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92. Information Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

I sent the attached draft memorandum to the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Mr. Clifford.

At the end of a quite fruitful discussion of more than 3 hours,2 Sec. McNamara recommended (and Mr. Clifford concurred) holding this directive until the first draft reports are available on Saturday.3 We would then, when the materials were in, present a directive to you.

On the other hand, if you wish to have a directive like the attached completed earlier, this could be arranged.

I will not attempt to summarize the discussion which involved many points of view and touched on a wide range of issues. Aside from differences on the troop issue, with which you are familiar, these were some of the points that seemed to be agreed:

  • —From our point of view—and the Communist point of view—1968 is the “year of decision” in Vietnam. Not that the war will necessarily end this year, but its outcome will be foreshadowed by the events of this year.
  • —Whatever we do about troops, a maximum effort must be made to get the best conceivable performance from the GVN and the ARVN. In this connection, we may wish to nail down and include in any budgetary proposals a mobilization effort in Vietnam going beyond the 65,000.
  • —We must come to grips in our own mind with the terms of an acceptable negotiation and begin to talk in a mature way with the GVN about what we would regard as an acceptable outcome.
  • —Whatever the decision on troops, we may wish to give Westy a new, more precise and updated directive, stating the objectives which we aim to achieve.
  • —Joe Fowler made the following points:
  • —What is required on both the military and financial side is an Act of National Will.
  • —He would regard the increase in the military budget as a “not unmixed evil” since he believes a tax bill will then move, although probably at the expense of further reductions in civilian expenditures.
  • —Our presentation should not merely include Vietnam but the need to make our military credibility more clear in Korea, Middle East, and elsewhere, since he believes that the Communists, together or separately, are probing at us in a number of directions.
  • —At the end Clark Clifford gave assignments under each of the headings in this draft directive, which are to be completed by Saturday. The committee that met this afternoon will then work over the week end on a statement of alternatives and on its recommendations.
  • —We underlined, at the close of the meeting, once again the extreme requirement for security.

Walt

Attachment

Draft Memorandum From President Johnson to Secretary of State Rusk and Secretary of Defense McNamara4

As I indicated at breakfast this morning,5 I wish you to develop by Monday morning, March 4, recommendations in response to the situation presented to us by General Wheeler and his preliminary proposals.

I wish alternatives examined and, if possible, agreed recommendations to emerge which reconcile the military, diplomatic, economic, Congressional, and public opinion problems involved.

In particular, I wish you to consider, among others, the following specific issues: [Page 278]

  • —What military and other objectives in Viet Nam are additional U.S. forces designed to advance?
  • —What specific dangers is their dispatch designed to avoid, and what specific goals would the increment of force, if recommended by you, aim to achieve: in the next six months; over the next year?
  • —What problems would we confront with respect to appropriations and the budget; and what measures would you propose to deal with those problems?
  • —What problems would we confront with respect to balance of payments; and what measures would you propose to deal with those problems?
  • —Should we go forward with an increment of U.S. forces; what negotiated posture should we strike, in general; and what modifications, if any, would you recommend with respect to the San Antonio formula?
  • —Aside from the question of negotiations, what other diplomatic problems would we confront, and how should they be dealt with?
  • —What special effort can we and should we take at this time with respect to improving the political and military performance of the South Vietnamese?
  • —How should we frame our proposals for the Congress with respect to: objectives; legislation required (e.g., selective call-up); appropriations?
  • —What major Congressional problems can be anticipated, and how should they be met?
  • —Aside from your recommendations on the dispatch of forces and reconstitution of reserves, what steps are required to build up a production base for our over-all military effort?
  • —What problems can we anticipate in U.S. public opinion, and how should they be dealt with?

You should feel free in making this report to call on the best minds in the Government to work on specific aspects of the problem; but you should assure the highest possible degree of security up to the moment when the President's decision on these matters is announced.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC History of the March 31st Speech, Vol. 3, Tabs RR–ZZ and a-d. Top Secret; Sensitive. The notation “ps” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it and the attachment.
  2. The so-called “Clifford Task Force” had its first meeting that day. Notes of the meeting have not been found but it is summarized in this memorandum. The members of the group included Clifford, Rusk, McNamara, Katzenbach, Bundy, Nitze, Warnke, Taylor, Helms, Wheeler, and Fowler. Rusk and McNamara did not attend after the initial sessions. According to an undated memorandum, at this first meeting the subjects to be reviewed were divided as follows: alternative U.S. courses of action—Defense, Taylor, State; alternative enemy courses of action—Defense and CIA; implications of the augmentation request: military-JCS, political-State, economic-Treasury, Congressional-Defense, public opinion-State; and negotiation alternatives-State. The final section of the memorandum reads: “Papers will be prepared for distribution among Clifford group to meet Saturday 10:00 a.m. at DOD. Group will then come up with recommended course of action and possible alternatives for Presidential consideration Monday. Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State will meanwhile consider the draft directive received from the White House. Directive will be redrafted before Saturday meeting to fit the approach being followed by the Task Force.” (Ibid., Vol. 4, Tabs C-M)
  3. March 2.
  4. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  5. See Document 91.