445. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


The third round of the Congo’s political imbroglio has just started. After losing his job in the first, Tshombe came back in the second to block parliamentary approval of Kasavubu’s candidate. Now Kasavubu has announced he’ll resubmit the same candidate.

Since Kasavubu is staking a lot on sticking to his guns, Godley fears he may turn loose his police to arrest enough Tshombe backers (or even Tshombe himself) to tip the balance. That would force a quick showdown. I think he’s more likely just to stall past the parliament’s early December adjournment date and ride with a caretaker government either until he sees things going his way or until the February presidential election. Our only indication so far which way the battle will turn is an unconfirmed British report that Kasavubu decided earlier this week not to jail Tshombe yet.

Godley has confined himself to commending Tshombe’s restraint, warning Kasavubu’s people against strong-arm tactics and trying to find someone in the caretaker government to do business with. The Belgians are staying on the fringes of the fight too, and there may be little more we can do in this melee. Our aid doesn’t buy us much when Kasavubu puts his own political future above the Congo’s mounting economic problems.

However, if the game gets rougher, we’ll face some tough, quick decisions. The hardest would be how to react if Tshombe ends up in jail. Even if Kasavubu shies away from that kind of showdown now, we’ll at least have to decide who, if anyone, to bet on in the presidential race. Since the pipeline of our import program is almost dry, we will have some leverage that the Congolese business community and the more sensible politicians will understand, even if Kasavubu doesn’t. On the military front, the likely departure of Rhodesian and South African mercenaries mid-December could allow a few limited rebel successes while the Belgians find replacements, so Belgian-US military aid might be worth something.

I readily admit the Congo often limps along despite our worst fears. However, RWK and I have consistently worn our most worried [Page 646] faces in State, because this one is worth running scared on. Largely to look as if they’re worrying too, they’re turning out some contingency plans to clarify our options, but we’ll continue to look gloomy.2

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, County File, Congo, Vol. XII, Memos & Miscellaneous, 10/65–10/66. Secret.
  2. A handwritten notation at the bottom of the page reads: “My hunch is that we’re going to have to choose between Tshombe and Kasavubu fairly soon. RWK.”