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

Mr. President:

Herewith notes for your talk with Henry Kissinger.2

There are only a few points of advice that one Administration can give another with respect to organizing the business of government; but there are a few based on hard-won experience which relate to the task which Henry is about to undertake.
First—and above all—the organization should meet the working style and convenience of the President. No two Presidents are the same. The only right way to organize is to serve the President’s needs.
Before making changes in the national security field, study carefully how things are done. The system that exists in 1968 is the result of the accumulative lessons of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson years; that is, the period when this nation has become a world power.
For example, the Tuesday lunch is, in effect, a regular NSC meeting with carefully prepared staff work, plus the advantage of bringing together in a human setting the President and his chief national security advisers: Secretary of State; Secretary of Defense; Chairman, JCS; Director of CIA; Special Assistant for National Security; plus others— including the Vice President—when the President decides that they can contribute. Nothing is more important than that this group be close; feel free to debate openly with each other in the presence of the President; be loyal to each other as well as to the President. We have seen in this town times of great difficulty in this respect; for example, between Dean Acheson and Louis Johnson. There were serious problems when Mr. Wilson was Secretary of Defense. The President’s National Security Assistant can play one of his most important roles in keeping this decisively important group close to each other and to the President.
Rostow will explain to you how we now use formal NSC meetings and the other instruments of coordinating our policy. Each has a history. It is what it is as a result of hard-won lessons. That does not mean that things should not be changed. It only means they should be studied carefully and their history understood before they are changed.
The President’s National Security Adviser should be prepared to put aside all personal feelings and ambitions and to ignore criticism in the press. Because he is close to the President, the press—and others in Washington—will inevitably be getting at him from time to time. He must be a spokesman with the press for the President’s views; but he must never become concerned about his own status with the press.
The task of Special Assistant for National Security can be one of the most rewarding in government, because, in serving the President he is also serving the great departments of government in their relations to the White House. It is possible in this job for the man who holds it to be regarded not merely as the President’s agent but also the friend and channel of communication to the President with respect to State, Defense, JCS, CIA, etc. It is a challenging but rewarding job.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Rostow Memos. No classification marking.
  2. The President met with Kissinger and Rostow from 12:40 to 1:51 p.m. on December 5. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)