The Commitments Deepen 11

Johnson was then divesting himself of Kennedy administration fig¬ures like Hilsman and Harriman, who had favored a more political approach to Vietnam. The locus of planning shifted to one of McNamara’s top subordinates, William P. Bundy, the assistant sec¬retary of defense who was to supplant Hilsman as assistant secretary of state for the Far East. A lean patrician, Bundy, like his younger brother McGeorge, had attended Groton, Yale and the Harvard Law School before joining the CIA—at a time when the agency was vir¬tually an Ivy League alumni association. Like McGeorge, Johnson’s chief national security adviser, his connections were impeccable. He had married Dean Acheson’s daughter, and his patrons included such Washington luminaries as Allen Dulles, the legendary CIA director. But in contrast to his brother, a brilliant scholar with a penchant for power, Bill was the classic bureaucrat—the kind of man whose lifetime of faceless public service would have been capped with a knighthood in Britain. One ugly incident marred his otherwise seamless career. During the early 1950s, as a CIA operative in Germany, he had been singled out for attack as a Communist sympathizer by Senator Joe McCarthy, who was indirectly trying to smear Acheson. Bundy’s prominent protectors defended him and the charge evaporated, as did McCarthy. Still, the episode seemed to have wounded Bundy, and though his instincts were liberal, he advocated a hard line toward Vietnam, as if striving to compensate for his vulnerability.
On March 1, following up earlier Pentagon proposals, Bundy sent Johnson an elaborate new set of recommendations for punishing North Vietnam. As an opening gambit, he proposed, the United States ought to blockade Haiphong harbor—less to destroy the traffic there than to hit “at the sovereignty of North Vietnam” and to warn that “we would go further.” The next steps would be to bomb North Viet¬namese railways, roads, industrial complexes and trainihg camps, the purpose being as much political as military: the air raids would compel Hanoi to “stop or at least sharply cut down” its assistance to the Vietcong, but equally important, they would “stiffen the Khanh gov-ernment, completely assure it of our determination, and discourage moves toward neutralism” in Saigon, as well as “show all of Southeast Asia . . . that we will take strong measures to prevent the spread of Communism specifically, and the grab of territory generally, in the area.”
Bundy focused on an issue that until now had been overlooked. To launch operations against North Vietnam, he noted, would “normally require” a declaration of war under the U.S. Constitution, and that might spark domestic controversy. Yet to proceed without legislative endorsement would be “unsatisfactory.” The “best answer,” there¬fore, was a congressional resolution of the sort that had freed President Eisenhower’s hands to act in 1955, when the Chinese Communists menaced Quemoy and Matsu, the islands in the Taiwan Strait held by Chiang Kai-shek. It was unclear how Johnson could bend Congress to pass the resolution. But his aides soon began to draft a document that, in murky circumstances five months later, would overwhelm¬ingly win the approval he needed to fulfill nearly all the Pentagon’s dreams.
In June 1964, claiming that a letter from an American enlisted man in Vietnam had inspired him, Lodge resigned as ambassador to seek the Republican nomination in the presidential campaign. Johnson cast about for a successor, and there was no shortage of candidates. Rusk, McNamara and McGeorge Bundy volunteered, as did Robert Ken¬nedy, who told Johnson in a handwritten note that Vietnam was “obviously the most important problem facing the United States and … I am at your service.” But, in an election year, Johnson wanted prominent representatives in Saigon who would reassure the hawks in Congress and still heed his wish to keep the war within bounds. He selected General Maxwell Taylor, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, naming as his deputy U. Alexis Johnson, a veteran diplomat and then the State Department’s fourth-ranking official. And he promoted Lieutenant General William C. Westmoreland to replace Harkins as commander of the U.S. military advisory group. Never before in history had such a distinguished array of talent been assigned to cope with a conflict that was not being directly conducted by the United States.
Westmoreland, who had been in Vietnam since January as deputy to Harkins, was then nearly fifty years old, and he looked like the model of a modern American general. A tall, erect, handsome West Pointer with hooded eyes and a chiseled chin, he had earned a chestful of ribbons during World War II and in Korea, and he exuded the same virtuous resolve he had displayed as an eagle scout during his boyhood in South Carolina. But Johnson had not chosen him for his physique or his purity. Westy was a corporation executive in uniform, a diligent, disciplined organization man who would obey orders. Like Taylor, he saw the war as essentially an exercise in management—and together they began to “Americanize” the effort.
Even before Taylor and Westmoreland assumed their new jobs, frustrated officials in Washington had been contemplating a fresh ap¬proach that would give the United States greater leverage in Vietnam. In a cable to the U.S. embassy in Saigon, Secretary of State Rusk speculated on possible ways to “shake” the South Vietnamese leaders “by the scruff of the neck and insist that they put aside all bickering and lesser differences.” He suggested that “somehow we must change the pace at which these people move,” musing that perhaps “this can only be done with a pervasive intrusion of Americans into their af¬fairs. ” William Sullivan, one of Rusk’s assistants, spelled out the con¬cept more precisely. Until then, he said, the United States had expected the Saigon regime to enforce more programs than it was “technically and administratively capable of handling.” Accordingly, he proposed a revision of the “ground rules” under which the United States had tried to wage the war through its Vietnamese clients. He recom¬mended the creation of a “coordinated executive direction,” with American military and civilian officials squarely integrated into the South Vietnamese government structure from the central down to the district level. Such an arrangement risked creating the “stigma of colonialism,” he conceded, but a desperate situation required desperate measures. The country could only be saved from the Communists by a more efficient system of management under closer American supervision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Categories

Meta