12. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy1

SUBJECT

  • Crisis Commanders in Washington

Over and over since January 20th we have talked of getting “task forces with individual responsible leaders” here in Washington for crisis situations. At the beginning, we thought we had task forces for Laos, the Congo and Cuba. We did get working groups with nobody in particular in charge, but we did not get clearly focused responsibility. The reason was that the Department of State was not quite ready, in each case, and this in turn was because of two factors: first, the senior State Department man was usually an Assistant Secretary with twelve other things on his mind, and second, these Assistant Secretaries, although men of good will, were not really prepared to take charge of the “military” and “intelligence” aspects—the Government was in the habit of “coordination” and out of the habit of the acceptance of individual executive leadership. Thus it has repeatedly been necessary to bring even small problems to you and still smaller ones to the White House staff, while more than once the ball has been dropped simply because no one person felt a continuing clear responsibility.

By contrast, in two areas where the crisis was less urgent, we have had effective leadership from the Department of State: one is the Latin American task force under Berle, and the other is the NATO task force under Acheson. In both cases, it is worth noting, your own staff have been energetically cued in to the working group-Goodwin with Berle, Rostow, Komer and I with Acheson. The Berle and Acheson groups were successful because Berle and Acheson took charge and had the stature to take charge.

We now very much need this kind of explicit assignment of authority in two particular areas: Viet-nam and Iran. The agreement upon this proposition is general throughout the government, but nothing is likely to happen unless you yourself, in agreement with the Secretary of State, designate individuals to do these two jobs. They should be in the State Department while they are in charge of the crisis, but they could come from anywhere in the government. Probably it would be best to begin with the State Department people. Walt and I suggest that Averell Harriman would be perfect for Iran, and perhaps George McGhee for [Page 28]Viet-nam. Averell is available, but George would have to be set free from his planning duties because Viet-nam is a long job. That would probably be a gain, because in all candor he is not a planner.

But the essential point is that the men involved should be sufficiently senior to take charge of the government as a whole, and to feel confident in acting directly for you and the Secretary. And they will have to be on these jobs full time.

McG. B.2
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Bundy Memoranda to the President, 3/1/61–4/4/61. No classification marking.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.