440. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1
- Are the Next Four Months Decisive?
I asked Saigon to collect and analyze all the captured documents they have on the present winter-spring offensive and negotiations, including the coalition government.
They did a good, long paper.2
I then asked CIA to reproduce it and comment on it. The comment and the Saigon paper are attached.3
Taken together, they reveal an interesting difference of emphasis and judgment between Saigon and CIA Washington.
The Saigon people read these documents as saying (see p. II, 5–8, paper clipped): [Page 1118]
- —the Communists are simultaneously making a maximum military effort and preparing their people for an early negotiation;
- —if they achieve some tactical success, they are likely to negotiate in the late winter or spring;
- —if they do not, they are likely to scale down the war;
- —“the war is probably nearing a turning point and the outcome of the 1967–68 winter-spring campaign will in all likelihood determine the future direction of the war.”4
Our CIA people (as you can see in the marked passages of the covering note) are inclined to believe the present military campaign, combined with emphasis on a negotiated coalition government, is less “decisive” than Saigon. They see the war going on for several years.
At the end, however, they accept an important point: having gotten the Viet Cong to accept these months as “decisive” and moving towards peace and victory “this situation could have serious effects on Viet Cong morale and lead to a substantial increase in defections” if the campaign fails.
In any case, I thought you’d like to know the terms in which experts are debating the present evidence.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Vol. 54 (1 of 2). Secret. The notation “ps” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.↩
- Attached but not printed were three papers that constituted the assessment: “Overview of Viet Cong Strategy,” “The Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Winter-Spring Campaign,” and “The Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Position on Coalition Government,” all dated December 8 but originally submitted to MACV on November 27.↩
- Carver’s December 15 commentary is attached but not printed; it is summarized below.↩
- In the attached paper entitled “The Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Winter-Spring Campaign,” [text not declassified] of the Saigon CIA Station argued that based upon captured enemy documents, the North Vietnamese and the VC hoped to force re-deployment of U.S. forces near the border areas in order to weaken the cities wherein a “general uprising” was envisioned. The effort was considered “decisive” by the Communist hierarchy as it sought to take advantage of political dissent within the United States during the ensuing election year. Specific captured documents generated by the Combined Document Exploitation Center upon which the Saigon Station’s assessment was predicated are in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vietnam 1967 Winter-Spring Campaign.↩