Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

September 01, 1967



[1.] Q. Mr. President, there seems to be, at least in public, some dispute going on within the administration on bombing policy in North Vietnam, with Secretary McNamara's representatives taking one position and the military another.

First, if such a dispute exists, could you sort of define it for us, and second, has Secretary McNamara--

THE PRESIDENT. Let's take one at a time, Smitty.1 I will give you another chance.

1 Merriman Smith of United Press International.

Q. All right.

THE PRESIDENT. The President is the Commander in Chief under the Constitution. His principal deputy in military matters is the Secretary of Defense. The Joint Chiefs are his military advisers.

The Joint Chiefs are a group of very able men. They are the finest in character and the best trained soldiers and sailors that we have. Their judgment is requested and respected, and certainly always carefully considered.

No two men ever see everything alike. Throughout our history there have been differences among Army leaders and naval leaders, between members of the Joint Chiefs and the civilians, between the civilians and the Congress. That is really the strength of our system.

The Congress, in writing the National Security Act of 1947, in which I played some part as a member of the Armed Services Committee, provided that the individual judgments of members of the Joint Chiefs would be available to the Congress on request. As advisers to the President, of course, they are always available to him.

I have been here 36 years. During that period I have been intimately associated with the armed services. I have never known a period during that time when I thought there was more harmony, more general agreement, and a more cooperative attitude, or when there were more able men in control.

That is not to say that they all agree. It is very rare when the President finds that the men around the table are all in agreement. If all agree, I usually adjourn the meeting and send for somebody to give me the other viewpoint.

I did that last week on the question involving Indian wheat. I asked that the other side be given to me.

Roughly speaking--and this is subject to some adjustment--there are in the neighborhood of some 350 principal, significant targets that the President has seriously considered from the JCS list. Approximately 300 of those have been authorized. So six out of seven have been authorized.

Of those 300 authorized, all the civilians and all the military have agreed on them. Their opinion has varied from time to time. There has been some little difference of opinion--the President may feel this way and the Secretary of State may feel another way; or they may agree and the Secretary of Defense agrees with them, and maybe the Joint Chiefs feel that this is more important than the other.

Some of them don't have the viewpoint on how it might affect our overall political situation in the world, and so forth. All of those things are considered.

But in 300 of the 350 instances there has been general agreement.

The 50 left are in very strategic areas, primarily the port of Haiphong, Hanoi, and the buffer zone. The decisions to bomb those other 50 targets have not been made.

Before the President acts on them, he will carefully consider the views of his principal military advisers, such as the Joint Chiefs; his principal political advisers, the Secretary of State; his principal deputy in military matters, the Secretary of Defense.

I think it is fair to give you my impression that while the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and the President, are not in complete agreement on everything, there is no deep division. The viewpoints of all are carefully considered and weighed, with decisions made on what we believe to be in the national interest. There is a very surprising and very agreeable amount of unanimity, with the men of the same general opinion.

There are no quarrels, no antagonisms. I think the Joint Chiefs have acted very ably. From their viewpoint they have expressed themselves thoroughly. They are available to come to the President any time they choose without coming through the Secretary of Defense. They have been requested to do that any time they want to.

I think at least the implications of the testimony before the committee is somewhat blown out of proportion. That has always been true, though.

I remember when we were fighting for a 70-group Air Force when the Secretary of Air, Mr. Symington, asked if he would not be permitted to give his own personal opinion before a congressional committee of which I was a member. Very frequently you find that men of strong minds do not always agree. When they do, you have to consider their individual viewpoints and then act in the way you think is in the best interest of the Nation. That is what we have done.

But six out of every seven targets recommended have been authorized. As of now, I think that we are operating effectively, efficiently, and in the national interest.

Now I will take your next question.


[2.] Q. Has Secretary McNamara recommended to you that the rate of bombing in the North be reduced?

THE PRESIDENT. The recommendations that we get from time to time are to authorize specific targets. When those meetings conclude, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the President have as of now been in agreement with each other.


