449. Memorandum From Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff1



Kasavubu’s request that Mobutu jail Tshombe and Nendaka’s simultaneous trumpeting of Belgian plot charges now looks like a hand-in-hand ploy to frame Tshombe as an enemy of the Congo. The immediate crisis could still break either of two ways:

1. This first test of strength may already be over. Mobutu’s refusal may have convinced Kasavubu that jailing Tshombe now would backfire; Kasa must know that Mobutu is under pressure to unseat him. Kasa’s ploy was not phrased as an order and is not public, so he can back off from it without losing face. Reports this morning suggest that CONACO has decided to take part in a government of national union and that Tshombe is talking with FDC leaders along these lines. So the current political impasse could break into a government that would preside over longer term maneuvering leading toward the presidential election.

2. Kasavubu may push ahead by having Nendaka jail him. In doing this, he would risk a coup by Mobutu and (of less concern to him) suspension of US and Belgian aid. He should also realize that Tshombe is popular so jailing him could provoke a boomerang reaction. Even if Kasa decides not to act now, he could continue laying the groundwork for jailing Tshombe when the time is riper.

If Kasa jails Tshombe, our choice will be between simply suspending all our programs and going farther to back a Mobutu coup. We could easily suspend aid on grounds that it’s wasted under present circumstances. Whether we could justify backing a coup would probably depend on how good a case we could muster that the coup was necessary to restore constitutional government. In any case, we’d probably end up opposing the radical Africans again because Kasa has been working feverishly to bring them to his help in just such an emergency. We just don’t know how tough a combination that would be to beat, though its prospects are ugly enough to underscore the importance of trying to head things off from going that far. So one important job to be [Page 653] done right now is for Mobutu to make clear to Kasa that he won’t get away with jailing Tshombe.

What are our choices over the next few months if we get out of this mess whole?

1. We can back legitimacy. This is what Dodd accuses us of doing—hands-off, let the Congolese fight it out. This would leave us flexible to cut off aid if Tshombe goes to jail or to aid him covertly to win a “free” election. But it wouldn’t necessarily assure us that the best man would end up running the Congo.

2. We can back Tshombe. He looks like the best man to govern, but there are disadvantages too. The greatest of these right now is that Mobutu wouldn’t buy him as president, though the general is drifting in that direction.

3. We can back Mobutu. We could either back him in a coup or let him put together the best formula he can and get behind it. This is where I come out for the moment (as does Godley). He is already our man. He controls the army (with our help). He has shown himself the most sensible leader in the current mess. At the moment, he knows the ins and outs of the situation better than we do.

So I’d recommend shifting our current tactics slightly away from banking so much (as Godley and State seem to be doing) on Godley’s talk with Kasavubu. I’d also recommend going back to the tougher line Godley recommended. With authority in hand to talk about the end of our aid, Godley should have a frank talk with Mobutu. This isn’t radically different from what we’re doing, but thinking this way does (a) make doubly important the case that will be made to 303 (much as I personally hate to think we have to spend our money this way) and (b) focus our pressures on the guy who can accomplish most rather than hoping for too much from Kasa (other than making a record with him).

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Edward Hamilton, Congo (B). Secret.