519. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • Talking Points on C–130’s to the Congo

1. The President’s action followed a unanimous positive recommendation from the Secretary of State, the U.S. Ambassador to the Congo (Robert McBride), the Acting Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of Central Intelligence.

2. Ambassador McBride recommended the C–130’s after the most sober reflection. He cabled that he was “acutely aware of the difficult moral, human, and public relations” problems involved. But he recommended “that Mobutu’s request be met on basis of extreme urgency on which he has made it.” McBride’s reasons:

—“It is important in present most shaky state of Congolese Government to give some specific symbol of support as we have in the past. It is difficult to overestimate the urgency of this matter.”

—“Assistance from U.S. at this timely juncture would assist in counterbalancing menacing racist feeling which is mounting. Understandably, man in street is incensed at actions of foreign, white mercenaries against his country, and this sentiment regrettably risks running to all whites. Fact that U.S. assisted Congolese Government at this time could be a key element in defusing this dangerous situation.”

—“It is important to assist Mobutu now that he faces threat from right . . . since we helped Congolese when they faced threat from left.” This would also be important “in the broader African context.”

—“It would be most desirable to have C–130’s in event local situation deteriorates and it is necessary to evacuate all Americans from Congo.”

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—In the course of further urgings that the aircraft be sent (the first recommendation was made July 6), McBride commented that the C–130’s must be provided if the rebellion were to be put down quickly and “the Congo is not to be set back many years economically and psychologically.”

—As the racial problem worsened in the days before the C–130’s were announced, McBride cabled that “the American colony, diplomatic and otherwise, in effect is being held hostage in its entirety.”

3. All of the abovementioned advisers to the President supported McBride’s position. In addition to his arguments, they made the following points in a joint memorandum:

—“If we should send C–130’s to the Congo, we expect little if any difficulty with the Soviets as they could not behave as if they supported Tshombe or European mercenaries. On the other hand, if we let the situation deteriorate without helping Mobutu, we could expect the Soviets to try and take advantage of the situation.”

—“U.S. support would reassure Mobutu that his pro-Western policy was correct and would enable him to keep from turning in extremis to the Arab states, such as Algeria or the UAR, or other African states, who might be willing to intervene.”

—“U.S. support could make it easier for us to deal with the Security Council situation where we might otherwise face a sweeping Congolese indictment of ‘Western Imperialism’ or of individual Western countries. Our assistance would give us leverage to persuade the Congolese to moderate their claims.”

—“Help for a Black African state would be particularly timely now against the background of the Middle East crisis.” (The black Africans were heavily pro-Arab.)

4. It is important to note what the action was and what it was not. It was a favorable response to Mobutu’s request for long-range logistical support needed to transport his men and matériel across a country nearly as large as India.

—It was not the supplying of combat forces. Mobutu was specifically told that the U.S. would not supply combat troops. (The contingent of paratroops which came with the planes is the normal security guard for the aircraft, without which the JCS will not send a plane to any danger spot in the world. They are there to protect the aircraft and that is all.)

—It was not the first step in growing U.S. military commitment. Mobutu understands that this is all we can do.

—It was not an example of callous disregard for the lives of our soldiers. The aircraft commanders have clear orders that the ruling criterion [Page 760] in any decision about their use is to be the safety of our men and equipment.

—It was not an indication that the U.S. intends to leap into every internal problem in every African country. The Congo is a special case. It is not a civil war, it is an uprising of foreign mercenaries. The principle involved does not require us to get involved in civil conflict elsewhere on the continent. (This is an oblique reply to the charge that we must now move into the Nigerian problem. You may want to make private use of the fact that we turned down an arms request from the Nigerian central government last week.)

5. One can make a decent case that the President’s action has already provided us with one major accomplishment—the avoidance of major racial violence on Sunday in Lubumbashi (formerly Elisabethville). The stage was set for serious trouble on Saturday. With the help of the leverage provided by the C–130 decision, we were able to get things quieted down. The lives of 100 Americans and 12,000 European whites were involved.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 32. No classification marking. A notation indicates that a copy was sent to the Department of State for Read. The memorandum is attached to a transmittal note from Rostow that reads: “Mr. President: Herewith the full Congo memo you requested, with direct quotations from advisers. In dealing with Scotty Reston (who just called), I made three simple points: If we had not responded to the request: —racial tragedy was almost certain. (We have damped it. We may prevent it.) —Mobutu would almost certainly have turned for help to the Communists. —We would not have the planes there to get our people out, if it comes to a crunch. W.W.R.” At 3:08 p.m. on July 10, Rostow called Rusk and reported that the President was “pretty shook up” by the way Congress had erupted on the Congo. (National Archives, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)
  2. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.