154. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara 1

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

President: One other thing. I’ve got to see Reston in the morning. He is very concerned about the narrowing of the basic decisions of government. Now our old friends are feeding some stuff out—where it’s been, ah, it’s too concentrated. In a matter of a decision like this this morning [regarding Vietnam], Mac [Bundy] says that the decisions or recommendations are made by these same people—the field people, the Joint Chiefs, the McNamaras and the Vances, and the Rusks and the Balls, the Bill Bundys and the Mac Bundys, and the President—that they’ve been making this type of decision all along. Do you have any people in your outfit that are contributing anyway or feel that they made decisions that they’re not in on now?

McNamara: No, I don’t think so, Mr. President. McNaughton contributed to this of course. And the Chiefs meet fully, they don’t all appear before you but their representative does—

President: How does it vary from the decisions you’ve been making for years?

McNamara: Well, I don’t think it does, and this is what I would—

President: That’s what Bundy says.

McNamara: I’d be inclined to ask Reston, “who is it that you,” Reston, “think’s left out?” I don’t know who’s left out. I’ll tell you two, maybe. One is the Office of Emergency Management Director, and I don’t see what the hell he can contribute to it.

[Page 359]

President: Well he’ll be in here tomorrow [for the National Security Council meeting].

McNamara: That’s right. He will be. That’s right. But he is a statutory member of the NSC. And the other one is the USIA Director, and frankly I don’t think he ought to be deciding whether we’re at war or going to war.

President: The deployments—they will decide on what our policy is [unintelligible] participate but this is—

McNamara: This is a military deployment. Apart from those two, I don’t know who it is that’s left out.

President: Well, in our small groups, as I remember, our Executive Committee amounted to seven in the Cuban crisis, and I don’t see that there are any people in the departments or any career people that are left out.

McNamara: Well, I think at times Chip Bohlen or Tommy Thompson were present—

President: Well isn’t he there? Tommy’s here quite often now.

McNamara: He’s here quite often now, and an important point now is that George Ball and Dean talk to him beforehand and bring his views into the decisions. I don’t see that’s any different either.

President: He seems to be a man of impeccable integrity, though, and honor. I don’t believe he’d be contributing.

McNamara: Oh no, oh I’m sure—

President: Some of them are contributing to it, though. Some of them are saying this to Scottie [Reston]. He went in and gave a big round to George Ball I understand earlier today.

McNamara: I’d just ask him who he thinks ought to be in the decisions.

President: Only one I know that might not be is the Attorney General. And he’s not my brother. [Both McNamara and the President laugh.] So, but if there is anybody in your shop that you think ought to be, you know you’re at liberty to bring them—

McNamara: There isn’t anybody I think ought to be, and I don’t think there’s anyone over here who thinks he should be.

President: Do you know anybody that knows anything in the other place—

McNamara: No, no, I certainly don’t.

President: Dominican Republic—we’ve had the Balls, we’ve had the Manns, and we’ve had the Martins. I think we might be over-advised but not under.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Secretary McNamara, Tape F65.47, Side A, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.