Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference at the LBJ Ranch

November 05, 1966

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

[1.] I am delighted to welcome you here this morning, to give you a brief report on what has happened.

We came in late yesterday and drove around and looked over the ranch some. I went to bed early and slept until 8:20 this morning.

Mr. McNamara came in a little after 9:30, and I received a somewhat detailed report on several items from him which he will sum up for you and take any questions you may care to ask.

I signed a number of bills today prior to his arrival, and have had a conversation with the Director of the Budget 1 in connection with some points I discussed with Mr. McNamara.

1 Charles L. Schultze, Director of the Bureau of the Budget.

I had an extended visit with Carl Albert, the majority leader, about the Manila Conference and our Pacific-Asia trip, and also the legislative program for next year.

I think that is a fair assessment of what has gone on since I saw you yesterday.

Now I present to you Mr. McNamara.

SECRETARY MCNAMARA'S REMARKS ON THE DEFENSE PROGRAM AND VIETNAM

[2.] SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Yesterday, in a brief meeting I began to review with the President some of the matters relating to the fiscal 1968 Defense program, and we continued our discussion of that subject this morning.

As a foundation for decisions relating to the fiscal 1968 Defense budget, the President and I have been talking about the situation in Vietnam, discussing his impressions of the Far Eastern trip and my observations from my own recent trip.

We talked about the situation as it is today, as it looks for the months ahead, and this in comparison to what it was about a year ago.

You will recall that the military outlook was very dark, indeed, in the summer of 1965. The Vietcong and main force units of the North Vietnamese army that had infiltrated into the South were overpowering and were then destroying the military forces of South Vietnam.

As a matter of fact, many of the individual battalions of the South Vietnamese forces were decimated.

There was a very great fear then, shared by us, that the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong were determined to cut the country in two at its narrow waist, and, furthermore, that they had the ability to do so.

To prevent that disaster, the United States put into South Vietnam over 100,000 men in about 120 days. The potential disaster was averted. Our forces began to bring a grave military situation under control.

Of course, since that time the scene has changed dramatically.

Whereas the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong forces were approaching possible victory some 15 months ago, I think it is clear to all that today a military victory is beyond their grasp.

One year ago we were in the midst of a very rapid troop expansion in South Vietnam. Today, a slowdown in our rate of troop deployment to that country is planned.

Looking ahead to 1967, particularly to matters that will influence our Defense program and our Defense budget for the next fiscal year, I think that barring unforeseen contingencies these major points seem clear:

First, draft calls for 1967 will be lower than for 1966. It is apparent that the total number of men to be drafted in the next 4 months--December, January, February, and March which is our planning period, will be significantly smaller than the number of men drafted in the 4 months of August, September, October, and the current month of November.

As a matter of fact, during the current 4-month period, August through November, we will draft about 161,000 men, and I would expect that the number to be drafted in the next 4 months will approximate half of that total.

The inductions in August, September, October, and November ranged between 37,000 and 50,000 a month, and I think that in the next 4 months they will average less than 25,000.

Secondly, I think it is clear that barring unforeseen emergencies, the increases in U.S. forces in South Vietnam in 1967 will be substantially less than this year. From January 1 to December 31 of this year, our forces in South Vietnam will increase by approximately 200,000 men. The increase next year will be nothing on that order.

Thirdly, here at home, as I have announced previously, we have already ordered a cut of $1 billion in the planned annual rate of production of air ordnance. Today I discussed with the President the probability of a second cut. Our inventories of ordnance are rising faster than we anticipated. As a matter of fact, we have today on the ground in Southeast Asia approximately 160,000 tons of air ordnance and we have an additional 140,000 tons in transit.

Fourthly, I expect that this same trend towards stabilization will govern our air operations, and the deployments of air units to South Vietnam, and the level of our air activities. We have been flying, for example, more than 25,000 attack sorties a month. No sharp increases in that level of air activity are planned for the future.

Now, having said this, I want to emphasize that we do face a stubborn enemy. As a matter of fact, on the way down here today in the airplane, I read the most recent report of the interrogations of enemy prisoners, the North Vietnamese-Vietcong prisoners, that were captured during the period of June through September. This report showed that the morale of the North Vietnamese soldiers in South Vietnam and the morale of the Vietcong soldiers in South Vietnam is being affected by the air and ground operations carried out against them by the United States, the South Vietnamese, and the other free world forces.