[3.] Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you would address yourself perhaps to a couple of specific statements by the Stennis committee. One, their assertion that the present policy has not done the job and it has been contrary to the best military judgment; and second, their assertion that it is necessary to bomb Haiphong now?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't want to get in an argument with the Senate committee. They have their responsibility to get as much information as they can get and to express their views. You will find that in every struggle that this country has gone through, various committees of the Congress do that.

That is their privilege. I don't care to argue with them. I believe our policy is a sound one. It is based on the best judgment that we have.

Every decision is going to be made after we get all the facts and then we are going to do what we think is in the national interest. I am sure the committee wants to do the same thing.


[4.] Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to the recent steel price increases in the face of urgings by Mr. Ackley that the companies hold a line?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Ackley expressed the viewpoint of the administration on that, Mr. Horner.2 We regret very much that the companies felt it necessary to take the action they did. We expressed our view as strongly as we could in our recommendations.

2 Garnett D. Hornet of the Washington Evening Star.

Mr. Ackley spoke for the administration in that respect.3

3 For the text of the report to the President and Cabinet by Gardner Ackley, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, see the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, P. 1261).


[5.] Q. Mr. President, getting back to Vietnam, has Secretary McNamara suggested that he resign if the rate of bombing is stepped up or if new targets are hit?

THE PRESIDENT. Absolutely not. That is the most ridiculous, nonsensical report that I have seen, I think, since I have been President.

Anyone who knows Secretary McNamara would know that on the face that was not true. He doesn't go around threatening anything or anyone.


[6.] Q. Mr. President, was General Greene speaking strictly in accordance with the administration's policy when he said there were more important targets for bombing?

THE PRESIDENT. General Greene speaks as Commandant of the Marine Corps. He doesn't clear his speeches here. None of the Chiefs of Staff clear them here.

The provision of the Security Act says that "no provision of this Act shall be construed as to prevent a Secretary of a military department or a member of the Joint Chiefs from presenting to the Congress on his own initiative or to inform the Secretary of any recommendation relating to the Department of Defense that he may deem proper."

So the Secretaries of the Departments-Army, Navy, and Air--and the Chiefs of Staff of those Departments, express their opinions from time to time. They can do so without any approval from here, and they do.


[7] Q. Mr. President, do you concur with General Johnson's prediction that the troops will be brought home in 18 months from Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. That is General Johnson's opinion. I have made no prediction and wouldn't care to at this time.

General Johnson is a very competent military officer and he has been out there and reached some conclusions. He expressed those to me.4 But I haven't made any prediction. I believe I will just leave that up to others.

4 General Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, held a news conference on August 12 following his report to the President. The text is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, p. 1141).


[8.] Q. Mr. President, a number of Congressmen from different parts of the country have said that they are opposed to your 10 percent surcharge. At this time, would you modify your request?

THE PRESIDENT. No. The committee has it under consideration. They will be taking additional testimony, after they return from their recess.

I would hope that they could act promptly upon the administration's recommendation. I would not anticipate the administration modifying them in any respect in the interim.5

5The Revenue and Expenditure Control Act of 1968 was approved by the President on June 28 , 1968 (Public Law 90-364, 82 Stat. 251).


[9.] Q. Mr. President, sir, can you give us an idea of what items of business apparently are keeping you in the Washington area this weekend?


Q. What items of business are keeping you in the Washington area?

THE PRESIDENT. Nothing unusual. This is where my work is. I will have plenty to keep me busy. I don't know that I will be strictly here in Washington. I have no plans to go any other place. But if I get caught up with my work, and felt like I could, I would. There is not anything unusual about it one way or the other. I have been here a good many weekends.

Q. Mr. President--you caught me off guard now.

The PRESIDENT. Next question.


[10.] Q. Mr. President, Governor Romney held a news conference this week at the Midwestern Governors Conference and among other things he said that you are a political animal and said just about everything you do is politically motivated.

How do you take a statement like that?

THE PRESIDENT. I'll just let you judge that statement. You could be more objective.


[11.] Q. How much do you think an auto strike would hurt the national economy?

THE PRESIDENT. We, of course, hope we will not have a strike. We will do everything we can to avoid it. There is no question but what any strike costs the economy.

