreign Relations volumes that will present the official record of U.S. policy in Vietnam during the Johnson presidency. Volumes I through III (already published) and volumes V through VII document U.S. policy during the following periods: volumes I, 1964; II, January-June 1965; III, June-December 1965; V, 1967; VI and VII, 1968.

Most of the documents in Volume IV, Vietnam, 1966, were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, 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 policy discussions and negotiations documented in the volume. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.

Summary

Introduction

Publication of the voluminous "Pentagon Papers" in 1971 made instantly available a rich body of sensitive documentation on the shaping of U.S. policy in Vietnam, including the year 1966. But the authors of the Department of Defense study had no access to White House files and only partial access to State Department and CIA records and thus could document only part of the story. Based on full access to Executive Branch files, including the White House files of the Johnson presidency as well as Central Intelligence Agency records made available exclusively to State Department researchers, Vietnam 1966 draws extensively on documentation that was unavailable to the "Pentagon Papers" authors. Moreover, Vietnam 1966 is the first Foreign Relations volume to include substantial portions of President Johnson's taped telephone conversations with top advisers and other confidants on foreign affair topics. The transcripts of the 17 conversations selected and declassified for the volume illuminate the views and concerns of a President who rarely expressed himself in any substantive way on paper. In addition to these sources, the volume makes extensive use of State and Defense Department records and the personal papers of several major U.S. policy-makers: George Ball, Averell Harriman, John McNaughton, General Maxwell Taylor, and General William Westmoreland.

The Bombing Pause and Renewal of the Bombing

The year 1966 began on a comparatively quiet note in Vietnam. On December 24, 1965, President Johnson ordered a temporary cessation in the bombing of North Vietnam to demonstrate U.S. interest in a negotiated settlement and to entice North Vietnam into direct negotiations. During the 37-day pause, the President communicated his intentions to 115 countries and sent special emissaries to 34 of them, seeking to explore every possible avenue for opening negotiations.

The worldwide reaction to the peace offensive was favorable; but since the North Vietnamese not only rebuffed the overture but at the same time increased their attacks in South Vietnam, the administration faced a dilemma. "Our position will erode here if we wait much longer to resume the bombing but abroad we will lose support if we resume," Secretary of State Dean Rusk observed. (7) The Joints Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the Commander in Chief of Pacific Forces (CINCPAC), the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV), and Johnson's Special Consultant General Maxwell Taylor all favored a resumption due to the "disadvantage" placed upon American troops in the field. (13, 14, 17, 26) National security adviser McGeorge Bundy wanted bombing restarted, although unlike Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, he was not in a hurry to "get cracking." (34)

Others in the administration argued against a rapid resumption of the bombing campaign. U.S. Representative to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg stressed the "danger" that an appearance of bad faith could have if Washington did not thoroughly exhaust every opportunity for peace. (8) Assistant Secretary of State William Bundy and Ambassador at Large Averell W. Harriman also advised against resumption, noting that the administration would lose the international goodwill that the pause had generated. (9, 12) There were more dire consequences if the pause ended too soon, contended Under Secretary of State George Ball, who warned that renewed bombardment could lead to war with China by June. (41)

For its part, Hanoi responded negatively to the bombing pause, insisting that the United States halt its bombing unconditionally and subscribe to the program put forth in its Four Points of April 8, 1965. Three of the points were acceptable: Vietnamese territorial integrity, abrogation of foreign military alliances, and peaceful reunification. However, the U.S. Government could not accept the third point, namely reconciliation according to the program of the National Liberation Front (NLF). (25) On January 24, President Ho Chi Minh of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam labeled the overture a "sham peace trick." (55) The President felt he was left with little choice. "Not from 115 countries have I gotten anything," Johnson remarked in a January 29 meeting with his advisers. (54) Bombing resumed at the end of January. U.S. contacts with Communist diplomats in Rangoon, Moscow, and Vientiane had been unsuccessful in forestalling the restart of the bombing since, as William Bundy noted, "the total picture was negative." (8, 25, 29, 30, 51)

The Senate Hearings on Vietnam

Disturbed by the resumption of air attacks, prominent U.S. Senators, led by J. William Fulbright (D.-Arkansas), called for a public debate on Vietnam. The first of five televised hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President Johnson's request for $415 million supplemental Vietnam aid for fiscal year 1966 took place on February 4. Particularly damaging to the administration were testimonials by General James Gavin and senior diplomat George F. Kennan, both of whom urged that there be no further escalation in the war and instead argued that Washington had to liquidate its involvement in Vietnam.