Their sanctuaries which once existed deep in the jungle are no longer free from attack. Food for the enemy is a problem, an increasing problem. It is no longer plentiful. His medical supplies are often short. Disease, particularly malaria, is affecting his troops and at times rendering entire units ineffective.

Our field commanders report that enemy deaths in combat are averaging more than 1,000 men a week. To this number, of course, must be added the number captured-and the number captured in the last 4 weeks has been very high, indeed, something on the order of 2,100. That is almost a third of the total number of enemy captured during 1965. And to this number, of course, must be added those who are wounded and those who are immobilized or die because of disease.

The monsoon offensive that we anticipated during the months of the monsoon, May through October, has been thwarted.

More recently, despite the heavy infiltration across the demilitarized zone in the northern part of South Vietnam, and the enemy's clear intention to conduct a major offensive operation across that zone and in the northeastern portion of the First Corps area, our own spoiling operations have prevented them from doing so. Nonetheless, the overall conclusion of this interrogation report drawn from the interrogations of June through September is that the North Vietnamese soldiers and the Vietcong soldiers, while clearly affected by the pressures being brought to bear upon them, are fighting on stubbornly and from all indications will continue to fight on stubbornly.

They continue to infiltrate from the North to the South in large numbers, and they continue to bring in not only individuals by those infiltration routes but entire units, regiments of the North Vietnamese army, as well.

There is no question, however, that the military victory which the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong sought in the summer of 1965 is now beyond their grasp. This, then, permits another major change in the year ahead.

As all of you are aware, I think, progress has been very slow in rural reconstruction, a most important program in South Vietnam. I think we all agree that this program demands additional attention from the Government of South Vietnam and from the free world forces during the forthcoming year. Fortunately, the military situation has now improved to the point so that additional emphasis can be placed upon this job of providing security to the countryside, security to the people in the villages and hamlets spread all over the country.

There is sufficient military power in the field today to permit the South Vietnamese to shift more of their regular military forces to the reconstruction effort, and this they plan to do.

And, finally, I commented to the President upon the most vivid impression I brought back from South Vietnam, and that is of the very high morale and very high effectiveness of all elements of the U.S. Armed Forces there. General Westmoreland has said that they are the best armed forces that he has ever seen in uniform, that they have the highest morale and the highest efficiency that he has ever observed in combat troops.

Perhaps this is a natural reaction from a commander of a military force. But it is not only one man's opinion; it is the universal opinion of all who have visited our troops in that country. I think in part it is a function of the fact that we are limiting their combat tour in a way that has never been done before in any major conflict.

As you know, the combat tour at present is limited to 12 months. We propose to keep it so. We will have brought back as a result of that limited tour about 250,000 men by the end of next month. We believe we can continue to limit the tour to 12 months, as far ahead as we can see, and do so without calling up Reserves.

Now I will be very happy to take your questions.

QUESTIONS

NEED FOR A TAX INCREASE

[3.] Q. Mr. Secretary, the President said yesterday that a decision on a tax increase would come after figures are in on a supplemental appropriation. In view of the figures you have given us today, can you give us any idea of what your thinking would be on the subject?

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. No, I can't give you any idea of the total Defense budget for fiscal 1968 or the amount of any supplemental that may be requested. We are in the process of developing both the supplemental and the Defense budget. It was in connection with that that, as I say, I met with the President today. It will be several weeks before I can present to him a recommendation for fiscal 1968 Defense budget.

With respect to the supplemental, I should call your attention to the foundation of the fiscal 1967 Defense budget. At the time we presented it to the Congress, the President stated, and I repeated it in many visits with Members of Congress and in appearances before congressional committees, that the budget was based on the assumption that military operations would be financed through June 30, 1967. This was a conservative fiscal assumption.

It is an assumption which permits us to utilize the funds most efficiently to avoid waste and undue expenditures and avoid buying ahead of the time when we need to buy. But I think it is becoming clear now that that assumption needs to be changed. We need to look ahead to the possibility of financing operations beyond June 30, 1967.

