253. Memorandum From Colonel Robert Ginsburgh of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Vietnam—The Next Phase

Some time within the next two to three weeks I think it would be worth the Presidentʼs time to reflect on and plan for his immediate post-election strategy in Vietnam.

I assume that the November elections will indicate basic public support for the Presidentʼs Vietnam policy.

I am equally convinced that if Hanoi does not immediately sue for peace they will closely watch our actions immediately after the election for a clue to what they should expect from the US in the next two years. In [Page 683] the process of re-evaluating their position, they must attempt to gauge their capability for holding out until after the Nov ʼ68 elections.

The closer we get to the Nov ʼ68 elections, the greater will be the incentive for the VC/DRV to hold on at all costs in hopes of a political reversal of the US position in Vietnam. In fact in terms of the effect of the war in Vietnam on US domestic politics, it seems to me that the national political conventions are equally as significant as the fall ʼ68 elections.

I do not believe that any US administration—Republican or Democratic would either abandon our commitment to Vietnam or recklessly escalate—regardless of campaign oratory. Because of the campaign oratory, however, I believe that it is in the US national interest to win this war in Vietnam before the beginning of the political conventions in the summer of 1968. This does not mean that we would need to have all of our troops out of Vietnam by that time or that all anti-guerrilla action needs to have ceased. But we must do our best to be clearly over the hump by then, and it would be extremely helpful to have started a phased troop withdrawal.

Action Program: In view of the above, I recommend the following:

Establish at top levels within the government the objective of winning—or at least passing the crest—by 1 June 1968. Keep this goal out of the press.
Allow the Communists one week to evaluate the political impact of the November election.
After one week, get the word privately to the VC/DRV that the US is prepared to resume its program of increasing pressure—at a faster rate than before. Issue no public ultimatums.
If no satisfactory de-escalatory signals are received within 10 days to two weeks resume our program of increasing pressures:
Resume the POL campaign.
Over a 2–3 week period take out the remaining hydro-electric plants.
Destroy the steel plant.
Mine the ports.
Eliminate the NVN air forces.
Attack the air defense system.
As d and e are eliminated shift weight of effort back to interdiction campaign.
As soon as details are worked out announce reorganization of pacification activities and beginning of new phase of operations.
By 1 January announce intention and commence withdrawal of up to two divisions and appropriate air units from Europe for transfer to Vietnam, with redeployment determined on basis of logistic capability. Justify as temporary move without committing US to necessarily redeploy to Europe after Vietnam war is over.

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Finally, I urge that decisions on the above recommendations be made as soon as possible so that implementation can begin immediately after the November elections.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, vol. LX. Top Secret. Rostow forwarded the memorandum to the President on October 1 under cover of a memorandum suggesting that he read it and calling Ginsburgh a “superb JCS liaison officer” who “has made important contributions to our work on negotiating positions” and other Vietnam issues. (Ibid.)