On February 18, Rusk (soon followed by Taylor) publicly defended administration policy under a grueling examination by Fulbright. In a telephone conversation with the President's Special Assistant Larry O'Brien, Johnson termed the Fulbright hearings "a very, very disastrous break." (64) Although other officials echoed the President's feelings about the hearings, Johnson's former White House Press Secretary, George Reedy, told him that he thought the "Gavin-Kennan concern" was "actually sensible" since Vietnam policy did need to be formulated within the context of overall American global strategy. (21, 78, 86)

Fulbright's televised forum pre-empted an administration effort to submit to Congress new legislation that would more specifically justify U.S. intervention in Indochina. In light of the ensuing domestic political climate, Presidential confidant Clark Clifford argued that the administration should simply stand on the broad Tonkin Gulf Resolution. (82) Nor did disaffection with Johnson's Vietnam policy exist solely in the Senate. White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers labeled the drastic decline in the President's popular approval ratings since January the "first signs of American impatience with [the] long war." (86) Following the Senate hearings, dissent and antiwar activity became increasingly a part of the American political mainstream.

The Honolulu Conference and the Buddhist Protest

On the eve of Fulbright's first televised hearing, the President telephoned Rusk to inform him that he had decided to go to Honolulu in two days to hold talks with the South Vietnamese leaders and General Westmoreland, Commander of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. (63) At the Honolulu Conference, which met on February 7 and 8, the administration offered support for the regime of Premier Nguyen Cao Ky and Chief of State Nguyen Van Thieu. In addition, the leaders of the United States and South Vietnam jointly proclaimed their commitments to social, economic, and political reforms in the Republic of Vietnam and to the search for peace. (69, 71, 83)

To buttress the new focus on internal reform in South Vietnam, the President issued National Security Action Memorandum No. 343 on March 28, which named Robert W. Komer as his special assistant to coordinate nonmilitary programs in Vietnam. (102) Komer saw curbing inflation and expanding the pacification and police cadres as the key steps to take in 1966. (141) In addition, he pushed major reforms in the Commercial Import Program, the chief U.S. economic aid program, to curtail corruption and reverse the "rising tide of criticism" it had engendered. "Keep it up & and Keep it Hot," the President told Komer. (145)

But there was disagreement over military policy. On March 17 Westmoreland recommended an intensification of the air war in North Vietnam and Laos, prompting a comprehensive review of the air campaign's effectiveness and a debate over increased pressures against the North. (98, 104, 101, 104, 106, 108) The debate was quickly suspended, however, due to the eruption of the Buddhist Struggle Movement in South Vietnam. A major political confrontation had begun when Premier Ky dismissed the Buddhist Commander of I Corps, Nguyen Chanh Thi. Localized Buddhist protests soon turned into large anti-government demonstrations, and the dissidents took control of Hue and Danang. (92, 99, 100)

When Westmoreland reported that the dissidents were verbally abusing U.S. military personnel, Johnson telephoned his dismay to Rusk: "If our people got the idea that the Vietnamese are insulting our men--Marines up in that northern area that are dying for 'em--why they'll jump ahead of Bill Fulbright and Morse and tell us to get the hell out of there." (103) The President doubted Ky's ability to survive the crisis (112), and policymakers gave some thought to disengaging from Vietnam (109, 111, 114, 124), but both Rusk and McNamara believed the situation had not deteriorated to the point that such a drastic response was warranted. (126) Chief of State Thieu's mid-April promise of free elections for a constitutional convention helped calm the troubled political waters. (122, 123)

The crisis ended in May after Ky's forces subdued dissident groups in Danang. (138, 144) South Vietnam took a significant step toward the establishment of representative government with elections in September, which created a Constituent Assembly that would draft a new constitution in 1967. (229, 230)

Escalation of the Bombing

As the unrest in South Vietnam subsided, discussions of the U.S. air war against North Vietnam picked up in intensity. On June 15, the Central Intelligence Agency released its review of Rolling Thunder (the air campaign against North Vietnam) at one year. The report concluded that in spite of the many sorties launched, damage to North Vietnam's war machine had been light because of restrictions placed upon the bombing. However, the strategy did force Hanoi to divert much of its manpower resources into repair and support functions. (157)

