Saturday, November 10, 2007

Feinberg I

As Zach Levey and David Rodman have most recently noted, Lyndon Johnson did not enter office with a substantial knowledge of or interest in Middle Eastern affairs. In his first 15 months as President, he paid almost no attention to the region: to the extent that he addressed foreign policy issues, he focused on the burgeoning U.S. commitment in Vietnam and sporadic crises in the Caribbean Basin.

In 1962, the Kennedy administration supplied Israel with U.S.-made weapons (Hawk anti-aircraft missiles). The administration made clear, however, that it did not see this initiative as a reversal of longstanding U.S. policy; instead, it argued, the move was part of a more general policy of bolstering anti-Nasser/anti-Soviet regimes. Accordingly, King Hussein’s Jordanian regime received its own arms package a year later.

Behind the scenes, the United States also encouraged West Germany to sell M-48 tanks to Israel. That decision leaked out, however, in early 1965, prompting the Germans to cancel the deal and forcing Johnson, for the first time, to turn his attention to Israeli matters. The government of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol wanted the United States to become Israel’s chief arms supplier, and to fulfill the remainder of the German order. American Jews, meanwhile, were suspicious of any U.S. aid to the Arab world, including to Jordan.

Johnson’s initial encounter with the Arab-Israeli dispute revolved around several principles, as revealed in clips from this conversation with Abe Feinberg, a New York banker, Israel supporter, and major Democratic donor.


First, the President worried about becoming a pawn in Israeli domestic politics, with Israeli leaders using access to the United States as a springboard for bolstering their power at home.

President Johnson and Abe Feinberg, 20 February 1965, 11.00am

WH6502.04 PNO 10, 6861-6862

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President Johnson: I like Eshkol—I got along with him fine. I got along with Ben Gurion fine. I spent a lot of time with him, back when they were in real problems, and they were getting ready to [impose] sanctions [in 1963, over Dimona]. I just came down here and said, “Hell, no, that can’t be.”

Feinberg: I remember that.

President Johnson: And I stopped it.

But they fight among themselves over there, and I’m not going to get in the middle of one of these clashes—have one of them leak it on me that I want to join up with the Arabs.

Feinberg: I gather that, for proper diplomatic reasons, you think that [Foreign Minister] Golda’s [Meir] visit here would be—

President Johnson: I just think—I think it would inflame the whole world. I think that the Germans would wonder if she’s coming to mess in that thing. I think that the Arabs would say, “Good God, what’s Johnson doing in here?” I think the Jews would all start sending telegrams . . .

President Johnson: I can’t imagine her getting off with a suitcase without somebody saying, “Why?”

Feinberg: Yeah.

President Johnson: And then I don’t want to get another Arab/Ben Gurion/Eshkol/Erhard election in this thing if I can avoid it.

Feinberg II

Second, Johnson argued that U.S. aid to Jordan was in Israel’s self-interest.

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President Johnson: My judgment is—and it’s [Dean] Rusk’s judgment (and I don’t believe it’s an emotional judgment, but I believe it’s a friendly judgment)—that this little king [Hussein] has some value to us, and that we ought to keep him as far away from the Soviet and Nasser that we can.

The Israelis, though, don’t think so. Well, if they don’t, we’ll just pull out. We won’t sell him a damn thing.

But we want it to be clear it’s their decision. And we want it to be clear that we’re doing it so that we can satisfy the Jews, and not irritate them . . .

President Johnson: Just say, “Now, Mr. Prime Minister, we want to accommodate you. Which route do you want? Do you want us out of here or do you want us in?”

Feinberg: Yeah.

President Johnson [continuing] “And we’re going to let you write the decision, but we want your name signed in it, and we want your people signed in it, and we don’t want it laid on to a man from Johnson City.”

Feinberg III

Third, the President framed policy in such a way to give the fa├žade that Israel would actually decide the policy. In fact, the Eshkol government was given an either/or choice: it (and its U.S. supporters) could either back the Jordan arms deal, or all U.S. military aid to Israel would be cut off as well.

