61. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

The more we look at it, the more all of us working on Asia fear that Tower’s amendment, even with discretionary language, not only [Page 133]puts you on the spot but moves us dangerously close to a final break with Indonesia. Sukarno’s speech, irresponsible though it was, is a clear signal that he may have decided there’s no hope of keeping open a bridge to us.

The foreign policy case for not giving Sukarno new grounds to react is a powerful one. We’ve strung him along for years (with our eyes open), on the basic premise that if he swung too far left we’d lose the third largest country in Asia—whose strategic location and 100 million people make it a far greater prize than Vietnam. To leave Sukarno no opening toward us multiplies the odds that he’ll end up the prisoner of his powerful CP (largest in Free Asia and Peking-oriented).
Since Tower’s language calls for immediately stopping all aid and training, he or others could press for an immediate determination under the discretionary language—thus putting on you the burden of going against the will of Congress (before the election). So it’s worse than the Broomfield amendment, with which we’ve lived for many months. Though I passed word to Gaud and Ball that you left the issue to their judgment and that your main objective was to dispose of Tower, Ball had already moved to offer discretionary language to Fulbright and Dirksen. Rusk, Ball and Gaud apparently hesitate now to re-open the issue without a signal from you.

I’d argue, however, that we’ve met any obligation to Dirksen by State giving him the discretionary language, and that we could now try to kill Tower outright in conference. If not we could always retreat.

State/AID experts propose we quietly tell Indos pronto we’re suspending all military aid (aside from completing the training of Indo officers already here—to send them packing would be an insult), and continuing only the minor AID technical assistance. Then we could clue conferees quietly that we’ve done most of what Congress wants, so please drop Tower amendment and not box you in.2 I’d endorse this too. What’s essential is not to force on you the impossible choice of either defying the will of Congress in an unpopular cause or letting the break with Indonesia move further to the point of no return.

R.W. Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Indonesia, Vol. II, Cables and Memos, 5/64–8/64, [2 of 2]. Secret.
  2. Ball telephoned Senator Everett Dirksen at 6:35 p.m. on August 18. Dirksen stated that discretionary language did not do any good. This was a “difficult parliamentary situation” and the Tower amendment could not be amended nor could it be vacated because of opposition. Dirksen talked to Fulbright and Mansfield and they thought it best to let it go to the House where “Tom Morgan and his boys would stand fast and take it.” Dirksen said there would not be “too much ruckus from our side. There is a matter of pride.” (Ibid., Ball Papers, Telephone Conversations, Indonesia, [4/12/64– 11/10/65])