359. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and the Under Secretary of State (Ball)1

Ball explained Spaak feels strongly there ought to be another drop at a place called Paulis, where there is a big concentration of refugees. There are only 7 Americans but 450 other Europeans, mostly Belgians. What would be involved would be half the force used at Stanleyville—270 paras, 40–50 Americans, air crews for 7 planes. The final decision doesn’t have to be made until this afternoon. The inclination here (McNamara, Rusk, McCone, Wheeler) is to do it because the Belgians do feel there is a great obligation to their lives.

President said he wanted very much to accept this advice. His strongest inclination, however, is against it. He had grave doubts about the other one. He didn’t want to do it unless there are very compelling reasons felt by everyone. Then he wants to know why we can’t get somebody to help us with the Europeans. He doesn’t want to get tied in on the Congo and have another Korea, another Viet-Nam, just because of somebody wandering around searching for “Jesus Christ”. We made a mistake first of all running the Belgians out and taking the position we did on Tshombe and then embracing him, wrapping the colonial flag around us and acting unilaterally, becoming labeled as aggressors. He said he wanted all of them to consider these things. Then he wants to see why the British won’t send planes, why the French won’t send planes. He doesn’t like the unilateral operation of letting the Belgians bring us in. He doesn’t want that image of running them out of the Congo and coming back with them. He asked if Rusk were here and [Page 520] Ball told him he was in the White House at the moment at a meeting on sugar.

President said he was upset about the leaks in the papers about what he is going to do, and the way some good sources make it look like coming out of the White House . . . The Alsop column, about Ball’s memorandum, was very degrading to Ball. He said he has not seen the memorandum and knows nothing about such a memorandum. If we can’t run a Government better than that . . . Ball replied we were annoyed; President said annoyed, but we will have to put in effect a regulation like McNamara did, how instead of letting the press run the Department, or some little FSOs. . . . He thought Ball should have a high-level meeting and work on these Assistant Secretaries. Some of it may come from the White House. He thought Taylor’s report was disgraceful. He is coming in to tell the President how . . . that Life magazine article—has Ball seen it? Ball replied he had not. “If you’re going to approve something as Administration policy. . . .” He asked if Ball had seen it first. Ball replied he had not. He asked if Rusk had seen it. Ball replied he did not know. President asked Ball to tell the Secretary he wanted to know; that those who approve Administration’s policy are President; then Rusk; then Ball. He is tired of Luce telling him what the decision will be. We had to be gentlemanly three weeks ago, but now we have to be patriotic. It’s inexcusable—these people telling what he is going to do. Rusk should sit down with these newspapermen. Get it in proportion. No dramatic announcements and no idea we are pulling out. Where is the proper perspective. Forrestal has gone out. Sullivan is in and out. Bundy was there. Rusk was there. McNamara was there. But blowing it up saying he is going to do it—it isn’t going to happen. Ball agreed. Of course the purpose of the meeting was that it was intended to be played down as much as possible. Secretary should “get Bundy, Mac Bundy and tell them I don’t want this happening where Taylor at all his stops (unless they pay him heavily) should not be getting them (stories) in Life.” Ball replied he would run it down.

President said to set up whatever precaution needed. Nobody is going to speak for Johnson without letting him know. He thought our political needs needed another new look or we will have all the Africans after us, all the Senators and others, etc.

Ball said he had conditioned this on an immediate evacuation and getting the planes and paratroops out. All we intended to do was an evacuation. The military was afraid this morning to take them out until we were certain the airport was secured. In any event, the idea would be, this force would go to Paulis only to evacuate the people—in and out in 24 hours. President said suppose a plane would be shot down. Ball replied there was a risk—that can’t be denied. President said to get somebody else—get the British. Ball replied as far as he was aware they [Page 521] had no nationals in the Congo. President said then let’s not have any. Tell them this is it. Ball said we had given warnings they were there at their own risks. President asked if Spaak had any planes at all, and Ball replied none to do this operation. Unless it is done quickly, it should not be done. If we let it go for a week, the people will be lost. President said his instinct would be to give it further exploration.

[Omitted here is discussion of an unrelated subject.]

Ball said on the question of the other matter, we will have to decide this afternoon. We will have further talks here and either Rusk or he will call the President. President said to ask other people to participate—the French. Ball said there were no French there. There may be some Greeks and Turks and other Europeans in very small numbers. President said everybody was smarter than we were then. He doesn’t want to get hung in the Congo. Give alternatives.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Ball Papers, Congo III, 11/7/64–3/17/66. No classification marking. The President was in Texas; Ball was in Washington.