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President Johnson: We think—all of our people think—that the place for this decision is the Prime Minister of Israel. He’s talking to us, and he’s making it clear what his position is. But the ambassador’s kind of taking a different position.

And we gather, from what [Israeli ambassador Avraham] Harman says to you, and what we hear from other reports, that he feels that it’s better to go the other way.

Well, now, just to be perfectly blunt about it, I don’t want to persuade him.

Feinberg: I know.

President Johnson: I just don’t want to be in a position of trying to force him to do something.

So I’m just going to say to Eshkol, “Now, here’s what we get. We get this reaction over there. And we get this reaction from you. And Averell [Harriman] will tell you what we’ll do.

“If you want us to limit out thing [arms aid] and control them [Jordan], and try to finish out your thing [the German tank aid], and supply you, we’ll furnish both of you. If you don’t want that, we’ll furnish nobody. Now, whatever you think you’d rather do. And you just make a decision, and then you get a hold of Abe Feinberg, who’s the man I trust most, and tell him.

“And then I want some editorials asking me to do it. I don’t want to be out there on a limb that I’ve got to walk back on.”

Feinberg: You mean, asking you not to do it?

President Johnson: Yeah, asking me to either supply them both, or not supply them.

Feinberg: Uh-huh.

President Johnson: Now, I cannot imagine any Jew in America getting mad at me for saying, “Mr. Prime Minister, you write the ticket.”

Feinberg: No.

President Johnson: Can you?

Feinberg IV

Finally, Johnson wanted to make sure that any policy he adopted didn’t harm him domestically.

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President Johnson: I’m friendly to these people, and I want to help them. But . . .

As our people see it, if they [the Israeli government] really, sincerely, genuinely feel that we oughtn’t to sell these planes to Jordan, and we oughtn’t to sell these tanks (we’re giving them as little as we can get by with; Nasser has got their feet to the fire)—well, we won’t do it. I’ll just say that, and I’m prepared to do it.

And I’m telling [Averell] Harriman to tell the prime minister that. Because I think it’s something that’s got to be settled with him . . .

Feinberg: With the prime minister of Israel?

President Johnson: Yeah. Yeah.

And now he’s [Harriman] going to say, “Now, you all decide this.”

We have indications from our Jewish population in the United States that they think that’s the course we ought to follow.

Now, our judgment is we oughtn’t to do it. Our judgment is we oughtn’t to let this little king go down the river. He’s got a million-and-a-half people, and he only controls a third of them—two-thirds [are] against him.

But he is the only voice that will stand up there. And if you want to turn him over and have a complete Soviet bloc, why, we’ll just have to—and we’ll get out of the arms business. We just . . .

And we think that . . . We’ll have to get out of supplying Jordan with money. And we think when we do that, it will cause pressure to be—when that story comes out—it will be on the whole $100 million that goes to Jordan, and Israel, too.

But we’ll fight that when we come to it. We’ll deprive Jordan of their aid. We’ll tell them, “No more aid, no more munitions. No more nothing. We’re not going to get into manufacturing munitions,” and so on and so forth. If that’s what they [the Israelis] think.

We think it would be better to give them [Jordan] as little as possible, and control it. And all of our defense people think it would be.

But I’m not prepared to take on the New York Times and [former White House counsel] Mike Feldman and everybody else. [Feinberg chuckles.] I’m going to let them make the decision.

But it’s got to be in or out. If we go in—[then] of course, we’ve got to be some help to Israel. If we get out, then we just got to say, “Well, we’re not taking part. We’re not going to supply arms to one side or the other. We’re just not going to be in here to sell a lot of munitions, for both of them.”

The only reason I’m helping Jordan is on account of Israel. Now, if Israel doesn’t—if Israel considers them their enemy, and not of help, then we just wasted 600 million [dollars, in military aid to Jordan].

