10. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to President Johnson1


  • World Opinion on Your Administration

Foreign views of the United States appear to be recovering quickly from the uncertainty generated by the sudden change in United States leadership in November.2

The leadership and foreign policies of the late President had wide appeal abroad. Along with expressions of sympathy and loss, foreign comment voiced concern about whether you would and could maintain the Kennedy momentum.

Two main factors appear to have allayed concern:

1. Your vigorous takeover and your pledges to pursue admired Kennedy goals.

2. The generally high esteem in which the United States has been held through the years.

Foreign opinion was impressed by the orderliness of the transition, and saw in it a demonstration of essential U.S. stability. Your demon [Page 22] stration of determination to pursue the broad lines of existing U.S. policy gave further reassurance that U.S. leadership would be neither interrupted nor weakened.

Although no definitive assessment of your Administration has gained general currency, foreign reactions are clearly favorable on two major issues of concern.

1. The continued thrust of U.S. foreign policy toward the preservation of peace and easing of tensions with the USSR.

This they find confirmed in:

—The concrete disarmament proposals you made at Geneva,3 and in your reply to Mr. Khrushchev’s message;4

—The restraint seen in your handling of such episodes as the downing of a U.S. plane in Germany,5 and the low key of your response to Castro provocations6 and events in Panama.7

2. Your concern with human rights and human values at home.

Despite initial concern that you might pursue a more cautious course, foreign opinion has viewed your position on civil rights as a [Page 23] forthright determination to carry forward the late President’s program. Your call for a war on poverty, your role in support of increased educational programs, have been praised, with some comment seeing in these programs a degree of personal involvement greater than your predecessor’s.

Opinion of you as a political personality appears as yet to be neither very clearly nor very firmly held. You were seen, on entering office, as an experienced political leader with a high degree of political acumen, decisive and pragmatic. Comment was cautious in assessing your probable course, but a more realistic, less imaginative, more compromising, less audacious leadership was often predicted. This feeling appears to continue, though somewhat diminished. Foreign observers are still taking your measure as a new leader whom they see as largely untested in the field of foreign affairs. No single stereotype of you has clearly emerged except possibly the tendency in foreign comment and cartoons, both hostile and favorable, to depict you as a Texan in cowboy hat.

Two aspects of some foreign comment tend to have adverse or qualifying effect on opinion.

—Informed opinion is highly aware that this is an election year in which U.S. leadership traditionally is strongly responsive to domestic political currents. There is some concern that domestic political pressures may unduly affect the conduct of foreign affairs, and that domestic programs and actions may be shaped by political expediency.

—Some comment is skeptical about whether your goal of frugality is consistent with the effective carrying out of your programs. Foreign comment sometimes seems uncertain as to whether the U.S. is entering a period of retrenchment or plans to expand Government efforts in the fields of human and social welfare.

Some specific actions or policies draw regional criticism. The Arab world currently views you as pro-Israeli and thus anti-Arab. Inevitably, reaction to other aspects of your Administration and your actions tend to be colored by this adverse view.

On the issue of trade with Cuba, most European opinion is unfavorable to the U.S. position, but objections are not currently in terms hostile to you, personally. In France, Gaullist8 opinion, strongly partisan, sometimes seeks to defend their leader’s role by attacking your leadership.

The widely-held belief that violence and lawlessness are prominent features of American life has been deepened by the events of November, despite praise for your condemnation of violence and your appeals for unity and tolerance.

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This current assessment is also affected by the past.

Friendly long-range judgments on the United States have shown themselves to be highly durable in surveys over the last decade, despite disapproval of some specific policies and some fluctuations in estimates of the United States in comparison to the Soviet Union. Although no worldwide surveys have been made since the start of your Administration, the evidence available indicates that there has been no substantial change in general esteem for the United States.

Since November there have been several private surveys9 in Western Europe regarding opinion of the U.S. in general and opinion of you in particular. These suggest that you and your Administration are well received.

More comprehensive measurements will be available when our current world survey is completed.

Carl T. Rowan10
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Foreign Affairs, EX FO, Box FO–1, FO Foreign Affairs 2/1/64–3/8/64. No classification marking.
  2. Reference is to the November 22, 1963, assassination of President Kennedy.
  3. Reference is to Johnson’s January 21 message, which opened the 18-Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva. Only 17 nations participated in this session of the conference, which originally began in 1962, because France opted to boycott. (Sydney Gruson, “President Urges ‘Verified Freeze’ on Atom Missiles,” New York Times, January 22, 1964, p. 1) Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and U.S. delegation leader William C. Foster read the President’s message. For text, see Public Papers: Johnson, 1963–1964, Book I, pp. 171–172.
  4. Reference is to Johnson’s January 18 letter responding to Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev’s joint New Year’s message to Johnson and other heads of state dated December 31, 1963. Johnson reiterated objectives both the United States and Soviet Union had “previously identified,” including the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons, the ending of the production of fissionable material for weapons, and the reduction of the risk of war by “accident or design.” For text of Johnson’s letter, see Public Papers: Johnson, 1963–1964, Book I, pp. 154–155. For text of the Khrushchev-Brezhnev message, see Theodore Shabad, “Soviet Sends U.S. 1964 Peace Wish,” New York Times, December 31, 1963, pp. 1–2, and Department of State Bulletin, February 3, 1964, pp. 158–163.
  5. On January 28, a Soviet MIG fighter jet shot down a U.S. T–39 military aircraft, which had entered German airspace, killing all three Americans aboard. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Soviet Union, Document 9.
  6. Reference is to Cuban Government action on February 6 to cut off the water supply to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo in response to U.S. Coast Guard seizure of four Cuban fishing vessels located off the coast of Florida. The U.S. Government responded by developing a water facility on the naval base. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana, Documents 228238.
  7. On January 9 rioting erupted in Panama when a group of Panamanian students attempted to raise their country’s flag at a high school in the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. The resulting violence prompted the deployment of U.S. troops stationed in the country and left approximately 20 Panamanians dead. However, tensions between the United States and Panama eased when the United States agreed to negotiations on a new treaty over control of the Panama Canal. (“U.S. and Panama Act To Settle Differences in Direct Talk Today,” Washington Post, January 12, 1964, p. A1) For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXI, South and Central America; Mexico.
  8. Reference is to supporters of French President de Gaulle.
  9. Not further identified.
  10. Rowan signed “Carl” above this typed signature.