177. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

As you may recall, we had a word on the phone just as I was about to see the three men from the Washington Post2 on government organization, and you instructed me to make clear to them that our foreign policy was not overwhelmed by Viet Nam.

I made this point quite vividly by getting out the file of Tuesday lunch meetings and, without giving anything away, indicated the extraordinary range of issues that are dealt with at lunch.

I also gave them some sense of how the meeting is organized and how it proceeds.

Beyond that, I made these fundamental points:

  • —The whole national security machinery is, must be, and always will be organized to serve the particular needs of a particular President. There is no single, correct formula; but only what helps a President do his job the way he wants it done.
  • —In the case of President Johnson, a great deal of business is done through orderly paper work flowing to him for decision. In fact, 90% of the job of our staff is to make sure that we are an effective and reliable means of communication two ways: to the President and from the President.
  • —Beyond that, the President relies on a number of different types of meetings with the senior advisors to assess problems and to make decisions: the Tuesday lunch; special ad hoc meetings on particular subjects (tripartite negotiations, Punta del Este, India food, balance of payments, etc.); and NSC meetings of the anticipatory type we are now regularly mounting.
  • —I then described the particularly close relation between the President and his two senior advisors—Sect. Rusk and Sect. McNamara. I noted that we had only rarely in our experience—if ever—so close and confident relations among the three men at the apex of national security affairs.
  • —In response to their questions, I explained at some length the job we do here and drew a sharp distinction between the task of a Cabinet officer who has to run one of the great departments and deal with the Congress, present himself before the country and the world, and a White House aide.
  • —In response to specific questions, I said there was no sharp split in the government on Viet Nam policy or bombing: we all looked at the facts together; listened to each other’s arguments, and then carried out as a team the President’s decision.
  • —When further questioned about my own views, I said that I had no very special views to press, contrary to those of my senior colleagues; but that if anyone tried to use the post I now hold for lobbying, he would soon be out of his job—and properly so.
  • —I took some pains to emphasize by concrete example what you have been able to accomplish in foreign affairs in Asia, Latin America, Western Europe, Africa, and East-West affairs, despite the heavy burdens of Viet Nam.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Rostow Memos. No
  2. Chalmers Roberts, Carroll Kilpatrick, and Murray Marder. Presumably they interviewed Rostow in connection with the preparation of the article, “At Tuesday Lunch, Decisions Are on the Menu,” that appeared in The Washington Post on May 21.