The overall effect is difficult to estimate. That would depend on the nature, the length, and the extent of the strike.


[12.] Q. Mr. President, I understand that copper is getting in increasingly short supply because of the strike. I was wondering if you had any idea when it might become necessary for you to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we have reached no decision along that line. We are watching the matter very carefully. I have talked to some of the public officials involved, the Governors and others. I have talked to some of the administration officials--Mr. McNamara and others.

We are giving careful attention to it. We are very hopeful that we could resume production at as early a date as possible. We are doing everything to that end ourselves.


[13.] Q. Mr. President, what about these persistent reports that there may be some kind of a new peace move around about the time of the Vietnamese elections, which fall on Sunday, and the possibility that this might include another bombing pause? Are you giving any thought, yourself, to such a move?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say the reports-bombing pause and peace proposal Sunday-so far as I am aware, are off the top of someone's head. I know nothing about them. We look every day for every possibility that would lead toward peace, as I said yesterday.

6 For the text of a news briefing by Ambassador-at-Large Henry Cabot Lodge upon his designation as coordinator of United States observers, and for a press pool summary of the observers' report, see the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, PP. 1227 and 1256).

But I think that we do ourselves a great disservice when, out of the clear air, we conjure up something that has no basis in fact. I cannot say what would happen tomorrow or the next day, or the next day.

But so far as I am aware at this time, the reports you mention are purely speculative and are without any foundation.

Q. Could I follow that up, sir? How will the United States follow up the election in South Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. Just as it is. The United States has a policy there, a carefully thought-out policy. It is a consistent policy. We want to see those people have the right of self-determination. We are very hopeful that they will be able, notwithstanding the terror that is being practiced, the murder that is being committed, to be able to carry out their election with a minimum loss of life and with a maximum fairness and freedom that is possible in the conditions under which they operate.

We think it will involve substantial progress if they can have a fair and free election, and select their own officials. We believe that following this election, the officials so selected will do everything they can to improve the efficiency of their services, both military and civilian.

We have definite ideas in that regard-so far as pacification is concerned, so far as land reform is concerned, et cetera. We believe that the officials selected by the people themselves will, when they get the election behind them, take steps in that direction.

Of course, we will do anything we can to be helpful. It is a decision for them. It is their government, their actions, requiring their support. But any way we can supplement that support, we will do so with both counsel and resources.


[14.] Q. Mr. President, do you still have an Asian summit meeting in your future?

THE PRESIDENT. We think that there will be a meeting of the leaders that have met from time to time sometime in the next few months. We have no country, no time, and no date. There is no speculation on it and no exchange of times or dates at this moment. But we expect to have one.


[15.] Q. Mr. President, because of shifts in the polls, there has been a lot of talk within the Republican Party recently about the desirability of their running a peace candidate next year, someone more "doveish" than some of their leading spokesmen. Would you welcome such a contest?

THE PRESIDENT. We in America want peace more than we want anything else. I believe that every person who is nominated by a national party will have that as his principal objective and principal goal. That has been true throughout our history. I think it will continue to be true.


[16.] Q. Mr. President, sir, in line with your indication to Congress that you hope there would be a cut down on spending, and balancing that against your programs, how do you feel about the cut in the foreign aid authorization?

The PRESIDENT. We felt that when we sent the recommendations to Congress, they were a very small proportion of our total national product and of our total budget. We cut all of the fat out that we thought was safe to cut.

The Senate had a different viewpoint. The House had a different viewpoint. We will give our support to the conferees to try to obtain as much of our request as is possible under the circumstances.

We worked very closely with the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. We did the best we could to impress upon them our views. In some instances they accepted them; in some instances they rejected them.

Now we are going to try to reconcile the differences and get the best program that is possible. We won't make much progress until they come back here September 11th. But needless to say, we were disappointed in many respects at the action taken.

We are hopeful that we can improve both the Senate bill and the versions in conference in the conference committee. But that remains to be seen. We will do everything we can to get a bill as close to our best judgment-which was contained in our recommendations-as possible.