Rusk 1965

Hoping to work out a resolution, the administration sent U.S. ambassador at large Averell Harriman to Israel and Jordan. The Eshkol government, however, refused to sign off on a deal. So the President offered his own proposal, which became the foundation for the next major U.S. arms sale to Israel.

President Johnson and Dean Rusk, 28 Feb. 1965, 6.50pm

WH6502.06 PNO 17, 6898

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Dean Rusk: [reading from proposed telegram for Averell Harriman to present to Prime Minister Eshkol] “ . . . Our deep concern about unification of Arab world behind Nasser with close working relationships with Soviet bloc is greatest threat to Israel we can imagine. The fact that it would be deeply injurious to U.S. interests in Near East, including the security of Israel, seems to us to require that we and Israel would together to head it off. We agree to a private visit to Washington of [Shimon] Peres and [Yitzhak] Rabin. Must emphasize absence of publicity for such visit, as was accomplished on earlier occasions.” . . .

President Johnson: I had this feeling—I don’t know if it’s any good, but, God, I hate to transfer all those Jews into Washington, though, because I’m afraid that they’ll all move in at the slightest provocation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Golda’s [Meir] not on her way if we don’t watch. But maybe not.

Do you think that we could say to Averell to strike out the “sympathetically,” and say, “We pledge to give you x tanks, and give them the x tanks, plus the little [unclear] tanks—without any planes? It seems that the basis of his [Eshkol’s] objection is that [saying] “we view sympathetically” doesn’t commit us.

Rusk: Uh-huh.

President Johnson: And that he wants a commitment.

It seems that we might, without great danger, raise the ante a little bit to what the Germans are giving them, and say if the Germans don’t complete it, we’ll complete it, plus 20 or something.


Several months later, in a conversation with Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff, the President reflected (in a somewhat exaggerated fashion) on his role in the arms sale deal.

President Johnson and Abraham Ribicoff, 1 Sept. 1965, 8.45am

WH6509.01 PNO 1, 8801

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President Johnson: I had a long wire from [Levi] Eshkol yesterday—a real good one—on my birthday. I have really saved him, and gone to bat with his equipment and stuff. I’ve done it quietly, and, I think, quite effectively.

I made the Germans give him tanks first. And then [David] Ben Gurion leaked it out, and got them in trouble, and damn near beat old man [Ludwig] Erhard. But then I took over his order, and I did it myself.

Fulbright Prewar

With the arms sale in place and a disruption in U.S.-Jordanian relations avoided, Johnson turned his attention away from the Middle East. He didn’t record any phone calls in the run-up to the Six Day War, but he later described his approach in a conversation with Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright—in which he complained about Soviet premier Aleksei Kosygin’s claim that the United States had incited Israeli aggression against the Arabs.

Prewar Approach

President Johnson and J. William Fulbright, 10.57pm

WH6706.01 PNO 8, 11909-11909

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President Johnson: I think his [Kosygin’s] information about America’s conduct in the Arab world is as fault and inaccurate as his intelligence is on Nasser’s capabilities.

J. William Fulbright: I think he must have known that. What I meant is he misrepresented it.

President Johnson: Oh, yes, but he didn’t know it. He wouldn’t buy their statement that our planes participated in bombing the Arab world. He wouldn’t take that one.

But he did buy this stuff that we were there inciting them [the Israelis]. And there’s no man in the world that did as much, and got condemned as much, by everybody from Eshkol on down, as I did . . .

Fulbright: Yeah.

President Johnson: For not inciting it! I told them, I said, “You will not need to go alone unless you do go alone. And we will take our time, and we will find some way to open the Straits [of Tiran]. But if you get out here, and cut loose, and act irresponsibly—why, you’ll develop a lot of sentiment in this country, anti-Semitism and every other damn thing, and we just think it would be highly irresponsible.”

And we got them to put it off. They held it off for a week. [They] told us they’d hold it off for another week.