White House Special Assistant Walt Rostow (McGeorge Bundy's successor) contended that the best application of American air power was against petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) targets, and it was these restrictions that had to be lifted. (133) At the National Security Council (NSC) meeting of June 17, both Westmoreland and Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge argued for the inclusion of POL targets. McNamara believed that such a step would limit North Vietnamese troop infiltration and convey the seriousness of U.S. intentions while the negative consequences were minimal. Goldberg, however, asserted that the Chinese and Soviets at a minimum would make up any loss in POL stocks and, far more ominously, the Chinese might move in troops. The new bombing also could isolate the U.S. internationally and would cause an adverse domestic reaction. He suggested deferring the POL decision until the conclusion of a concurrent peace feeler to Hanoi. Rostow insisted, however, that a sustained POL offensive would seriously affect Hanoi's ability to infiltrate into the south. The NSC recommended approval. (159) At the President's instruction, the JCS authorized strikes against POL targets near Hanoi and Haiphong in late June. (164)

The POL bombings fell short of their stated goals. Military leaders pressed for an amplified bombing schedule, but McNamara, in a September telephone conversation, told the President that he thought the United States should end Rolling Thunder after the 1966 midterm elections. (240) Even pro-bombing advocates Komer and Rostow recognized that while the bombing had hurt the enemy and ground forces had frustrated Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops, the United States had failed to force Hanoi to accept negotiations "on our terms." In September they proposed an accelerated pacification program and sustained political and psychological appeals to disintegrate the Viet Cong and its political arm, the National Liberation Front (NLF). (241)

Reorganization of Pacification and Appeals to the Viet Cong

Policy-makers in Washington and Saigon debated how a strengthened pacification program should be organized. McNamara proposed centralization of the program under a single military command in order to eliminate split civilian and military responsibilities. (245) Komer agreed, noting that the military had the bulk of the assets needed to "get pacification moving." (249, 262) But officials at State, CIA, the Agency for International Development, and the Embassy in Saigon strongly opposed removing civilian controls. (248, 252, 263, 271) After returning from an October trip to Vietnam, McNamara compromised by proposing a dual management system with consolidation of political functions under a civilian manager and military responsibilities under MACV. (268) This system became accepted policy. (304, 310)

Efforts to undermine the National Liberation Front (NLF) had started early in the year. In February, Under Secretary of State Ball asked the CIA to undertake a sensitive covert action program against the NLF to exacerbate the perceived regional divisions within the NLF and between the NLF leadership and Hanoi. Ball hoped that ethnic southerners could be induced to defect from the tightening control of their northern counterparts. (62, 234) The administration keenly followed the defection schemes orchestrated by State and CIA during 1966. "A defection by some of the key Liberation Front leaders could be worth many battalions to us," Rusk told Lodge in August, and could help jar Hanoi into a negotiating frame of mind. (206, 214)

In one such operation, codenamed Elmtree, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson and former South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Khanh arranged meetings in Paris between a U.S. representative and Le Van Truong, who purported to be among the leadership of the NLF. Truong proposed that the NLF might come over to the non-Communist side through the mechanism of a transition government, which in effect would be guaranteed by the continued presence of American troops. The channel terminated when Truong, who had exaggerated his stature in the NLF, could not deliver on promises he had made to secure the release of American prisoners of war. (165, 173, 181) Another episode, codenamed Thrush, involved Permanent Secretary of the Vietnamese Red Cross Nguyen Huu An, who claimed to be an uncle of NLF Chairman Nguyen Huu Tho but was actually a distant cousin.

In September, An contacted American officials in Saigon and told them that Tho would defect if the U.S. government could guarantee his safety. (204) The President was kept abreast of unfolding Embassy efforts to work through An. It turned out, however, that An was a fraud who had purposely deceived the U.S. Government about the entire scheme. (25, 243, 289) Despite these setbacks, other defection efforts proceeded apace (234), while officials in Washington and Saigon sought to work out a comprehensive program of national reconciliation between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese Government. (180, 196, 203, 213, 258, 276, 300)

