17. Personal Notes of a Meeting With President Johnson1

Basic Prognosis
Reprisals Plus
Max to stay?
Lansdale et al.
Fraley—MelvinLansdale etc. forced out 1 year—relationship with VC generals.

Saigon Political Situation

DR reports on CFR meeting2

UN? might take 2 days to deal with Morse.

DR—we can’t fail to make every effort to change the situation on the scene. Because the alternatives are so grim. More optimistic than others.

RSM—We should do all we can in DR’s terms—but it won’t be enough unless we do more. Lansdale has some ideas: better contact w/Vietnamese. Conein3 contact w/Khanh lost—lack effective contact w/students. Lack effective relations w/Buddhists. Free-wheeling one-man band. When Richardson was thrown out by Lodge,

RSM reads from Max’s famous conversation with the four generals.4 (Which I sent to the President last night.)

Alexis Johnson’s cable showing

LBJ: Don’t you think that effect of withdrawing Taylor? Whatever pretense.

RSM: If we’re heading for a plateau; then Max can come back w/some success.

McGB: on Taylor vs. Alexis Johnson

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DR: He5 could well be used up politically—that happens. Letters of quite junior officers show Alex as load-bearing wall. Mistake to return him5—but you could put him in CIA.

Geo Ball: The only answer was a strong man—not a country—a piece of one—damned tired after 20 years. Regime has got smell of death. You can’t pin em together. Options are all bad. Risks of escalation too great, if regime remains slippery. We sh’d make heroic effort—but not delude ourselves. We sh’d be looking at diplomatic tracks to a bad end. We can do all manner of Lansdale things—but this doesn’t get to root of it. Do we take diplomatic initiative. Do we risk escalation. Keep on till we get asked out.

DR: We in Asia have made bricks w/o mortar for 25 years.

RSM: On Killen—a minor problem

DR: House Committee

LBJ: You haven’t.

McGB: Phase II—Planning—strong road to negotiations—public reprisal policy & withdrawal of dependents.

Geo Ball: Be aware of assumptions 1) If we escalate the war it will strengthen base.

LBJ: Skeptical of view that escalation can help us in morale.

Geo Ball: Escalation can bring two-way activity, we must be ready to talk.—Larger responses are possible.

McGB: We all agree.

DR: Gulf—reprisal specifics are one thing—but Phase II is quite another.

LBJ: What is it they want? How can we go down the reprisal road without being ready.

LBJ: 1) Never have thought reprisals would help stabilize the government. 2) They’re not sufficiently effective to bring you to conference table—because escalation is dangerous & pulling out is dangerous. 1) Starting out on getting people out—now 2) now we are going to have reprisals 3) may help to give more stability 4) carefully selected [illegible] retaliation—hope you realize this may cost you your vacations—great feeling for Taylor in a tough position.

Charley Bartlett.

LBJ: Dean Rusk talks to Bill Fulbright, and then “a static dumb crowd.” 1–1/2 billion Ed. 1–1/2 Poverty. 1 billion Health.

We’re off on leaks.—

RSM: Definite policy of using leak.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Papers of McGeorge Bundy. No classification marking. These notes were handwritten by McGeorge Bundy for his personal use and were not an official record of this meeting. No other record of the discussion has been found. Present at the meeting were the President, Rusk, McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and Ball. The information on the time of the meeting and the attendance is taken from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.)
  2. Rusk met with the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on January 5. (Ibid., Rusk Appointment Book)
  3. Colonel Lucien Conein.
  4. Apparently a reference to telegram 1870 from Maxwell Taylor, December 20, 1964; see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 451.
  5. Reference is to Taylor.
  6. Reference is to Taylor.