Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara on 21 June 1965


Transcript

Edited by David G. Coleman and Marc J. Selverstone, with Kieran Matthews

President Johnson

Hello?

Office Secretary

Secretary McNamara on 9-1.

Robert McNamara

Mr. President, two points. First, I just received word the Senate Committee knocked out that Section 608 requiring we take base closings to Congress, voted 10–3.

Secondly, we did get distributed to all of the staff members and senior people associated with our Armed Services Appropriations Committee the B-52 bomb damage assessment analysis this morning, and we've got a special meeting with [George] Mahon [D–Texas] to be briefed by our Defense Intelligence Agency people for this afternoon.

President Johnson

That's good. Now, I think that you ought to spend some time with your friend, Mr. [Robert] Kennedy. I get—I don't want this repeated to him [McNamara acknowledges], but for your information, I think you're the principal officer affected. I think that he is functioning in this Vietnam field, Dominican field, a little bit overtime with he and some of his stooges very much against us.[note 1] A recent article in the Wall Street Journal had identified a "Kennedy bloc" in Congress, comprising Senators Joseph Tydings [D–Maryland] and Birch Bayh [D–Indiana], and Representatives John Tunney [D–California] and Teno Roncalio [D–Wyoming]. Alan L. Otter, "Kennedy vs. Administration?," Wall Street Journal, 17 June 1965. In addition, the New York Times Magazine featured a piece touching on Kennedy's discomfort with Johnson's Vietnam policies. Warren Weaver Jr., "Will The Real Robert Kennedy Stand Up?," New York Times Magazine, 20 June 1965. And I think his general feeling is that we should not have asked for the 700 million [dollar] appropriation and by asking for it, and saying that we will construe this as support of our position, that . . . that he wanted to demonstrate his independence. And while he wouldn't vote against it, that he would make the speech that he did.[note 2] Kennedy spoke on the aid package in the Senate on 5 May, indicating that he was endorsing what he viewed as the "honorable negotiation" the administration was pursuing in Vietnam. Congressional Record, 5 May 1965, 111 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1965), 7:9760-762.

McNamara

Right.

President Johnson

And as a consequence, he's touching up [Jacob] Javits [R–New York] a little bit and different ones around. Certain senators tell me that they talked to him in the cloakroom and they hear little snide remarks about the situation. I think it could very appropriately be said that the gov—the Defense Department took the position that we were spending more than we had appropriated. We had ample authority under the existing law to transfer that money, and that's what we plan to do. We told them that. We told them if they wanted to, we could ask for the money now or transfer it and ask for it later! That after explaining the pros and cons, that all we wanted them to know was that we were digging into an account that was going to be overdrawn. We'd have to come back and be frank and candid with them. And [Gerald R.] Ford [R–Michigan] made a suggestion [that] we ask for it now, that he thought that was the better way to do it. And he had been fiscally responsible and worked with us in the House in committee. And we thought that given an opportunity to—[if] anybody wanted to, to debate it and discuss it, we didn't object to that. We're not [unclear] the debates. The New York Times has been advocating debates, so we sent it up there. We don't object to what he said about it. But we do want to have them know our reasons for doing it, and they were based upon an attempt to keep substantial support behind us in the Congress.

Now, each day, the New York Times—and I know he's conscious of it, and . . . they're going to be agitating. And Javits and Bobby's going to be in the background, because he operates a good deal that way. But they're going to be asking for a new congressional debate and a new resolution of support. And tell him that we have—we've been willing to ask for that, and we don't think it would be wise, but that we have asked [J. William] Fulbright [D–Arkansas] if he thinks we ought to have a new resolution. And we've asked [Mike] Mansfield [D–Montana] and we've asked [Everett] Dirksen [R–Illinois] and we've asked [Richard] Russell [D–Georgia]. Now, they are the men in this field in the Senate. You'd like to ask him if he thinks a new resolution would be wise.

That's so much on that general feeling, because that's in the columns and the stories [McNamara acknowledges] and the newspaper articles, and so on and so forth. And they, of course, when they talk to him, they come running back and talk to us, and so forth.

