Saturday, March 17, 2001

Clifford Task Force

100. Editorial Note


On March 2, 1968, the Clifford Task Force began its comprehensive reassessment of Vietnam policy by considering a preliminary draft of
a memorandum to the President. This memorandum and its accompanying backup materials were prepared in the Department of
Defense by a staff under the direction of Leslie Gelb of the Office of International Security Affairs (ISA) and was reviewed by the
Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Paul Warnke,
Deputy Assistant Secretaries Morton Halperin and Richard Steadman,
and Assistant Secretary for Systems Analysis Alain Enthoven. The staff compilers suggested that an increased level of forces alone would not lead to the achievement of the U.S. political or military objectives in South Vietnam. The enemy would match any augmentation, the additional troops would be inadequate to drive the Communist forces out of South Vietnam, having 700,000 troops would lead to a "total Americanization of the war" which would serve to undermine the effectiveness of and confidence in the South Vietnamese Government (GVN), and the call-up and consequent expenditures would lead to severe domestic problems within the United States. The only way to achieve eventual success was for the GVN to provide effective military and political leadership for its people. Thus, the preliminary memorandum concluded, U.S. troops should no longer engage in attriting the enemy through search and destroy operations. Instead, U.S. combat units should confine their operations to providing security for the populace and to supporting operations undertaken by the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). For text of this memorandum, see The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, pages 561-568. The interagency memoranda and reports comprising the backup material numbered over 40 attachments and are in the Johnson Library, Alain Enthoven Papers, Draft Presidential Memorandum on Vietnam 1968.


Notes of the meetings of the Clifford group have not been found. However, the meetings are described in Townsend Hoopes, The Limits of Intervention (New York: David McKay, 1969), pages 171-181; Larry Berman, Lyndon Johnson's War (New York: Norton, 1989), pages 176-180; Herbert Schandler, Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Unmaking of a President (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), pages 143-156; and Clark Clifford, Counsel to the President, pages 492-496.


In an article he wrote in 1969, Clifford noted the general tenor of the answers to the questions he sought to address during his review. Clifford received no assurances that the additional 200,000 men would turn the tide; instead there was "no way of knowing" how many more soldiers might be needed. He further found that the augmentation would require a reserve call-up of approximately 280,000, an increased draft call, and an extension of tours of duty. Clifford also was told that the enemy could match the build-up, that the costs of the build-up would be $12 billion by 1969, that bombing would not stop the war or decrease U.S. casualties, that U.S. troops would continue to carry the load since the ARVN "were not yet ready to replace our troops," that there was "no plan for victory in the historic American sense," and that there was "no agreement on an answer" as to how long it would take to win the war of attrition.
See Clark Clifford, "A Viet Nam Reappraisal: The Personal History of
One Man's View and How It Evolved," Foreign Affairs 47:4 (July 1969), pages 601-622.


According to The Pentagon Papers, the group did not reach a consensus on a new strategy but requested that Warnke and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Philip Goulding draft a new and "less controversial" paper than the preliminary memorandum. The new Draft Presidential Memorandum was discussed by the Clifford group on March 3. It recommended:


"1. Meeting General Westmoreland's request by deploying as close to May 1 as practical 20,000 additional troops (approximately 1/2 of which would be combat).


"2. Approval of a Reserve call-up and an increased end strength adequate to meet the balance of the request and to restore a strategic reserve in the United States, adequate for possible contingencies.


"3. Reservation of the decision to deploy the balance of General Westmoreland's new request. While we would be in a position to make these additional deployments, the future decision to do so would be contingent upon:


"a. Continuous reexamination of the desirability of further deployments on a week-by-week basis as the situation develops;


"b. Improved political performance by the GVN and increased contributions in effective military action by the ARVN;


"c. The results of a study in depth, to be initiated immediately, of a possible new strategic guidance for the conduct of U.S. military operations in South Vietnam." (The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, page 573)


The final version of the Draft Presidential Memorandum is printed as Document 103.


 


103. Draft Memorandum for President Johnson/1/


Washington, March 4, 1968.


/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Draft Memorandum for the President [3/14/68 re VN]. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by the Clifford Task Force. Portions of this memorandum and the attached tabs are printed in The Pentagon Papers: The Senator Gravel Edition, pp. 575-584.


General Westmoreland has requested an additional 205,000 troops (beyond the 525,000 personnel now authorized). He asks for the deployment in three packages, by May 1, September 1 and December 31.


General Wheeler believes we should prepare ourselves to meet the request for an additional 205,000 personnel and should act to increase and improve our strategic reserve in the United States. An initial staff examination of requirements indicates that to achieve both will require:


a. A call-up of reserve units and individuals totaling approximately 262,000 (194,000 in units, 68,000 as individuals).


b. Increased draft calls.


c. Extension of terms of service. These actions would produce a total increase in end strength in the Armed Forces of approximately 511,000 by June 30, 1969. (The staff examination referred to above included spaces to add 31,500 troops in South Korea and a US naval proposal to add two cruisers and fifteen destroyers to the naval forces in Southeast Asia. If these proposals are disapproved in their entirety, the figures above will be decreased to approximately 242,000 and 454,000 respectively.)


