Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter One: From Terror to Aggression Segment 17/27
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Note that JFK and his advisers consistently regarded lack of popular support for the war and GVN initiatives toward political settlement not as an opportunity for withdrawal, but rather as a threat to victory.

The National Security Council met the same day to consider these proposals. The President's role was, as usual, marginal. He repeated that "the major problem was with U.S. public opinion" and again balked at the time scale. He opposed a commitment to withdraw some forces in 1963 because "if we were not able to take this action by the end of this year, we would be accused of being over optimistic." McNamara, in contrast, "saw great value in this sentence in order to meet the view of Senator Fulbright and others that we are bogged down forever in Vietnam." The phrase was left as "a part of the McNamara-Taylor report rather than as predictions of the President," who thus remained uncommitted to withdrawal, at his insistence.

A public statement was released to the press, presenting the McNamara-Taylor judgment that "the major part of the U.S. military task can be completed by the end of 1965, although there may be a continuing requirement for a limited number of U.S. training personnel," and that the training program "should have progressed to the point" where 1000 men can be withdrawn by the end of the year. The statement repeated the standard position that the US will work with the GVN "to deny this country to Communism and to suppress the externally stimulated and supported insurgency of the Viet Cong as promptly as possible," continuing with "Major U.S. assistance in support of this military effort," which "is needed only until the insurgency has been suppressed or until the national security forces of the Government of South Viet-Nam are capable of suppressing it."57

At a White House conference on October 5, the President directed that the decision to remove 1000 US advisers "should not be raised formally with Diem. Instead the action should be carried out routinely as part of our general posture of withdrawing people when they are no longer needed."

The results of this meeting were formalized as NSAM 263 (October 11), a brief statement in which "The President approved the three military recommendations cited above...," weakened by one change: that "no formal announcement be made of the implementation of plans to withdraw 1000 U.S. military personnel by the end of 1963." The final provision of NSAM 263 is JFK's personal approval of a telegram instructing Ambassador Lodge to "increase effectiveness of war effort" along with training and arming of new forces, so as to enhance the prospects for victory, on which withdrawal was conditioned. It is necessary, the telegram adds, to overcome the "crisis of confidence among Vietnamese people which is eroding popular support for GVN that is vital for victory," and the "crisis of confidence on the part of the American public and Government," who also do not see how "our actions are related to our fundamental objective of victory."58

Note that read literally, NSAM 263 says very little. It approves the McNamara-Taylor recommendations to intensify the war and military training so that "It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel" by the end of 1965, and includes JFK's personal instructions to Lodge to intensify military action to achieve "our fundamental objective of victory." It does not call for implementing a 1,000 man withdrawal, but rather endorses the third point of the McNamara-Taylor proposal concerning plans for such withdrawal "as an initial step in a long-term program" to be conducted "without impairment of the war effort," deleting their call for formal announcement of these plans.

Presumably, the intent was to implement the withdrawal plans if military conditions allow, but that intent is unstated. The fact might be borne in mind in light of elaborate later efforts to read great significance into nuances of phrasing so as to demonstrate a dramatic change in policy with the Kennedy-Johnson transition. Adopting these interpretive techniques, we would conclude that NSAM 263 is almost vacuous. I stress that is not my interpretation; I assume the obvious unstated intention, only suggesting that other documents be treated in the same reasonable manner -- in which case, widely-held beliefs will quickly evaporate.

As noted, the basic decisions were made public at once. The picture presented then requires no significant modification in light of the huge mass of documents now available, though these make much more clear the President's unwillingness to commit himself to the withdrawal recommended by his war managers, his concern that domestic opinion might not stay the course, his insistence that withdrawal be conditioned on military victory, and his orders to step up the military effort and to "maximize the chances of the rebel generals" to replace the Diem regime by one that will "focus on winning" and not entertain thoughts of US withdrawal and peaceful settlement.

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57 FRUSV, IV 350f. Public Papers of the Presidents, 1963, 759-60.

58 FRUSV, IV 370, 395-6, 371ff.