And I think there's another tack, too. I think that you ought to talk to him about the new [bombing] pause that's being proposed. The New York Times proposes a pause.

McNamara

Yeah, I saw it.[note 3] "The President's Opportunity," New York Times, 21 June 1965.

President Johnson

And Mac [Bundy] has kind of had his feeling [about] the pause. I understand he's talked to you about a pause. Now, if we had any indication a pause would do any good, it'd be fine. But we're afraid that if we do pause, [and] we got hell knocked out of us while it did, I think the American people would be awfully critical of us.

McNamara

Oh, I don't think now is the time for a pause [unclear].

President Johnson

And I just think we ought to talk to him about it [McNamara acknowledges] because this is where most of our real trouble's coming from. It goes back, if you'll remember, to—the real flare-up came on this statement, this 700 million [dollars.] [note 4] In early May, President Johnson succeeded in lobbying Congress for a $700 million supplemental aid package for military operations in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.

McNamara

Yeah, I remember.

President Johnson

And that's—my intelligence people tell me that that's the backbone of it. And since it's your 700 million and since you heard the Ford thing and since you know that [McNamara acknowledges] we think that it's all right for them to debate it, we don't object to [George] McGovern [D–South Dakota] and [Frank] Church [D–Idaho] and them; if they want to say these things, say them. We don't agree with them; we don't think they help. But we have never asked one senator not to speak, and we haven't asked him. Now, we put on the pause; let's see what else he thinks ought to be done.

I think that's very potentially dangerous to our general cause on Vietnam. I think that in time, it's going to be like these Yale professors said: that it's going to be difficult for us to very long prosecute effectively a war that far away from home with the divisions that we have here, and particularly the potential divisions. And that's really had me concerned for a month. And I'm very depressed about it, because I see no program from either Defense or State that gives me much hope of doing anything except just praying and gasping to hold on during the monsoon and hope they'll quit. I don't believe they're ever going to quit and I don't see how . . . that we have any way of either a plan for victory militarily or diplomatically. And I think that's something you and Dean [Rusk] got to sit down and try to see if there's any people that we have in those departments that can give us any program or plan or hope or . . . If not, you know, you got to see if we—have you go out there or somebody else go out there and take one good look at it and say to these new people, "Now, you've changed your government about the last time, and this is it. Call the Buddhists and the Catholics and the generals and everybody together and say 'we're going to do our best.'" And be sure they're willing to let new troops come in and be sure they're not going to resent them. If not, “Why, y'all can run over us and have a government of your own choosing. But we just can't take these changes all the time."

That's the Russell plan. Russell thinks we ought to take one of these changes to get out of there.[note 5] In conversations with President Johnson, Senator Richard Russell [D-Georgia] had expressed his hope that the United States might take advantage of a change in the South Vietnamese government, especially if a new government were to ask the United States to leave Vietnam, to end the American military commitment. See “Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell on 27 May 1964,” Tape WH6405.10, Citations #3519, #3520, and #3521, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition, ed. David G. Coleman, Kent B. Germany, Ken Hughes, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/9060283. See also Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell on 9 November 1964, WH6411.14, Citation #6304. I don't think we can get out of there with our treaty like it is and with what all we've said.[note 6] President Johnson is referring to commitments pursuant to U.S. membership in the the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. And I think it would just lose us our face in the world and I just shudder to think what the [unclear] and all of them would say. But if we're going to keep getting AP pictures out of there, stories out of there like they are, and if our best friends, who are supposed to be . . . allies of ours, are going to take the position that they're going to foment it . . .

