92. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (McPherson) to President Johnson1

After a night’s reflection on the proposed State Department appointments.2 I have these reflections:

They are all exceedingly competent. They are sharp and quick to the point of impatience with those who are not so quick.
They are all pros. They would move into their new positions without the need for handbooks on government organization.
They all support your policies in the areas of their competence.
Not one of them is identified with U.S.-European policy, U.S.-Soviet relations, or U.S.-U.K. relations. Bundy is exclusively Asia-oriented. Battle has been in Egypt, Korry in Africa. Cy has worked 5–1/2 years for a Department whose overwhelming concern (despite NATO policy problems and armament sales to Europe) has been Vietnam. I do not mean to suggest that they will be unable to master the problems of U.S.-European relations in time. But they lack extensive experience in the field now, and some editorial writers and columnists are bound to mark the absence of a senior man who knows the Common Market, pound, and NATO problems. A lot of people think diplomatic relations with Europe are the only ones that count. We don’t think so; we are re-orienting our foreign policy interests toward Asia, and that is all to the good; but Europe cannot be ignored. It is infinitely more powerful and important than Asia, and will be for a long time to come. I am sure Cy is as smart as George Ball, and I am sure he will prove his equal in comprehension of Europe, given time. But as neither he, nor the other top appointees have a background of dealing with European problems, there will be a short-term gap, and we can depend on the European diplomatic circuit here to point it out to correspondents.
Finally, not one of the new appointments has a reputation for unorthodox thinking, or indeed for challenging the “conventional wisdom. [Page 195] ” I do not mean there should be a house pacifist on the seventh floor at State. But perhaps there ought to be somebody (or there ought to be thought to be somebody) who says “no” on occasion. Ball’s reputation for doing this, deserved or not, was in my judgment a great asset to you. It made the doves feel their case was being made to you, and that even if you did not agree, the advice you received on the issues of war and peace did not come out of an IBM machine labeled Rusk Monolithic. Cy, Bill Bundy, and Luke Battle are able men with strong minds, but they are certainly not known for their tendency to dissent on policy. They are very, very, damned competent organization men. Do you need them, in order to show that all arguments on Vietnam are over and the only questions now are about how to beat China and the North? Maybe so. But coupled with a Secretary who almost is that policy himself, physically and intellectually, they will not seem to bring much intellectual ferment to a place that (whatever one feels about our foreign policy successes of recent months) needs a frequent shaking upside down by the heels so that all its blood does not go to its tail. Several officers in the lower echelons of State, several university people who deal with the Department, and a number of journalists who observe it say that it is like a morgue over there; in the language of the day, nothing’s “happening.” The possibility of something unorthodox, daring, and true, being said or done, seems quite remote. After these very intelligent men are appointed, I am afraid it will continue to seem so.

That may not be unfortunate. I rather think it is. In any event it seems sure that this choice—the benefits of quiet competence versus those of unorthodox imaginativeness—is involved in the new appointments.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Ex FG 105. No classification marking. Handwritten notations on the memorandum include the following: “recd 9/13/66, 12:17 p”; “from Pres’ desk, 12/26/68”; and “From the President’s middle desk drawer, 12/27/68.”
  2. Presumably (see numbered paragraphs 4 and 5) the President proposed to McPherson appointing William Bundy, Lucius Battle, Edward Korry, and Cyrus Vance to top positions in the Department of State. The President may have presented the proposals to McPherson during one or more of their three telephone conversations on September 12. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) Bundy, Battle, and Vance were all included in the alternative teams proposed to Johnson by Macy on September 1 (see Document 91).