(selections from pp. 262-264)
I told the president in a lengthy report that I saw "no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon." Many factors influenced my thinking, and I laid them out for him in unvarnished detail:
The one thing demonstrably going for us in Vietnam over the past year has been the large number of enemy killed-in-action resulting from the big military operations. Allowing for possible exaggeration in reports, the enemy must be taking losses...at the rate of more than 60,000 a year. The infiltration routes would seem to be one-way trails to death for the North Vietnamese. Yet there is no sign of an impending break in enemy morale and it appears that he can more than replace his losses by infiltration from North Vietnam and recruitment in South Vietnam.
...Pacification has if anything gone backward. As compared with two, or four, years ago, enemy full-time regional forces and part-time guerrilla forces are larger; attacks, terrorism and sabotage have increased in scope and intensity;...we control little, if any, more of the population; the VC [Vietcong] political infrastructure thrives in most of the country, continuing to give the enemy his enormous intelligence advantage; full security exists nowhere (not even behind the U.S. Marines' lines and in Saigon); in the countryside, the enemy almost completely controls the night.
Nor has the Rolling Thunder program of bombing the North either significantly affected infiltration or cracked the morale of Hanoi. There is agreement in the intelligence community on these facts.
In essence, we find ourselves--from the point of view of the important war (for the [hearts and minds] of the people)--no better, and if anything worse off. This important war must be fought and won by the Vietnamese themselves. We have known this from the beginning. But the discouraging truth is that, as was the case in 1961 and 1963 and 1965, we have not found the formula, the catalyst, for training and inspiring them into effective action.
What should we do about this unhappy situation? I perceived no "good" answer, and therefore offered none. I could only advise the president to level off U.S. military involvement for the long haul while pressing for talks, hoping these combined efforts would prevent the other side from waiting us out, avoid endless escalation of U.S. deployments, avert the risk of a larger war, and increase the prospects for a negotiated settlement through continued pressure.
Whatever my hopes, I concluded "the prognosis is bad that the war can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion within the next two years. The large-unit operations probably will not do it; negotiations probably will not do it. While we should continue to pursue both of these routes in trying for a solution in the short run, we should recognize that success from them is a mere possibility, not a probability [emphasis in original]."(*)
It was a sobering--indeed anguishing--scenario. But I could see no better way at the time.
(*)To achieve these goals, I recommended a multipronged course of action: leveling off U.S. ground forces in the South at 470,000; installing an anti-infiltration barrier along the Ho Chi Minh Trail; leveling off Rolling Thunder strikes against the North; and vigorously pursuing pacification.)