Foreign Policy Dilemmas
THE Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in August 1964 gave Johnson a temporary respite from unpleasant choices in Vietnam. Having hit back at the North Vietnamese and having rallied Congress and the country behind a promise not to abandon South Vietnam, he wished to mute discussion about Southeast Asia. But he knew the problem would not go away. On August 10, he told national security advisers that the next challenge from Hanoi, which he expected soon, would have to be met with firmness. He had no intention of escalating the conflict "just because the public liked what happened last week," he said. But he wanted planning that would allow us to choose the grounds for the next confrontation and get maximum results with minimum danger. 1
Still, he wanted no significant change in policy before the November election. Having "stood up" to Communist aggression, he now wished to sound a moderate note. In speeches during the campaign, he emphasized giving Vietnam limited help: He would "not permit the independent nations of the East to be swallowed up by Communist conquest," but it would not mean sending "American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." 2
Coups and counter Coups in Saigon during August and September made it difficult for Johnson to hold to his word. Under Secretary George Ball told James Reston on August 29 that things were "very serious" in Saigon, and substantial doubts existed about the future "authority and stability" of the central government. On the 31st, Mac Bundy advised Johnson that the situation in Saigon "could hardly be more serious."
Contingency plans for limited escalation--"naval harassments, air interdiction in the Laos panhandle, and possible U.S. fleet move-