150. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Cater) to President Johnson1

Recent interpretive stories in the press (Chal Roberts on MLF and Joe Kraft on Vietnam) suggest that you are not seriously engaged in foreign policy crises. The problem, I believe, goes beyond the press itself. There needs to be better visibility given to your role within government itself. Otherwise, those with axes-to-grind are encouraged to circulate their own policies as official.

That is why the National Security Council, despite the secrecy of its proceedings, has value in giving a partially visible face to Presidential involvement in policy making. Two benefits accrue from its regular use for reviewing problems and policies.

The press and public have evidence that all the principal sources of advice—including, particularly, the Joint Chiefs have been properly consulted. (The press is always quick to seek out and solicit news from any who feel neglected.)
A wider audience within government get at least an indirect view of the President at work.

I realize that formal meetings of the NSC are not always helpful to genuine decision-making. But during a period such as the present when you need breathing time to deliberate on the whole range of foreign policy, the NSC offers a useful forum for holding systematic reviews.

By making clear to reporters that these sessions are not limited to any one crisis, you may be able to reduce their excessive preoccupation with your “decision” on Vietnam. At the same time, you can judiciously apply the reins to those in government who are anxious to launch unwise initiatives.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Office Files of S. Douglass Cater, Memos to the President. No classification marking.
  2. In a follow-up memorandum to the President, December 26, Cater stated that he believed that Cabinet and NSC meetings “can be developed into more systematic instruments of Presidential business” than they had been under Eisenhower and Kennedy. “By holding the NSC on a regular basis, you can reduce press speculation over crisis sessions. Regular meetings, with serious agenda, can have beneficial effect in making your Cabinet members work as a team. I would recommend alternate weeks for the Cabinet and NSC.” (Ibid.)