RE: Directive –Recommended Actions for Vietnam Conflict
The situation is dire in Vietnam and calls for the United States to make a pivotal decision. With further destabilization of South Vietnam and further militarization of North Vietnam, the United States now faces two potential conclusions: 1) more decisive and direct involvement militarily, or 2) calculated withdrawal. Given the events of the past several months along with all available intelligence, the latter course of action is recommended. The United States should set a timetable of one year or less for withdrawal. This directive is based on a study of the following:
1. Historical Concerns:
Ø French efforts from 1946-1954 show that superior firepower, troops and resources made no impact. Vietnamese forces prolonged the struggle indefinitely, wearing down the will of the French. Public support waned and French forces were forced to exit.
Ø The Vietnamese will to fight is immeasurable. They have learned throughout history that, despite periods of severe setback, their persistence eventually pays off.
2. Military/Intelligence Concerns: Any escalations would be catastrophic. Failures would be derived from one or all of the following obstacles:
Ø Lack of Clear U.S. Strategy – What is our strategy? So far, we have not established one. Proposed bombing, escalation of troops and attrition campaigns are facets of what larger goal? What constitutes a success or a failure? How can we measure it? These have yet to be answered. Without a clear answer, military options will assuredly fail.
Ø Manpower – Approximately 200,000 North Vietnamese are projected to reach draft age each year, matching any potential manpower increases. We cannot successfully expect to diminish North Vietnamese manpower through limited skirmishes.
Ø War Capacity – Weapons systems, training and support personnel would not be eliminated if North Vietnamese forces are supplied by both the USSR and China on a consistent basis. We would not be able to diminish their capacity for war as their supply is limitless.
3. Domestic/Economic Concerns:
Ø Cost – In short, the ends may not be worth the means. Estimates on preliminary bombing campaign plans show unsustainable costs in terms of number of sorties, supplies, troop support, bombs used, etc. Consistent escalation could push costs into the billions of dollars per year, making a significant economic impact.
Ø Public Support – The resulting mobilization and pressures on our economy would create social strain. This, in conjunction with rising casualty figures from a sustained troop involvement, would erode public support over time.
4. South Vietnam Infrastructure and Governmental Concerns:
Ø Morale of the South Vietnamese military and civilians is deteriorating. ARVN ability to both police the country and integrate into the community is virtually non-existent. Trust between ARVN defense forces and communities is also lacking. They are becoming too dependent on the U.S.
Ø Central government is weak and instability continues. Since the overthrow of Diem, no substantive government has come to power. A power vacuum exists that should be filled by the South Vietnamese, not the U.S., or we risk being perceived as a colonial occupier.
We must fundamentally shift away from the prevailing view that efforts of ‘containment’ only result in a win or a loss. The new paradigm of our foreign policy should not be limited to only two possible outcomes. This narrow bi-lateral view does not cater to our long-term national security interests. It places too high a focus on success or failure rather than acceptable levels of achievable interests. We must also adapt the more recent view of ‘flexible response’. We must be more selective in where we respond and determine what levels of response are appropriate for each unique situation. We must view each developing country as its own unique set of ideals. A Vietnam is not a Korea. Each country has a distinct, unique history and culture which must be observed, respected and optimized towards our interests.
The Vietnam conflict is not one that exists between Vietnam and the United States. It is not our war to fight. The Vietnam conflict is not a war of Communist ideology but rather a war of nationalism. It is a civil war destined for a uniquely Vietnamese outcome. Our interference invites Communist powers to counter us. Only then does this become a protracted conflict between two ideologies. With such large spheres of influence behind both ideologies, there is no other logical or possible conclusion than stalemate. This scenario only stands to bleed both parties politically, militarily and economically. Therefore, outside involvement will not change the overall Vietnamese outcome.
It is arguably more prudent to encourage a strictly Vietnamese outcome. Once the conflict is resolved, only then can we begin to employ our means of leverage and influence within Vietnam. We will then be able to make decisive and targeted military, political, diplomatic and economic moves towards the Vietnamese that promote our interests. If we remain objective but supportive, Vietnam will then feel a natural tendency look to us for partnerships and assistance in order to promote their own growth. The bonds formed through this strategy will achieve two goals: 1) the slowing of Communist influence in the region and 2) the promotion and growth of democratic influence and ideals.
Proposed Action Plan
Phased withdrawal within one year should be enacted with the following parameters:
§ Withdrawal must be incremental with distinct benchmarks. Withdrawal in stages with set quarterly deadlines. This should create urgency for the necessity of positive growth results regarding the AVRN capacity to defend and secure South Vietnam.
§ Withdrawal must be secretive. Overt withdrawals or public announcements of just our withdrawal efforts may give off perception of weakness or defeat to our enemies. It may also give the wrong impression to the South Vietnamese.
§ Withdrawal must be a managed perception. While we may hope to keep this plan a secret, eventually, word will surface of it. Once this happens, we must be prepared to control the perception as a positive result of positive changes (i.e. – South Vietnam is becoming more self-sufficient, therefore, our presence is no longer required). This will also bolster domestic perception of strength and success.
§ Withdrawal must be conditional. Vietnamese forces must be trained to take up major responsibilities in defense and security of South Vietnam. They must be fully capable of filling the roles held by U.S military and advisor units and planning should be geared to fully train units to this end by no later than the close of 1965. This training must be successful to avoid our having to return, which may be an even harder sell domestically.
§ Withdrawal period should be transitional. As we pullout our personnel and certain material, we must also freely supply intelligence, weapons, vehicles and other items as necessary in order to bolster South Vietnamese capacity for defense. We should also increase training significantly, including pilot training, to encourage South Vietnamese use of helicopters for strategic insertions and quick mobility.
§ Multilateral vs. Unilateral – There must be more NATO/Allied support with post-civil war Vietnam. There must also be joint aid, materiel, and influence for the region. This will create the preferred perception of multilateral versus unilateral involvement.
§ Avoid ‘Abandonment’ – We must show Vietnam and surrounding countries that our strategic withdrawal is not to be viewed as abandonment of the region. This requires building our diplomatic presence in all nations of Southeast Asia. The U.S. must be present at the table regardless of the Vietnam outcome.
§ Stable South Vietnam Government – This must be centralized and strengthened with continued support from diplomats and civilian experts in order to aid in the construction of a stable entity. Again, trust must be built between the government and the people.
In sum, we must fully extricate ourselves from the situation. If we do not withdraw, South Vietnam will not become self-sufficient. It will become more dependent on the U.S., which will pull the country into a situation that is not in our best interests. Rather, we must distance ourselves to allow the Vietnamese to choose and form their own identity. Once formed, we must then embrace the resulting identity with strategic uses of all of our combined national powers to secure our long-term interests in the region.