As we reported to the Congress earlier this year, that would require a Supplement. I think it is very clear a supplement will be necessary and will be recommended in January. We will be developing the specific amount and discussing it and recommending it to the President in the next several weeks.

THE PRESIDENT. If I might mention it, some of the figures we discussed this morning may be of interest to you.

Our revenue estimates now indicate that we will take in this year an increase of about $5 billion, $6 billion, or $7 billion over what we planned in the budget. In other words, our revenue would be up from $111 billion to $116 or above. It could be off a billion dollars, or 2 billion. That may be a conservative estimate.

We will take in $5 billion, $6 billion, or $7 billion more than we estimated we would take in.

Our failure to sell securities, our withdrawing them from the market, plus the extra cost of the interest rates, will cost us about $4.5 billion of that revenue. Then we will have to take the congressional add-ons. We will pare those as much as we can. We are in the process of doing that now.

We will have, as I indicated yesterday, more in increased revenue than we will have in increased expenditures. In other words, we will have an increase of both, increased expenditures, because we are not selling the $3.5 billion of securities, and because of the extra interest rates. That figure will be about $4.5 billion.

We will have increased revenues that will more than cover it--$5 billion, $6 billion, or $7 billion.

Then, when we get the figures on the supplemental for the military, we can give you a better picture. But we will not get those for several weeks yet.

PREDICTION FOR MILITARY VICTORY

[4.] Q. Mr. Secretary, you said that the Vietcong victory is not within their grasp. Is a military victory within our grasp in Vietnam, and can you give us any kind of an idea what you think the time element might be?

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. No. I, as you know, have not proven to be the most reliable forecaster in the past, and I don't wish to run the risk of proving unreliable in the future. So I won't have any predictions of what lies ahead.

U.S. TROOP REQUIREMENTS

[5.] Q. Mr. Secretary, you stated that the troop increase in calendar 1966, I believe, would approximate 200,000 men.

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Yes.

Q. But you didn't give us a figure for 1967.

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Intentionally so.

Q. Would you do that, please?

SECRETARY McNAMARA. No, I couldn't give you an estimate for 1967. We don't have detailed plans. But I can tell you that the increase for 1967 will be substantially less than the 200,000 increase between January 1 and December 31 of this year.

Q. Mr. Secretary, could you tell us what that 200,000 increase will bring our force level to?

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Well, we had about 182,000 men in South Vietnam at the beginning of the year, and if the amount added this year exactly equaled 200,000, and it will be somewhat above or below that, it would bring the total at the end of this year to about 385,000.

EFFECT OF AIR ORDNANCE CUTBACK

[6.] Q. Mr. Secretary, as you speak of the cutback in ordnance required for Air Force activities, how could we compare our situation today with a few years ago? If we should be successful in achieving peace in a relatively short time, 2 or 3 months, what would be the Department of Defense position with materiel on hand? Would we have a huge surplus, such as we had after Korea?

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Well, I think your question relates to the impact of peace on our economy. We have been very conscious of that in planning the buildup of our forces. As I mentioned to you a few moments ago, General Westmoreland has said he has never seen or heard of a military force in history that is as well equipped or as effective as we have.

We have that there, and we achieved this level of effectiveness without material allocations, without wage controls, without price controls, and with the Defense budget which, in terms of gross national product, is lower today, lower in 1966, than it was in 4 of the past 5 years.

I hope we are doing it, and I believe we are doing it, without piling up the tremendous surpluses with which we have entered peace after World War II and Korea.

After Korea, for example, there was a surplus of over $12 billion of military equipment on hand. That required an immediate termination of production, with very serious and adverse effects on employment in the areas in which defense production had been heavily concentrated.

This time we have planned both to hold to a minimum the burden on our society during the period of military operations, and also soften the impact of the termination of such operations by providing for a continuation of production to build up inventories after the introduction of peace.

So the specific answer to your question is, I think, that you will not see a sharp, dramatic, drastic termination of defense production, with all the adverse effects that that has on individuals and localities.

EFFECTS OF BOMBING OF NORTH VIETNAM

[7.] Q. Mr. Secretary, how effective has been the bombing of North Vietnam on the morale and on the military objectives?

