3. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

President: Bob?

McNamara: Yes, Mr. President?

President: Dean just called me and says that he thinks there’s some re-strikes scheduled that could be misinterpreted because of Sihanouk and because of the Romanians.2 It looks like every time we get to where we can get in with the weather, why something happens, and I guess the weather is not too good anyway, but—

McNamara: Mr. President, I can’t quite hear you.

President: I say, Dean just called me and said that there were some re-strikes scheduled in the Hanoi area and because of the Sihanouk thing and because of the Romanian thing that he questioned the wisdom of our going in. I asked Buzz [Wheeler] what was scheduled. He said that there was nothing important except the two bridges and they didn’t need to be hit for the next day or two. I wanted to get your judgment on what you thought about it. Dean Rusk suggested I call you.3

McNamara: There are a total of 11 targets authorized for re-strike in the 5-mile area, and 3 other targets that have not yet been struck but are authorized for strike, and therefore 14 targets authorized on which action would be deferred by Dean’s proposal. I talked to Buzz about it. It was my view, and I think he shared it as he evidently expressed to you, that deferral of strikes in that 5-mile circle for a period of days would not be serious. The weather’s been bad, we haven’t been hitting them regularly anyhow, so I would support Dean’s view, although I must also say that I don’t think the political gain of these deferrals is very great either.

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President: I don’t think we get any gain but we might get some damage just from propaganda-wise, and they always like to use this as a standard operating excuse.

McNamara: Well, you probably know that two Los Angeles Times reporters are writing a book on this theme and that sways my judgment as much as anything, the exact point that you just made. And their book could be very damaging and it would be worse if we went in there in a slam-bang strike when the weather was good and gave any basis for Hanoi or Cambodia or the Romanians for criticizing us. So I supported Dean’s view and I told him to tell that to you.

President: Well, then, let’s just tell them, and you tell him that I’ve talked to you, I wanted to get all the information before I did, and you tell him and tell Buzz for me, let’s hold it off for 2 or 3 days and we’ll talk about it a couple of days from now.

McNamara: It might be helpful, in the orders that go out to the field, if we could put a date on it, subject of course to later change.

President: I’d tell them 2 or 3 days.

McNamara: Just 2 or 3—it would probably be better if I gave them a date, such as today, the 3d. Would the 6th be appropriate?

President: Yeah, that’s all right.

McNamara: Tentatively the 3d through the 6th.

President: That’s all right. Of course, if Sihanouk told us to go to hell in the morning, and the Romanians, whatever came of that, but I guess that’s all right.

McNamara: All right, we’ll bring it up to you again.

President: Why don’t you just—yeah. That’s all right. Or why don’t you just tell them not to strike until further notice and that you expect that there will be at least a 72-hour deferral.

McNamara: That’s better.

President: We anticipate a 72-hour deferral. Do not strike within 5 miles of Hanoi until further word.

McNamara: That’s good.

President: And then we can give them notice and do it and it doesn’t look too bad for the record with other folks.

McNamara: Yes, very good. I’ll do that, Mr. President.

President: Any other news?

McNamara: No, sir. I talked to Charlie Schultze4 today about the problem of a no tax bill and the expenditure reductions, and you had talked to him after you had talked to me, and he and I discussed how [Page 6] we’d go about it on the Defense and non-Defense side and he and I are in accord that we’re going to try to get $3 billion of expenditure reduction out of Defense and $3 billion out of non-Defense. I’ve being working with my comptroller here, I haven’t told anyone else in the Department, but I would hope by Saturday to have a list of the kinds of actions we’d have to take to get that $3 billion expenditure reduction.

President: Good. Well, let me know when you’re done. I’ll be seeing you. You call me now.

McNamara: I’ll do it right away.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and McNamara, January 3, 1968, 2:55 p.m., Tape F68.01, Side A, PNO 2. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian. Johnson called McNamara from his ranch in Texas, where he remained until January 13. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 5 and footnote 4, Document 14.
  3. Rusk called the President at 2:38 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of this conversation has been found. Johnson then called Wheeler at 2:47 p.m. He informed Wheeler that Rusk told him that strikes, including the re-strikes, which he believed did not involve any especially significant targets, should be prohibited in the area around Hanoi for a few days due to the situation in Cambodia and the involvement of the Romanians in the peace process. Wheeler replied that the re-strikes on two bridges in Hanoi were important and that McNamara had told him that he was not keen on Rusk’s proposal. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Wheeler, Tape F68.01, Side A, PNO 1)
  4. Director of the Office of Management and Budget Charles L. Schultze.