93. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk 1
[Omitted here is discussion of U.S. relations with the Philippines and China.]
President: I’m told that all the writers are getting ready to mob us because we don’t—that you’re basically oriented towards the Pacific area and other parts of the world instead of Western Europe, and the Jews and all of them think we’re going to hell over there, and NATO and Lippmann and Fulbright and Mansfield—we’re too much Asia. So we ought to have somebody in here that can kind of be known as Ball has been as the European man. Now I don’t know we take this but we got to think about it. I thought about it a good deal yesterday. Do you think this might be a good combination? Consider the Katzenbach.
Rusk: Uh huh.
President: Number three: Rostow, Gene.
Rusk: Uh huh.
President: That would put two of you above him, and Katzenbach thinks very highly of him. He says he thinks this other story is exaggerated about his being too impulsive. Said he does have ideas and said we ought to be having ideas.
President: And we need someone like that. He thinks he’s very good. Said he ran a hell of a good law school.
Rusk: Uh huh, uh huh.
President: And, Kohler, if for no other reason, to give us some fresh—for the Alex Johnson thing—give us a fresh voice in there that’s kind of in the Moscow. Then we might see if we couldn’t shift Lodge to Paris, and Westmoreland to Vietnam, and Bohlen to Moscow, if he’d go there for a year or two. He’s a very perceptive fellow and a hell of a good reporter and very experienced and I think that this crowd here that wants to play with Moscow so much is a little bit down on Kohler, and Kohler—I was quite impressed with him during the Berlin problem and I think he’s a pretty good workhorse in that job. Defense likes him, CIA likes him, you like him. I think then, if we could take Katzenbach and Rostow and Kohler and then look for the good Hill man. If we can’t [Page 197]find a good aggressive one that can make some headway, we might ought to give some thought to that fellow that married your secretary under the Republicans and check him out with Bill Fulbright again—
President: Yep. [Inaudible] Somebody told me, some senator, that they considered him very good.
Rusk: Very quiet and very effective.
President: We might give thought to that. Now, what is wrong with this combination, as you see it, of Katzenbach, Rostow, and Kohler?
Rusk: Well, I’m very enthusiastic about Katzenbach. And, the sooner we could do that, the happier I would be. The Gene Rostow name, I think the only really negative comment I’ve had on that was from Dean Acheson, who feels that he’s unpredictable and sort of unmanageable—that he had worked with Rostow before. I think it’s Rostow’s views about De Gaulle that has bothered Dean most of all. But—
President: What are his views on De Gaulle?
Rusk: Well, he seems to be pretty strong pro-De Gaulle, and thinks that we ought to follow the De Gaulle line, at least he’s indicated that privately. But he’ll take policy guidance on things like that. No, I think this is a combination. I wouldn’t do the Lodge—Westmoreland thing right away. Kohler will be here within the next couple of days to be here for my talks with Gromyko, and I’ll have a chance to talk about that with him. He was a little reluctant at the beginning, but now that he’s been confirmed as a Career Ambassador, I think he’d probably be more relaxed.
President: He agreed to, though, didn’t he?
Rusk: Well, he did agree if we wanted him to but he was a little resistant on it. However I don’t think that will be a problem and he certainly is a superb operator as far as moving the papers through and staff work and things of that sort. He’s a very efficient guy; one of the best organized men I know. We could run into a little flak. I think it’s pretty much in the background of that incident about twenty years ago—about losing some secret papers. But I doubt that Bill Fulbright and Mansfield will be very enthusiastic about him.
President: No, they’re not. But they thought he ran a poor embassy. But I think down in that spot, the fact that they’ve got somebody that’s not just Vietnam in it, would give them a little hope.
Rusk: Right. And he certainly ran a very efficient Bureau of European Affairs when he was here in the Department.
President: That’s what I’m told. Everybody tells me that, so, then you would consider favorably Katzenbach, Rostow, Kohler, and Macomber if we could work it out?
Rusk: Yes, yes I would.[Page 198]
President: Have you ever had any contact with Gene Rostow?
Rusk: No, I don’t know him well. I’ve met him two or three times.
President: I wonder why you don’t call him and ask him to come down to see you and just say—
Rusk: All right.
President: Now, somebody tells me that Ball has been urging him for number-two place and tells him that he’s his choice to succeed him and stuff like that. That may upset him. But you might just say that you believe the President has made a commitment—
President: Has some obligations to this other, but you would like to talk to him about his views and tell him you think it’s very essential that men come in here like they go to Vietnam, and make a real pitch to him, and then if it looks good, call me and then I’ll see tomorrow—
Rusk: [inaudible] Fine, let me get hold of him.
- Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a Telephone Conversation between the President and Rusk, Tape 66.24, Side A, PNO 1. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.↩