The Manila Conference and the Debate Over Military Strategy

While trying to strengthen both its military and non-military programs in Vietnam, the administration held an international conference to reaffirm the commitment of South Vietnam's fighting allies and to bring increased pressure on South Vietnam to pursue the goals enunciated at Honolulu. (256) The Manila Conference took place on October 24 and 25 with the leaders of the United States, South Vietnam, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and the Philippines in attendance. (282) "I think we got what we wanted," Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton reported to McNamara: a "display of not-US-aloneness, of resolve, of beginnings of an awakening responsible Asia," without expanding U.S. commitments. The final communiqué expressed the South Vietnamese Government's commitment to Revolutionary Development, national reconciliation, and forward political steps, and pledged that American combat forces would be withdrawn within six months after North Vietnam ceased its aggression against South Vietnam and withdrew its own forces. (284, 300)

Unity at Manila, however, masked serious differences among U.S. policy-makers over military strategy. Following his October trip to Vietnam, McNamara told the President that he saw "no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon." His solution was to adopt a military posture that could be sustained indefinitely, thereby discouraging a "wait us out" policy on Hanoi's part. This meant stabilizing U.S. force levels and the bombing program, installing an infiltration barrier across Vietnam, pursuing a vigorous pacification program, and pressing for negotiations. Extending from the seacoast across the neck of South Vietnam into Laos, the barrier would comprise fences, wire, sensors, artillery, mobile troops, air-laid mines, and bombing attacks. (268) The JCS, while agreeing that the United States needed to prepare for a "long-term, sustained military effort," immediately expressed doubts about McNamara's force level goal and argued forcefully for an expanded bombing program with only "minimum constraints," starting with the approval of Rolling Thunder 52. (269)

Before October was out, Westmoreland and Sharp both weighed in on the Chiefs' side on the bombing, emphasizing that an expanded air campaign was an essential element in U.S. strategy. (282, 283) When the JSC renewed its call for Rolling Thunder 52 in early November (295), the President told McNamara, "I want a limited, very quiet, expanded program," a view also articulated not only by McNamara but by other top advisers who feared the diplomatic repercussions of a major escalation. The President approved a scaled-down Rolling Thunder 52 program, which was initiated on November 22. (295-299) Backed by the President, McNamara held firm on the issue of stabilizing force levels at about 470,000 and rejected the JCS request for an additional 50,000 personnel by June 1968. (301, 312)

Peace Initiatives

Throughout 1966, while pursuing the war in Vietnam, the administration continued concurrent diplomatic efforts to precipitate peace negotiations. Washington attempted peace initiatives during 1966 indirectly through Hanoi's patron, the Soviet Union, and through other third parties and directly to Hanoi through public pleas for discussions. In March, Pham Van Dong, Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, suggested to retired Canadian diplomat Chester Ronning that bilateral talks might begin if the bombing ended. (97) But the U.S. Government insisted upon reciprocal action from Hanoi before it terminated the air attacks. When Ronning returned to Hanoi in June, the North Vietnamese refused to countenance the preconditions. (161, 167, ) The next month, however, Jean Sainteny, an emissary sent to North Vietnam by French President Charles de Gaulle, found the politburo possibly willing to terminate its southward infiltration in exchange for a complete bombing cessation by the United States. (182)

Prospects were brighter as a result of contacts with the Soviets. On September 22, in a speech at the United Nations, Ambassador Goldberg stated that the United States would cease bombing if Hanoi responded promptly with a de-escalatory measure. This formula would consist of assurances from Hanoi committing it to a reduction in hostilities prior to a bombing cessation. (244) The Goldberg statement generated discussions between Rusk and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in late September and early October. Rusk informed Gromyko that the "bombing can stop, literally within hours, if something can be done to stop the attacks of North Viet-Nam upon South Viet-Nam." (247) While remaining non-committal, Gromyko did extend an offer of possible future Soviet assistance. (251) On October 10, the President, Rusk, and Rostow met with Gromyko and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. The President remonstrated that he had done all he could to get talks moving, pointing out that "when we called, the other side hung up the phone." Gromyko countered that the United States needed greater specificity in its formula for a halt. (264)

These discussions generated a North Vietnamese response communicated through the Swedish Government. Hanoi's Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh told Swedish Ambassador to Peking Lennart Petri that in order to terminate hostilities in Vietnam, Hanoi wanted the NLF to take the lead in the formation of a coalition government preceding reunification and wanted the United States unconditionally to halt its bombing. (303) On November 17, the U.S. Government gave Petri points for his discussions which included requests for clarification on the nature of the reciprocity Hanoi would undertake and on the status of the NLF in relation to other groups in South Vietnam. (314) Trinh offered no response to Petri's queries.

