136. Editorial Note

On August 23, 1965, James C. Thomson, Jr., Donald Ropa, and Chester L. Cooper of the National Security Council Staff sent the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy a memorandum highlighting the principal events and issues for U.S. policy and relations with Asia for the previous week. The report on Indonesia, written in unmistakable Komer style, follows:

August 17th has come and gone with relatively little change in Indo/U.S. relations; Sukarno was milder than many had anticipated, although Marshall Green seems a bit shocked by his first full exposure to the Bung’s [Sukarno’s] Marxian rhetoric. George Ball has stimulated a new State effort at the old question of Whither Indonesia?, and this can be educational for all hands as well as putting the brake on any 7th floor tendency towards impulsive action. Thomson is keeping his nose under this tent. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Name File, Cooper Memos)

The reference to Ball’s re-examination of U.S. policy towards Indonesia is elaborated upon in William Bundy’s foreword to Marshall Green, Indonesia: Crisis and Transformation, 1965–1968, pages x-xii. Bundy recalls that Ball convened in late August 1965 “an impromptu meeting of about a half-dozen officials in his office.” Ball asked wasn’t it true that in terms of size and importance “Indonesia was objectively at least on a par with the whole of Indochina?” The consensus of the meeting was that it was. Ball then asked was not “a far-left, if not a totally communist, takeover there, on existing trends, only a matter of time, with immense pincer effects on the position of the non-communist countries of Southeast Asia?” Bundy recalls that the consensus held that the scenario described by Ball was inevitable. Then Ball asked was there something that could be done to slow or counter this trend. The consensus was, “there was not a single friendly element or favorable factor that could be effective, even if it were wise to seek to galvanize it.” In discussing Indonesia at an historical conference at Annapolis in 1995, Bundy also recalled that Ball asked the Central Intelligence Agency’s representative if the Agency could use its assets to reverse this trend in Indonesia. Bundy recalled that the representative replied the Agency did not have good assets in Indonesia and was unable to make much of an impact.