17. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Roche) to President Johnson1

I recognize (and respect up to a point) the attitude that Secretary Rusk, Bill Bundy and others have about “gimmicks” or “grandstand plays.”2

Of course, there is a difference between your position and theirs: nobody to my knowledge has ever been elected Secretary of State.

We are getting butchered in the press for “over-caution” vis-à-vis negotiations. I have never doubted that the Communists would throw negotiations into the pot this year as a technique of political warfare (see my attached memo of last March 27).3

But why can’t we play too? Why can’t you announce that on January 30 our representatives will be in Djakarta, Rangoon, Geneva or wherever, that the bombing of North Vietnam will stop (it’s Tet anyhow), and that if productive discussions occur it will not be resumed, etc.

This would put the ball in Hanoi’s court—and we could still bomb hell out of the Laotian trails without violating the pledge.

Let “world opinion” focus on Hanoi for a while.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 6 G (1)a, 12/67–1/68, Talks with Hanoi. Eyes Only. Received at 3:55 p.m. An attached note from Johnson to Rostow, January 18, 6 p.m., reads: “Raise the question with the proper people.” A handwritten notation reads: “done 1/19/68.”
  2. On January 4 Roche sent a memorandum to Rostow which reads: “Why not try a little dirty pool and see what happens? 1. We announce that our negotiating team will be in Geneva tomorrow. 2. We announce that there will be an ‘unconditional’ bombing pause. 3. We announce that if there is a DRV negotiating team there and that ‘productive discussions’ are initiated, and no military advantage is taken of the pause, the ‘unconditional’ pause will be extended. I don’t have much use for gimmicks, by and large, but this puts the ball in their court.” (Ibid., 6 G (1)b, 12/67–1/68, Talks with Hanoi)
  3. In the memorandum to the President, March 26, 1967, Roche wrote: “On the basis of various statements that have been emerging from Hanoi over the past six months, as well as articles in Hoc Tap and other Communist organs in Hanoi, I am convinced that Ho knows that the road to victory in South Vietnam by overt aggression is closed. He is therefore willing to shift from overt war to negotiations, with the latter in no way compromising his determination to some day ‘unify’ Vietnam. Negotiations are a weapons system at which Ho is an expert (see his performance between the French and the Chinats from 1946–49 or his 1949–53 moves with the French).” Roche concluded that Ho would initiate negotiations “at the worst possible time in terms of American internal unity—say on September 1, 1968.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 80–R01580R, 273—Vietnam Task Force)