88. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

I have reflected over the week-end on where we are in Viet Nam and where we ought to go. I forward these thoughts now because I won’t be here for the Wednesday meeting.2

Here, bare-boned, are my conclusions and order of priority.

Keep pouring it on in the South. Nothing is better than the kind of successful operations we have had in the past few days—notably the good and (at last) well-publicized operations of the South Vietnamese. Westy must stretch his capabilities and, even, take risks to keep forward momentum. The most fundamental Communist question affecting their policy judgments is: “What is the situation on the ground?”
Pacification and Opening of Roads. This is where we must be able to show real obvious progress in the next 3–6 months. We’ll have to await Bob Komer’s return before knowing how to get a handle on it.
Bombing the North. As you know, I am for applying more weight. I won’t go into detail here, but I believe it should be applied step-by-step, not convulsively. They should feel in Hanoi the sheriff is coming steadily down the road for them, not that we are in a spasm of anxiety or desperation.
The Russians. We should keep in steady frank conversation with them—here as well as Moscow. Apparently, Tommy did not make crystal clear that we no longer feel bound by the 10-mile circle. That should now be done by Nick or by me. We should tell them that we are not talking with the Chinese beyond Warsaw (which they monitor). We should tell them politely that since they can’t deliver Hanoi on a sensible deal, we’ll have to do it; although all channels remain open.
Negotiations. We should stop projecting an atmosphere of great anxiety about negotiations to Hanoi—a kind of “you call me” posture is about right.
Politics in South Viet Nam. This is the sleeper for 1967 if it comes out right. The critical issue is increasingly this: Westy and Lodge should [Page 199] take Thieu up on a mountain and let him see what a grand role he could play if he took over the Vietnamese military and modernized them for the long pull while keeping unity and backing the constitutional process. Ky looks to me the more likely politician for the next phase; but it may matter that Thieu know he will have all kinds of U.S. support if he undertakes the critical backstop military job. This conversation can wait until Bob Komer gives us his picture of the lay of the land.3

When the Ky-Thieu matter is settled—and the sooner the better—then we can really go to work to encourage them to organize solidly a military-civil coalition; a national program; a consolidation of political parties into a great big national party; an election with maximum turn-out; a forthcoming amnesty position; and all the rest.

Because it doesn’t involve hardware and much money, this is the dimension we tend to neglect; but doing it well may make all the difference to whether we get a settlement this year.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 21. Top Secret. The President wrote at the top of the page: “Put it on my desk for Wed. L.”
  2. Present for the February 22 meeting were the President, Eugene Rostow, McNamara, Taylor, Wheeler, Smith, and Christian. It ran 1:15 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No notes of the meeting have been found.
  3. For Komer’s report, see Document 91.