A build-up of roughly these dimensions would enable us to meet the Westmoreland request and, in any event, would reconstitute the strategic reserve in the United States.


We recommend:


1. An immediate decision to deploy to Vietnam an estimated total of 22,000 additional personnel (approximately 60% of which would be combat). An immediate decision to deploy the three tactical fighter squadrons deferred from Program 5 (about 1,000 men). This would be over and above the four battalions (about 3,700 men) already planned for deployment in April which in themselves would bring us slightly above the 525,000 authorized level. The argument for this immediate action, and detailed schedules of availability is contained in Tab A./2/


/2/None of the tabs is printed. In the paper attached at Tab A, the group noted that an immediate injection of forces would influence variables, such as the degree to which the Communist forces kept pressing their attacks, the ability of the VC to extend its control in the countryside, and the ability of the GVN to improve its performance and win popular support.


2. Either through Ambassador Bunker or through an early visit by Secretary Clifford, a highly forceful approach to the GVN (Thieu and Ky) to get certain key commitments for improvement, tied to our own increased effort and to increased US support for the ARVN. Details are in Tab B./3/


/3/In Tab B the group noted that such an effort would demonstrate U.S. commitment to the GVN, although it was possible that the South Vietnamese might "relax behind the refuge of American power." The specific actions required of the GVN included stepped-up mobilization, greater unity among its top leadership, getting back into the countryside, attacking the VC infrastructure, creation of some arrangement approaching a joint command, reform of the GVN, replacement of the current Prime Minister, formation of a united front group of anti-Communist organizations, steps to prevent inflation and counteract the balance-of-payments deficit faced by the United States as a result of having more troops in South Vietnam, and efficient resource allocation.


3. Early approval of a Reserve call-up and an increased end strength adequate to meet the balance of the Westmoreland request and to restore a strategic reserve in the United States, adequate for possible contingencies world-wide. Supporting discussion and details are in Tab C./4/


/4/The paper at Tab C argued that even if all the additional forces were not deployed to Vietnam, these measures would still be warranted due to the depletion of the strategic reserve.


4. Reservation of the decision to meet the Westmoreland request in full. While we would be putting ourselves in a position to make these additional deployments, the future decision to do so would be contingent upon:


a. Reexamination on a week-by-week basis of the desirability of further deployments as the situation develops;


b. Improved political performance by the GVN and increased contribution in effective military action by the ARVN;


c. The results of a study in depth, to be initiated immediately, of possible new political and strategic guidance for the conduct of US operations in South Vietnam, and of our Vietnamese policy in the context of our world-wide politico-military strategy. Supporting discussion is in Tab D./5/


/5/As expressed in Tab D, the view of the Clifford group was that "there can be no assurance that this very substantial additional deployment would leave us a year from today in any more favorable military position." Since the war posed a danger to U.S. interests and commitments worldwide, and since the enemy's recent tactics had proven that "there can be no prospect of a quick military solution," a major interagency study on strategic guidance involving Westmoreland and Bunker had to be undertaken in the near future. Nitze wrote two memoranda on strategic guidance, both dated March 3, which dealt separately with short-term recovery and longer-range strategy. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Vietnam War-Miscellaneous Materials, 1968)


5. No new peace initiative on Vietnam. Re-statement of our terms for peace and certain limited diplomatic actions to dramatize Laos and to focus attention on the total threat to Southeast Asia. Details in Tab E./6/


/6/Tab E contained the text of a February 29 memorandum prepared by Bundy which listed three negotiating alternatives: "stand pat on the San Antonio formula," undertake a new initiative modifying the San Antonio formula (which the paper concluded would be "unwise" since the San Antonio formula was "rock bottom"), or "pitching" for negotiations following a countering of the enemy offensive.


6. A general decision on bombing policy, not excluding future change, but adequate to form a basis for discussion with the Congress on this key aspect. Here your advisers are divided:


a. General Wheeler and others would advocate a substantial extension of targets and authority in and near Hanoi and Haiphong, mining of Haiphong, and naval gunfire up to a Chinese Buffer Zone;


b. Others would advocate a seasonal step-up through the spring, but without these added elements.


The opposing arguments are in Tab F./7/


/7/The paper at Tab F detailed further discussion of how to intensify the bombing of North Vietnam.


In proposing this course of action, we recognize that there are certain difficulties and negative factors, outlined in Tab G. Additional problems we can anticipate in US public opinion are at Tab H./8/ Nevertheless, we believe that this course of action, in its essential outline at least, is urgently required to meet the immediate situation in Vietnam as well as wider possible contingencies there and elsewhere.


/8/The papers at Tabs G and H emphasized the domestic difficulties faced by the President in increasing the troop commitment to Vietnam and in calling up the reserves.


 



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