I don't want to spend too much time with you. If you people in the back will raise your voices a little, and raise your hands, I will get to you.


[17.] Q. Mr. President, I was interested in knowing whether you could bring us up to date on the Middle East situation. You had the Yugoslavian Foreign Minister 7 in here the other day. Is there anything you can tell us with regard to Mr. Bundy? 8

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Bundy is back in New York working with the Ford Foundation. He is available for consultations and does consult with us from time to time.

7 Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Marko Nikezic of Yugoslavia met with the President on August 26 to deliver a personal message from President Tito as part of a continuing exchange with a number of interested governments on the situation in the Middle East.

8 On June 7 the President had appointed McGeorge Bundy as a Special Consultant and as Executive Secretary of the National Security Council Committee on the Middle East (see Item 255)- The text of a news briefing held at that time by Mr. Bundy and George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President, is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, p. 837).

We are doing everything we can to aid in attempting to work out some settlement in that area of the world. As you know, some of the leaders of state in the Middle East have been meeting among themselves. From time to time we will get reports from the heads of state, as I did the night before last. We will consider them and contribute anything we can to bringing peace to that area. I have no specific progress to report to you.


[18.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Mansfield has raised a question about the civilian control which is being challenged by both the Stennis report and the testimony of the generals. Do you regard the leader in control of the Government being under challenge?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we have gone through these things in every period of hostility that this Nation has engaged in. We speak our minds freely. We have differences and we express them.

But as President Truman used to say, in the last analysis, decisions will have to be made, and are made. I try to give proper weight to the recommendations made to me and then do what I think is best for our country.

We will expect reports from committees. I made many of them when I was Chairman of the Preparedness Subcommittee. Mr. Truman made many of them when he was chairman of the Truman committee.

Amidst hostilities we have these committees to check on each other and to check on the Executive. We will be getting their recommendations, as we get individual recommendations from Senators and Congressmen from day to day and time to time.


[19.] Q. Mr. President, you said earlier that you thought the controversy has been blown out of proportion.

Do you have any comment on the fact that General Greene and General Johnson have seen fit to take it to the public forum, before the American Legion and other places?

The PRESIDENT. I think that these men have expressed their opinion. I think they have a right to. I would think that the press has encouraged this from time to time and they ought to protect it, the right to dissent.

I don't ever expect all the people who are in the executive department to agree. I like to review various recommendations and pick out the best course that I think is open.

We don't all see everything alike, just because a man happens to be in the Marine Corps or the Chief of Staff.

I feel that I get complete cooperation out of all the Chiefs of Staff, and I think Mr. McNamara feels the same way. That does not mean they don't have an opinion that differs from ours.

I think you would be doing the country a disservice if you felt for a moment that there were any deep divisions between us. I think it is a pretty good team. I think it is working very effectively.

I think you make a little copy out of it and you blow it up. I don't detect any fire, except from what I read. I meet with them all the time.

Sure, sometimes one man would say, "I think we ought to hit this target," and three men have a reason why you shouldn't, who have a lot more facts or different views. They have to look at it from different angles.

When you ask the fellow, "Did you recommend it?" he will say, "Sure," but he doesn't say that someone acted improperly when he didn't get it approved.

If I approved everything that has been recommended to me, I wouldn't feel nearly as comfortable as I do. That is domestic, military, and everything. On occasion, we have people especially selected to come in and give the other viewpoint.


[20.] Q. Mr. President, do you think if Congress passed a bill to keep importations of long staple cotton from Egypt, a country that has cut off diplomatic relations with us, do you think if we pass such a bill and let our own farmers raise such cotton, that it would endanger relations in the Middle East, as the State Department says?

The PRESIDENT. I think, Mrs. McClendon,9 you might want to pursue that question with the Secretary of Agriculture. I don't have all the information on the implications of it now.

9 Mrs. Sarah McClendon, representative of several Texas newspapers.

Q. He is against it, too.

THE PRESIDENT. I am aware of the problem, but I am not prepared to go into it.

I do have a brief announcement that may be of some interest to you.


