209. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson1


  • Your meeting with Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart of Great Britain, Tuesday, March 23, 11:30 a.m.2
Stewart’s conversations with Dean Rusk so far have produced only one serious question—the political problem of the Wilson Government in holding to its present support for us in Vietnam. Dean is planning to talk some more with the British before Stewart comes in, and this memo may be outdated by tomorrow, though I doubt it.
The British tell us—and David Bruce agrees—that their present position is not tenable without some slight help from us. As David Bruce puts it, the Prime Minister is being strongly criticized, not only by his Left but by his Center. He is accused of uncritical support for a U.S. position about which he is uninformed. It is asserted that he has deserted his principles to curry favor with the President, who in return has allowed it to be known that the Prime Minister will be an unwelcome visitor in April. The cooler men in the Labor Party, as distinct from the Left Wing wild men, are said to be losing their patience.
All this of course is a wild misstatement of the existing situation. None of it takes account of the very great damage which Wilson did to himself by his outrageous phone call to you—a phone call which has never been publicized. But Bruce impresses it on me that the existing situation in the Labor Party is real.
In this situation one course might be to let the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Labor Party struggle with its own political problems, on the ground that Wilson’s troubles are of his own making, not ours. The difficulty with this course is that since Wilson prefers his own survival to solidarity with us, he would be mortally tempted to begin to make critical noises about us, thus appealing both to his own party and to the natural nationalism of many independent Englishmen. This would not be helpful to Wilson in the long run, but it would not be helpful to us either, as the history of Dienfenbaker proves. (Wilson and Diefenbaker have about the same amount of internal sweetness.) When we fall out with Prime Ministers, it’s usually painted as our fault.
The alternative is to see what is the least we can offer the British in return for continued solidarity in support of the essentials of our policy in Vietnam. David Bruce thinks this necessary minimum is simply that we should join them in saying publicly that there is a full and continuous exchange of views and of information at all levels between our two Governments on this important issue. Then we can put on some parsley about how glad we are to have Mr. Stewart and how much we look forward to the Prime Minister’s visit. In return, the British should undertake not to advocate negotiations and not to go back on their existing announced approval of our present course of action. They should limit themselves to expressions of hope that a path to a peaceful settlement will come, plus expressions of alertness, as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference, to any opportunities for peaceful settlement which may develop in the future. Bruce thinks that this position will not be easy for Wilson, but that he will find it distinctly preferable to a split with us at this time.
David and I have been up and down this problem for an hour this afternoon, and this is our joint recommendation. I will telephone and ask for your views in the morning, and on the basis of what you tell me, I will then do a one-page paper for your use with Stewart.3 Bruce and I believe that you can be most candid and effective with him if you see him entirely alone, but the meeting can be of any size that you choose. It need not take more than 20 minutes, and the smaller it is the shorter it can be. Our talking paper will cover the stupid fuss over gas, which should not have occurred, as well as press reports of a far-out statement on “escalation without limit” by Max Taylor.
McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. IX. Secret.
  2. See Document 211.
  3. Not found.