But then when Nasser said he was going to wipe them out, and he moved this stuff up there; and Russia passed on the message that he [Israel] was going to attack Syria, why, they couldn’t hold it anymore, and they had to jump.

Rusk 1967

Learning of War

Johnson did record the early-morning conversation in which Secretary of State Dean Rusk informed him that war had broken out in the Middle East.

President Johnson and Dean Rusk, 5 June 1967, 5.09am

WH6706.01 PNO 1, 11901

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Dean Rusk: A flash message at this point I’d suggest read as follows:

“Dismayed by preliminary reports of heavy fighting between Israeli and Egyptian forces. As you know, we have been making the maximum effort to prevent this situation. We are expecting a very high-level Egyptian delegation on Wednesday, and we had assurances from the Israelis that they would not initiate hostilities pending further diplomatic efforts.

“We feel that it is very important that the United Nations Security Council succeed in bringing this fighting to an end as quickly as possible, and are ready to cooperate with all members of the Council to that end.”

Now, we’ve been talking about it in these terms. It is probably better for us to get some sort of a message of this sort [out] before the question of who really was responsible is completely clarified. To let them know that we were not a party to any of this business at this stage.

But I wanted to check, get your own reaction—

President Johnson: Yes. Yes, I would.

Rusk: All right.

President Johnson: Good.

Rusk: All right.

President Johnson: So, what—what does it appear to you? Does it appear to you reasonably sure that these [Egyptian] tanks kicked it?

Rusk: Well, the fact that the fighting has been occurring initially over Egypt is a little hard to sort out. [Excised material for national security purposes.] It’s possible. But I’d put more weight on the Israeli claim that they had a large number of Egyptian aircraft headed for Israel, from the sea. But I think it’s just a little too early yet.

My instincts tell me that the Israelis probably kicked this off. But I just don’t know yet, and I don’t think we ought to make a preliminary judgment on that, because it’s just hard to say.

President Johnson: Do they say to us that the Egyptians kicked it off?

Rusk: Well, they’re both publicly—we have nothing, no message yet from the Israeli government, except that they’ve asked for a meeting of the [UN] Security Council. We’ve had no direct message from Eshkol, or [Foreign Minister Abba] Eban, or anybody. Both publicly are claiming that the other started it. But the Israeli claim that a big tank column was moving toward Israel and that they went out to meet it—again, looks just a little thin on the surface. [Excised material for national security purposes.]

Meanwhile, we’ve asked Harlan Cleveland, who’s now in a meeting of NATO that was called to discuss this situation to keep a group of the permanent members on a standby to be consulting throughout the day, to be available for consultation. And, of course, the Security Council will be meeting.

The Security Council will probably call on both sides for an immediate cease-fire. It would be usual and typical for them to do that. But we just don’t know what effect that will have.

My guess is the Israelis kicked this off.


A few minutes later, the President spoke with National Security Advisor Walt Rostow. Johnson seemed inclined to imitate President Kennedy’s approach to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and put together—if only, as he admitted, for the sake of public opinion—a Middle Eastern version of the ExComm.

That strategy ultimately was modified. Former National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy traveled to Washington for the duration of the crisis, to chair the Special National Security Council Panel on the Mideast.

LBJ and Walt Rostow, 6.15am

WH6706.01 PNO 2, 11902

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President Johnson: What would you think today about having the leadership informed up at the Congress? Have McNamara and Rusk go up there instead of coming down here. I think it blows it up and makes it a little critical when they’re down here.

We might ask some of our good friends that might be helpful to come in from the outside to come in and give us some help here.

Walt Rostow: Clark [Clifford], Abe [Fortas]—people like that?

President Johnson: Well, I would think . . . I’m not sure, but I would think that we ought to, just for public appearance’s sake, maybe ask [Dean] Acheson to come by.

Rostow: All right.

President Johnson: You ought to ask Rusk and McNamara what they think of it, just on your own, without it coming from me.

President Johnson: I see.