[21.] [Reading] Last February the Congress authorized shipment to India of up to 3 million tons of U.S. wheat, "provided it is appropriately matched" by contributions from other industrialized countries.

Last May our efforts to mobilize other donors--and our painstaking measures to assure that their donations were large and real enough to fulfill the matching criterion established by the Congress--brought us to the point where the United States agreed to send half this wheat--1.5 million tons. That action was taken in the light of more than $96 million in contributions from other donors.

For the past few weeks, relevant senior officers of the U.S. Government have been engaged in a deep and detailed review of India's current food needs and the performance of other donors during the past 3 months.

This review has included careful documentation of food production and consumption conditions in India, as well as a thorough assessment of our ability to help, consistent with the letter and spirit of the resolution.

On the basis of this review, the President has today authorized a new agreement, providing a further 1 million tons of U.S. wheat to India. This decision reflects the following facts:

1. The food situation in India continues desperate. Public stocks are at their lowest point in living memory. Private stocks are completely exhausted. Food rations in major cities are at subsistence level and are the object of increasing political unrest. The immediate future of the world's largest democracy is greatly threatened. Free and peaceful development of Asia hangs in the balance.

2. However, this is only the short term outlook. Current reports on the monsoon rains suggest that 2 years of severe drought are over, and that, with luck, India can look forward to a record grain crop next crop year, with the fruits reaching Indian markets beginning in December of this year.

3. Since last May, India has received pledges from other industrialized nations totaling $122.2 million in new aid which provides food, food related resources, or frees Indian foreign exchange to buy food. If it could be counted in full against the matching criterion, it would justify nearly a million tons in additional United States wheat.

4. However, in order to be meaningful, the new aid from other donors must be a real increment to Indian resources, and it must be additional to regular contributions to the India Aid Consortium. No one's interests are served by a charade in which real American wheat is "matched" by meaningless financial transactions or by funds which would otherwise be provided through the Consortium anyway and are merely earmarked for this purpose.

5. In all frankness, we do not know precisely how much of the $122 million in new pledges meets these additional criteria. There is strong evidence that much of it does. If only about half of it does, we have a basis for providing 1 million tons of United States wheat.

6. We will not be able to make a precise estimate of how much of this aid is eligible for matching until the next meeting of the India Consortium, which will probably be held in October.

But starvation and threat of political chaos cannot wait. Therefore, I have determined to authorize now a further 1 million tons on the expectation that at East half of the new contributions from others will in fact be proven real and additional to normal Consortium contributions.

However, in order to assure that this Government behaves in strict accordance with the terms of the congressional resolution, I have also determined that the size of the United States contribution to the Consortium will not be finally determined until it is clear how much of the new aid contributions meet these criteria. If there is any shortfall between the cost of the grain authorized today and the amount of real and additional aid supplied by other donors since last May, the United States contribution to the Consortium can be reconsidered. [Ends reading.]

What it adds up to is that we are going to make a million tons available today so that they can arrange for the shipping and get it worked out. Then we will determine whether the additional half million tons can be supplied at a later date. That will depend on other factors--the matching, et cetera-after the Consortium meets. The problem will be reviewed later concerning the remainder of the 3 million tons. But 1 million will be allotted today.

I will take any question on it.



[22.] Q. Will the closing of the Suez Canal, the present closing of the Suez Canal, interfere with getting the grain to India?

THE PRESIDENT. We will make our decision here and we will get it there as soon as we can. I am not quite sure what you mean by "interference." Do you mean delay or something?

Q. Delay.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, there is some difference in time in shipping, if that is what you are asking.


[23.] Q. That is 1 1/2 million tons, and the additional million tons makes it 2 1/2 million tons that has been given, and a half million more is pending?

THE PRESIDENT. We were authorized to give up to 3 million tons, provided it was appropriately matched.

Q. Right.

THE PRESIDENT. And this makes 2 1/2 million tons of the 3 million tons.

Merriman Smith, United Press International: Thank you, sir.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and ninth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 12:02 p.m. on Friday, September 1, 1967. As printed above, this item follows the text of the Official White House Transcript.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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