Ad Hoc Task Force on Vietnam

The Tet Offensive of 1968 dealt a deathblow to the American war effort in Vietnam by undermining the political mood at home. Doubtful congressmen began evaluating their positions while the military was requesting bigger investment of resources in the conflict. Late in February 1968, General William C. Westmoreland asked President Lyndon B. Johnson for the deployment of 200,000 more troops to Southeast Asia, and the president assembled the Ad Hoc Task Force on Vietnam to evaluate Westmoreland's request. The debate was also taking place in the midst of the presidential primary campaign of 1968, where Lyndon Johnson was facing significant pressure from Senators Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Robert F. Kennedy of New York. Clark Clifford, the new secretary of defense, chaired the group. The debate was wide-ranging, dealing with the Vietnam War in particular and American commitments abroad in general. General Maxwell Taylor and Walt W. Rostow, both presidential advisers, supported the commitment, as did General Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the escalation was opposed by other important people, including Paul Nitze, deputy under secretary of defense, and Paul Warnke, assistant secretary of defense. Although Clifford took no formal position in the debate, his own doubts about the nature of the war were confirmed. Those opposing the escalation prevailed, and Westmoreland received only 25,000 of the 200,000 troops he requested. Later in March, President Lyndon Johnson announced his decision not to run for reelection and to de-escalate the war effort.