115. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1
I drafted the attached comment on Sunday,2 in the midst of the worst of the Vietnam political crisis.
As a little light—only a little—breaks through,3 I would summarize its conclusions as follows:
- If the Vietnamese work their way out of this—and a civil constitution-drafting group is born—we will have passed a great turning point; although there will be plenty of trouble before they actually find their political feet.
- The Communists are serious and understand the importance of politics: they will take it as a major defeat.
Then will be the time to pour it on and
see if we canʼt force, in the months ahead, a resolution of the
conflict. The strain on our political and
economic life and the strain on the South Vietnamese is all
but intolerable. Specifically, as the memo suggests, we
should on the military side:
- —continue maximum effort to impose attrition on VC and PAVN forces in South Vietnam;
- —work more effectively from the air on the supply routes from the North;
- —increase the costs to Hanoi of continuing the war by going for oil or other precision target systems that hurt without killing an excessive number of civilians.
On the diplomatic side we should:
- —keep close to the Russians, but not hope for too much until Hanoi and the VC are persuaded by the situation itself that the jig is up;
- —keep lines open to Hanoi;
- —begin to get word to the VC that their destiny is: to sit on the Hanoi delegation at the international conference; and to talk to Saigon about how to end the war and get back into the national life of South Vietnam.
- —request Mr. Rusk to conduct a high level review of negotiating papers developed at the working level.
On the side of the Honolulu program the
memo argues that the most critical dimension is political.
- —We should, of course, continue our present program of concentrated effort in four areas of rural reconstruction—full blast;
- —but we should concentrate more effort, once they hire a hall and begin to talk, on political development; how to keep the Directorate together; the political party clause in the constitution; how to balance majority and minority interests; the formation of a national wide-ranging party, etc.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 1. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Copies were sent to Moyers and Valenti.↩
- April 3. Rostow gave his April 3 draft memorandum to Taylor, who commented on it in a memorandum of April 4 to Rostow. (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, Box 260, Gen. Taylor)↩
- Valentiʼs notes for the Presidentʼs meeting with his advisers at 1 p.m. on April 5 include the following brief discussion of Vietnam: “Information from Vietnam seems unclear. Taylor thinks situation in Danang is better, but what will Buddhists do? Rostow feels this morning is much better than we anticipated last night.” The meeting mainly dealt with foreign policy issues other than Vietnam. (Ibid., Meeting Notes File)↩
- Attached but not printed are: 1) Valentiʼs memorandum to Komer, March 28, outlining four “non-military” questions, which Valenti had asked the President and which the President wanted Komer to comment on; and 2) Komerʼs March 29 memorandum to Valenti in reply, which the President asked Rostow to comment on.↩
- Valentiʼs first question was: “Are we pursuing the one key to settlement in Vietnam—the Soviet Union?”↩
- Valentiʼs second question was: “Have we really sorted out the sticky problems and issues of peace talks—so that we are absolutely clear on our objectives and trading points?”↩
- Presumably a reference to negotiating papers drafted during late 1965 and 1966 by the Vietnam Planning Group, chaired by Unger, and in particular to the groupʼs paper on “A Settlement in Vietnam,” to which Komer referred in his memorandum of March 29. A copy of the paper, together with Ungerʼs discussion of it in a memorandum to Ball, March 15, is in Department of State, EA/VN Files: Lot 75 D 167, Vietnam Coordinating Committee and Working Group, 1964–66.↩
- Valentiʼs third question was: “Why shouldnʼt we organize in Vietnam a highly skilled group of political professionals to work with the current government in teaching them how to become democratic leaders—and build a durable democratic party?”↩
- Valentiʼs fourth question was: “Are we keeping close tabs on the Lodge plan for pacifying four key areas in SVN?”↩