President Johnson: But these would be the ones that I would like to talk to about these things, and see what preparations they think we ought to make, and so forth. Acheson, [George] Ball, Clifford . . .

Rostow: Want Mac Bundy down?

President Johnson: Yes, Bundy would be good. I always liked the old man [John] McCloy and that other fellow that always handled Pakistan and India. I thought his judgment’s good. Sometime we ought to have him in here. He handled the test ban, a lot of that stuff.

Rostow: Dean?

President Johnson: Yeah, Arthur Dean.

Rostow: Arthur Dean.

President Johnson: But I wouldn’t mention McCloy and Dean today.

Rostow: All right.

President Johnson: But I do think that Bundy would be exceptional—just get on the shuttle and come down here.

And I think that beyond that you ought to ask them—I’d do that anyway, I’d just call him and tell him I’d like to visit with him about this letter. I think that’s very good. I want to talk to him about this other matter, too, and I wished he’d come down here and be prepared to stay as long as he can.

Rostow: I will do that, sir, and—

President Johnson: And then I’d check them on the Leadership—whether they think it wouldn’t be a proper thing to ask [Mike] Mansfield, or arrange through . . . Where’s the Vice President?

Rostow: I don’t know where the Vice President—

President Johnson: Find out from—see if they could have meetings like they had the other day. Just handle them the same way.

Rostow: Now, on that one, I think you’d want to get Dick Helms in, on the intelligence side. Would you—

President Johnson: Yes, yes.

Rostow: I should think you’d want him, and Rusk and McNamara up there.

President Johnson: Yeah, yeah.

Rostow: All right. I’ll try it out—the list except Mac—I’ll just get Mac down here. And I’ll try out this Leadership idea, and I’ll try out the names on my own.

President Johnson: Good.

Rostow: All right, sir.

Eisenhower I

A conflict between U.S. and Soviet allies was almost certain to involve both the Great Powers and the United Nations. The UN Security Council almost immediately passed a cease-fire resolution; a series of increasingly terse diplomatic exchanges between Johnson and Soviet premier Alexsei Kosygin ensued, with the Soviets accusing the United States of not doing enough to compel Israeli adherence to the cease-fire provisions.

In mid-June, Kosygin announced that he would attend a special session of the UN General Assembly devoted to the Middle East situation. He urged the President to come to New York and meet with him; Johnson demurred, and instead suggested that Kosygin come to Washington. Eventually, they compromised, meeting halfway, in Glassboro, New Jersey, from June 23 through June 25, 1967. Middle Eastern affairs were prominent on the agenda.

A few hours after the summit concluded, Johnson phoned Dwight Eisenhower to brief the former President on the conference.

Great Power Relations

President Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower, 25 June 1967, 9.44pm

WH6706.02, 11914-11916

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President Johnson: He came over here to—in my judgment, the way I evaluated it—to give Israel hell. And give us hell. And try to get some of this po’ cat off of him—he smelled bad sending them all that arms and just, by God, getting whipped in three days.

He wanted to divert the attention, and get us on the defensive, and give us hell.

And we didn’t engage him. We just kind of let him falter up there. He was pretty much flopping. He started raising hell with every do-gooder in this country to have a conference.

I said, “Well, let’s see what we do. I want to prepare for it, and what we’re going to talk about.”

They said everything from just a courtesy call to just to meet with him, an exploratory conference. And I finally had Rusk go up, and start out with [Anatoly] Dobrynin, and go to Gromyko, and then go to Kosygin himself, and say, “Now, we’re ready to meet with you. But you come to Washington, or you go to Camp David.”

Wouldn’t go to Camp David because Khrushchev had been there. [Eisenhower chortles.] And wouldn’t come to Washington because the Chinese and the Arabs would give him hell. And wanted me to come sit down in the United Nations, and I said, “I’m not going to do that.”

I just, by God, I’m not going to, every time a man gets on a horse and gallops over here—he hasn’t even told me he’s here yet, officially. Never did tell me he’s even coming.