Throughout the rest of the year, the Johnson administration refined Goldberg's statement into what became known as the Phase A-Phase B formula. In Phase A, the suspension of bombing would occur if Hanoi had rendered private assurances in advance. This step would be followed by Phase B, a period during which the execution of previously agreed upon mutual de-escalatory actions would occur. The key was that Hanoi could view its own reduction of hostilities as a response to American actions in Phase B and thus not conditionally dependent upon the halt. This formula was developed with the assistance of British and Polish intermediaries. In November 1966, British Foreign Secretary George Brown carried a message from the American government requesting that the Soviets determine from Hanoi exactly what conditions would lead to peace talks. (300) Brown reported that North Vietnam's previously intransigent position based upon its Four Points was now described by Gromyko and Kosygin as a flexible "basis for discussion." (317)

Marigold

The most intense secret diplomatic activity, codenamed Marigold, began in late June when Poland's representative to the International Control Commission, Januscz Lewandowski, conveyed the first of many messages from Hanoi to Lodge through Italian Ambassador Giovanni D'Orlandi in Saigon. (167) The President confided to a friend, "Yesterday I had the most realistic, the most convincing, the most persuasive peace feeler I've had since I've been President," but Johnson still doubted that "it amounts to anything" because "I don't think they've had enough yet." (170)

Although Lewandowski was not authorized to represent the positions of the U.S. Government to Hanoi, Lodge pursued the channel to see if the maverick diplomat could clearly communicate the Phase A-Phase B formula. (305) In turn, Lewandowski presented North Vietnamese concerns over several issues: whether Saigon would have to control areas not now held, possible American interference in the creation of a new South Vietnamese Government, and the broader issue of reunification. (306) Washington's response was that while the mechanics of negotiations would be worked out during the initial de-escalation, the United States would abide by the free choice of the South Vietnamese and would not interfere in South Vietnam's internal affairs. (308) As a result, on December 1 D'Orlandi informed Lodge that "something big had happened." Lewandowski had reformulated the American position into ten points. After submitting this list to Pham Van Dong, Lewandowski was told that the United States should send an envoy to enter into discussions over its positions with a North Vietnamese representative in Warsaw. (322)

Lodge informed Lewandowski that the ten points he had formulated did "broadly represent" the American position yet there was a difference of interpretation on particular points. Nevertheless, Washington instructed Ambassador to Poland John Gronouski to contact his North Vietnamese counterpart, but Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki told Gronouski the question of interpretation raised by the U.S. Government "put in doubt" the whole basis for talks with the North Vietnamese. (326, 327) Not only semantic difficulties endangered these contacts, however. In early December, the heaviest aerial bombardments in the Hanoi area since the summer occurred. Although American planes hit targets that had been authorized on November 10 as part of Rolling Thunder 52, the missions had inauspiciously been delayed due to weather problems. (324) Lewandowski expressed grave concerns about the timing of the bombing and its impact on the attitude of Hanoi.

On December 7 Rapacki threatened Poland's withdrawal as a go-between if the bombing continued. (332) A week later he told Gronouski that the attempts to open talks in Warsaw had failed. (342) Further discussion with Rapacki and other U.S. peace moves, including a cessation in late December of bombing within 10 miles of Hanoi's center, failed to regenerate efforts to open talks. (345, 346, 348, 349) In a New Year's Eve telephone conversation with Goldberg, the President expressed his frustration with the peace process: "How can a commander in chief stop his men from fighting unless the other side is just willing to do something?" (356)

Planning for 1967

As 1966 neared its end, several of the President's White House and State Department advisers prepared comprehensive recommendations for conducting the war in 1967 that reflected the changes wrought during 1966. Acutely aware of the Presidentially-imposed ceiling on troop deployments and Johnson's reluctance to expand the air campaign, they emphasized other strategies that had been proposed during 1966: aggressive pacification and national reconciliation programs; promotion of a popularly-based South Vietnamese Government and a land reform scheme; reliance on the barrier to help reduce infiltration; the vigorous pursuit of negotiating leads; continuation of the air war and the "spoiling offensive" against main enemy forces; and improved management of the war effort in Saigon. None of these advisers predicted victory in 1967, but neither did they express doubts that a satisfactory conclusion to the war could be achieved. (318-320, 336, 347)

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