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. I think you have to, in answering that question, remember the three objectives that we had when we started bombing.

The first was to increase the morale of the South Vietnamese military forces and civilian population. The bombing started in February 1965. That nation was under intense pressure from the North at that time. This was a major act by the United States indicating to them that they could expect continued support from this country. Surely we have achieved that objective.

A second objective was to reduce the flow of men and equipment from the North to the South and/or to increase the cost of that infiltration of men and equipment from the North to the South.

Very clearly we have increased the cost. How much we have reduced the flow, we cannot say. But it is very clear that North Vietnam has diverted about 300,000 men from other activities in their society to the repair of the lines of communication over which they are infiltrating men and equipment from the North, and which lines of communication have been the primary targets of our bombing in the North.

The third objective, of course, was to make clear to the political leaders and the people of the North that as long as they continued to seek to subvert and destroy the independence of the people of the South, that they would pay a price in the North.

I think it is very clear they are paying a price.

We never intended, and we don't believe now, that the bombing of the North will, by itself, lead to a termination of the activity in the South.

LEVEL OF AIR ACTIVITY

[8.] Q. Mr. Secretary, on the same general subject, in your discussion of the level of air activity, you mentioned sorties, but you gave no estimate of the level of bombing activity in 1967. Could you do so? There have been some recent reports.

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. Well, I mentioned that we have been flying somewhat more than 25,000 attack sorties a month, and that I didn't anticipate any significant increase in that level.

I think that that is a fair measure of the bombing activity. The attack sorties are the vehicles by which the bombing is carried out.

EFFECT OF ORDNANCE CUTBACKS

[9.] Q. Mr. Secretary, is it the administration's hope that the announcement of these cutbacks will have a diplomatic effect?

SECRETARY MCNAMARA. No, it is simply a statement of reality. The cutbacks will take place and I think it is information that you and our public will find of interest.

It is particularly information that bears on the future of our economy and the transition from war to peace.

REPORTER. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

THE PRESIDENT'S REMARKS

[10.] THE PRESIDENT. On this point, we will have these items costed out. In preparing our budget, it is necessary to review some of these matters that Secretary McNamara has reviewed with us this morning. We will have that taking place from now to January 1.

The latter part of November and December will be taken up mostly with the Budget people. But before that, we will have a series of proposals by Cabinet officers. Following these proposals, the President will pass on them and then the Budget will cost them out and they will go into the State of the Union Message.

Mr. McNamara's proposals this morning indicated a lower draft call, lower ammunition production, lower assignments overseas for next year. There will be other adjustments that will be made. When these are processed and costed out, we will arrive at the figure for the budget that will go up in January.

Arriving this afternoon will be Mr. Cater, of the White House staff, and Mr. John Gardner. They will review the education, health, and social security proposals that they care to have considered for next year.

Some of them we can afford, and some of them we cannot. We will look at them, analyze them, consider them, and have the Budget cost them out.

We expect Mr. Cater and Secretary Gardner to stay overnight. They will be returning to Washington tomorrow.

[11.] Secretary McNamara talked to you about the reconstruction work that we are doing in the pacification field. We went into great detail with the South Vietnamese, General Westmoreland, and Ambassador Lodge, at the Manila Conference.

Following that Conference, my assistant, Mr. Komer, went with them back to South Vietnam. He spent several days there. He made a brief report yesterday morning on the plans that we have in that field for the days ahead. Secretary McNamara carried through on some of it today.

I will ask Mr. Komer to come down late Sunday or Monday to go over that entire proposal 2 and we will try to have that costed out for the next few months.

2 A summary of Robert W. Komer's report to the President was released on November 7 (2 Weekly Comp. Pros. Docs., p. 1673). See also note to Item 521.

That is about as far as we can see ahead now. I do not know that Secretary Gardner's proposals or Mr. Komer's proposals will have any interest, or whether you want to come out here for them or not. They will come by Jetstar to the ranch. I will keep Mr. Christian 3 advised.

That is all. Thank you very much.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

3 George Christian, an assistant press secretary.

Note: President Johnson's eighty-third news conference was held at the LBJ Ranch, Johnson City, Texas, at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 5, 1966.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference at the LBJ Ranch Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237558

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