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McNamara Returns from Vietnam, Reports to President Johnson

Dec. 21, 1963 - Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara returned from South Vietnam today and gave President Johnson a sober report about the war there. Mr. McNamara told the President and other high officials about recent successes of the Communist Viet Cong. He said they had taken advantage of the confusion that followed the overthrow of President Diem in November and had overrun “a substantial number” of the strategic hamlets built to protect the rural population — and to keep them from joining the Viet Cong. After an hour-long briefing at the White House, Mr. McNamara declared: “We are determined that the fight against Communist guerrillas there will be successful.” However, the timeline has apparently shifted, as Administration sources acknowledged that the U.S. had abandoned the 1965 deadline for the removal of most U.S. troops from South Vietnam. The purpose of the statement issued Oct. 2 which set the 1965 deadline was never explained. Some officials criticized the statement as a move intended to appease Congress and to keep the issue of Vietnam out of the 1964 campaign. Others said the statement was a psychological ploy against the Government of President Diem. It was tantamount to a warning, they thought, that if the South Vietnamese Government did not make a better showing in the war by 1965, it could not expect indefinite American support. Since the overthrow of that Government, these officials suggest, such pressure is no longer necessary or desirable. The American military force in Vietnam now numbers about 16,500.


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