Javits says, [reading] "We face a big question in this country on stepping up this activity, especially moving ground troops in, which is now rumored division strength, to undertake on the ground in North Vietnam possibly what we're doing in the air. Any such plans with this administration must be thoroughly explored by the Congress." He said, "Johnson does not speak for himself, but operates, instead, through White House and Pentagon spokesmen. People are not being informed," he says, "about the Vietnam situation." "Javits and three other Republicans spoke on a radio committee. He said that any large-scale U.S. troop commitments would require, quote, 'a new congressional debate and a new congressional resolution of support,' unquote, for President Johnson."[note 7] Javits had previously criticized Johnson's Vietnam policies in Miami during a luncheon address at the national convention of Young Republicans. David S. Broder, "Goldwater and Javits Question American Policies in Vietnam," New York Times, 17 June 1965. Earlier, in the context of Johnson's request for a $700 million supplemental aid package in May, Javits had called for a new congressional resolution if the President had intended a ground war in Vietnam. Congressional Record, 5 May 1965, vol. 111, pt. 7 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1965), 9453-455.

So I think that's something you better devote some of your attentions to, and I think you also better talk to your military people when you're talking to [Earle G. “Bus”] Wheeler. Say, "Now, can we—the President wants some kind of a plan that gives us some hope of victory,” and I guess he'll go back to the bombings and talk to Dean and see if we ever—I can't see anything that they do but just laugh at us. Now, Ho Chi Minh and Zhou Enlai both have made statements on this [Harold] Wilson mission, telling him to go to hell.[note 8] The North Vietnamese and Chinese Communist figures had criticized the proposed peace initiative, sponsored by British prime minister Harold Wilson, to visit the countries with stakes in Vietnam in advance of holding a conference to settle the conflict. Hedrick Smith, "Chou and North Vietnam Reject Wilson's Mission," New York Times, 21 June 1965.

Robert McNamara

Yeah, sure.

President Johnson

And—

McNamara

No indication they want to talk now, that's clear.

President Johnson

And I think Wilson will just screw up things more when he comes over here. We got to let him. But he'll come over here and go everywhere else, but never get in there. I think that somehow or other we ought to condition his coming over here on acceptance that they'll see him over there. Don't you?

McNamara

I doubt you can do that, Mr. President.

President Johnson

Well, can we say to [David] Bruce, "Now, we're very anxious to work on this thing if you have any chance of seeing him at all. But if you don't, don't go over there and just make a big speech dividing our country." I don't see any good that's going to come from talking to us. We've told him we're for it.

McNamara

I don't think you can keep him out of here and I don't think I'd try. I think I would try when he's here to have—avoid saying anything that would divide the country. I think we can accomplish that. But I don't think you can keep him out of here. I think it would be a mistake to try.

President Johnson

Well, if he's not going to get in there, what's served by his coming here?

McNamara

Well, avoiding—

President Johnson

Why shouldn't his mission cable the respective capitals for appointments before he undertakes them? And . . . he's got a blank check from us. We're willing to negotiate. He doesn't have to come here to find out.

McNamara

He'll probably be accepted in Moscow and probably not in Hanoi and Peking.

President Johnson

That's right.

McNamara

It'd be awfully difficult, I think, for you to say, "Well, you can't come here unless you're going to be accepted in Hanoi and Peking."

President Johnson

Well, I don't think that we can ever say that "you can't come." I think we can say, though, that we just hope that—we stress the fact that they haven't accepted and let's hold that up for a few days to the world inspection.

McNamara

Well, I think that's right. That we can do and when he's here, I think that we can assume and expect him to act in a way that won't cause controversy inside the country. But I think it would be wrong, Mr. President, to either try to or give him any reason to believe that you tried to keep him out of here.

President Johnson

Well, I think you ought to—you can't keep him out of here; nobody wants to keep him out of here. I don't think that [that's] the point I want to make. But I do think that he ought to be—the point ought to be made to him that his mission can't be successful, if he can't get the others—

McNamara

Sure.

President Johnson

—here. And we ought to make that point well and long.

McNamara

Sure.

President Johnson

And he ought to consider whether any good's going to be served by his traveling, in the light of the fact they will not see him. And . . . OK.

McNamara

Thank you, sir.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara on 21 June 1965,” Conversation WH6506-05-8168-8169, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Lyndon B. Johnson: Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty, ed. David G. Coleman, Kent B. Germany, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4001138