90. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Acting Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Komer) to President Johnson1

Vietnam civil czar: I am not up on where this matter stands, but think the attached worth passing on. Bundy, Bell, and Alex Johnson all agreed that for such a concept to work, the man involved must have full authority to operate—and not end up at just the assistant secretary level in State. Also, to get the calibre of man we want and to enable him to operate effectively, we have to give him the proper base.

True, this goes against the grain of the new State alignment.2 The counter-argument is that Vietnam deserves to be treated as an exception which calls for exceptional measures. One way to compromise would be to designate the czar as both a Special Assistant to Sec State and a Special Assistant to you, thus making clear that he would have direct access to the President as well as Rusk.

R.W. Komer3

[Page 275]


Memorandum From Chester Cooper of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson4

Washington, March 5, 1966.


  • Management of Vietnam Policy

For the past 18 months I have spent much of my time pushing, prodding and needling the various elements of Government with responsibilities in Vietnam. I have long felt strongly that something more than a committee arrangement was necessary if we were to win the pacification battle. (I attach a brief memorandum on this subject that I wrote in March 1965.)5

Now that the issue is on the front burner, but in danger of being buried in the State Department, may I urge the following views:

“Mr.Vietnam” should not be located in the State Department, but in the White House complex: the operating, public information and policy management programs cut across many agencies; they are of the utmost importance to you personally; they require for efficient, effective and expeditious implementation the kind of leverage that can only come from the knowledge that “Mr.Vietnam” and his staff are directly responsible to you. With all due respect to the Department of State, it has never had any experience in running a war—and your Mr. Vietnam will be spending his time running a very large chunk of the Vietnamese war. Also, if attached to the White House, he will not be forced to spend time before Congressional Committees—a matter that might become increasingly important.
If the management function is nevertheless assigned to State, it should be regarded as an exception and not incorporated into General Taylorʼs reorganization plan. The problems to be dealt with relate primarily to fast and effective interagency implementation of established policy rather than the development of interagency policy. Furthermore, if the management of Vietnam policy is to be incorporated into the Taylor plan, Mr.Vietnam will, in actuality, rank only as an Assistant Secretary of State. I submit that a “Bureau of Vietnam Affairs” will inevitably become a routine State Department organization operating under routine State [Page 276] Department procedures. As I understand it, this is just what you donʼt want to happen.
So if the assignment is made to State, your “Mr.Vietnam” should also be designated, as was Tom Mann, a “Special Assistant to the President” with direct access to you. In State he should work directly under the Secretary. Interagency guidance and the resolution of interagency problems should come from the Saturday Vietnam Group, of which he should be a member. There are few precedents for this, but there are no precedents to the Vietnam war. Four names that occur to me as candidates are Bob Nathan, Paul Nitze, Dave Bell and Robert Nelson (Litton Industries).

As one deeply committed to your Vietnam policy (and in many respects the originator of the “Vietnam Czar” concept), I feel compelled to urge these views.

Chet Cooper
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Komer Files, Chrono. Secret.
  2. In National Security Action Memorandum No. 341, March 2, the President assigned the Secretary of State “authority and responsibility to the full extent permitted by law for the overall direction, coordination and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the United States Government overseas.” NSAM No. 341 and Komerʼs March 2 memorandum to the President regarding the location of the “Vietnam civil czar” are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIII.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  4. Secret. Sent through Komer.
  5. Attached but not printed.