Eisenhower, II

As he expressed doubts about the sincerity of Kosygin’s motives, so too did the President doubt the Soviet premier’s interest in Middle East peace.

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President Johnson: Pleasant. No vitriolic stuff; no antagonistic stuff; no bitter stuff. Two or three little low blows below the belt every now and then. When you’d meet him the same way, why, he [Kosygin] would get back to a normal level.

He made clear that they didn’t want any confrontation with the United States, didn’t want to fight us, didn’t want to go to war. But on the Middle East, just one simple instruction—looked like he couldn’t move one inch away from it on anything: there must be complete, absolute withdrawal of all troops, period. Nothing else with it.

That that’s going to be the [UN] resolution. They could pass that in the General Assembly; they wanted us to support it there. And in the Security Council. And nothing else. And that unless and until that’s to be done, there’s going to be a big and a great war, and those people will be fighting for ten years. That they would have to support the Arab nations.

That he couldn’t understand why we’d want to support the Jews—three million people when there are a hundred million Arabs.

I told him that numbers did not determine what was right. We tried to do what was right regardless of the numbers, and we felt like that we’d have to take in maritime passage, that we’d have to consider where they were before they closed the Gulf [of Aqaba], and if they were going to go back to the Armistice Line. Were they going to have to go back to the Gulf of Aqaba, as it was?

He said, “Well, that would have to be done later. It would take two or three years to work out all these other things.”

Wouldn’t give an inch on that.

Eisenhower & Water

Eisenhower turned back to events of his administration, urging the President to revive a 1950s U.S.-sponsored initiative to use multi-national control of the Jordan River’s waters as a stepping-stone to peace.

But Kosygin wasn’t interested—while Eisenhower and Johnson shared a bit of triumphalism about the current situation in the Middle East.

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Dwight Eisenhower: As I study this problem, there’s two in the Mideast—two problems—that have got to be settled before there’s ever going to be any, even a modus operandi there in the Mideast. One of them is water, and the other one is these refugees.

Now, they can be tied up, it seems to me, if we could set up a scheme of a corporation, a world corporation, something like they started out with the Suez Canal, or this atomic thing in Vienna [IAEA].

Suppose our government bought 51 percent of the stock, and then we built, in succession, three great big salt purification plants along there in the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean. And to sell the stock to bankers all around the world, and so on. Make the water problem there—I mean, a water solution—make it so attractive that both sides would be almost compelled by their people to take it. [The President chomps on his food.]

For example, I’ve been talking to some of these AEC people—scientists, scientific people—they say that without too expensive a thing, you could put 500 million, or up to a billion, gallons a day, and water much of Israel, Jordan, Egypt east of the Suez, and some of Syria, probably.

Well, now—you see, we had that old Jordan River thing [the Johnston Plan] that you could do something—

President Johnson: I broached that to him this afternoon.

Eisenhower: Did you?

President Johnson: I didn’t get any comment. I told him that our people had talked to me about it just before the meeting.

Eisenhower: Yeah.

President Johnson: He said, “Well, I just want to say this. I don’t think we can talk about anything else until you get the troops withdrawn.” He said, “We’re referees in a fight, and you’ve got to get your man by the nape of the neck, and I got to get our man by the nape of the neck, and you’ve got to separate them and put them back in their corner.” [Eisenhower chuckles.] He said, “Then we can talk about other things.”

Eisenhower: Oh, well, about their man, though—they have to pick him up and revive him. [Both laugh.] That’s the difference.

President Johnson: Well . . .

Eisenhower, III

And in Johnson’s mind, at least, he presented as uncompromising a stance on Middle eastern affairs as Kosygin did—while the President, who once worked as a public school teacher in southern Texas, turned his experience to evaluating the Soviet premier.

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President Johnson: I would say, in fairness, as a teacher, I would grade him about a B+ on discussions on arms—that is, offensive, defensive missiles, the ABM. He made one or two passes I don’t want to discuss with anyone but you.

But he said, “I want you to know that if you do not deliver Israel here on this [UN] resolution—withdrawal—and you cannot pull these fighters back like you do two boxing men in the ring, separate the combatants, and you pull them back to where they were before this war started, then I want you to know there’s going to be a big war, and there’s going to be a great war, and it’s coming soon.”

And I said, “Well, now, Mr. Chairman, I hope that there’s not going to—

And he said, “They’ll fight with their fists and they’ll fight with arms.”

And I said, “Now, if you’re saying that the Israels [sic] and the Arabs are going to have some further difficulties, I hope they don’t. I’m going to do everything I can to keep them from fighting, and I hope you do everything you can to keep them from fighting. But if you’re saying that it goes beyond that area, and others will be fighting, then you’re speaking very serious business, and something that concerns me greatly. And I think it should concern you.”

And he backed away from it, and said, “Well, I said that they would be fighting out there.” And I said, “Well, I’ll do all that I can to keep them from fighting; hope you do, too.”

Dwight Eisenhower: Mm. Mr. President—

President Johnson: He made another pass this afternoon along the same line, and I met him the same way, and he backed off from it again.

Goldberg & UN

As the Security Council moved toward UN Resolution 242, the marriage of convenience between the Soviet Union and the Arab world produced one clearly embarrassing moment for the United States. On July 4, 1967, Pakistan introduced a resolution (UN Res. 2243) deploring Israel’s refusal to withdraw from Jerusalem and demanding that Israel “rescind all measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any action which would alter the status of Jerusalem.”

The United States, joined by 17 other countries, abstained on the measure, which Israel opposed. The President discussed both the fallout of the vote and the events of the Glassboro summit with UN ambassador Arthur Goldberg.

President Johnson and Arthur Goldberg, 15 July 1967, 9:15am

WH6707.01 PNO 2, 12003

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President Johnson: I didn’t say a word [to Kosygin]. I just said, “You try to get Syria to close down.”

But I—like Theodore Roosevelt—I just said it in a soft voice. But I turned them around—

Goldberg: That’s—

President Johnson: —And I moved right up there close to them, and they understood that. [Chuckles.]

Goldberg: That’s damn good. That’s exactly the way to treat them.

You know, the other evening, when we were trying to work out these few observers, you know, to send to the canal?

President Johnson: Yeah.

Goldberg: This blustering Soviet ambassador Federenko made this big speech privately, you know, trying to bear down on us, that we were the obstructers.

I lost my temper. I told him to stop. He didn’t intimidate me. Come on back to the Council, and we’ll debate it publicly, as to who was making all the peaceful proposals. And they backed down.

President Johnson: This damn Gromyko’s the mean one, though. He is—

Goldberg: Mm-hmm. Well, he’s a record player.

President Johnson: He’s up here at Glassboro, and he just busts up everything.

Goldberg: Yeah. He’s still hanging around here?

President Johnson: Yes, that’s right. As long as he is, he’s going to have trouble.

Goldberg: Yeah. Well—

President Johnson: He’s just—

Goldberg: Dean [Rusk] has called me—

President Johnson: Every time this fellow would try to agree to something—every time Kosygin tried to agree—he wouldn’t let him.

Goldberg: He would hold him back?

President Johnson: Yes, sir.

Goldberg: Mm-hmm.

Dean had talked about coming back here. I said he’s welcome, but I would not dignify his presence. We ought to close this damn business and get him out of here.

President Johnson: I’d sure get him away as quick as I can.

Goldberg: Yeah.

President Johnson: Because he is no damn good. He’s poison.

Goldberg: He’s warmed up his plane about three or four times.

President Johnson: Why, you let him go. Quit holding him.

Goldberg: Yeah. But the only way we’ll get him out of here is to wind up [unclear].

President Johnson: Yeah. Well, I hope you can do it next week.

Goldberg: Yeah. Well, I’m hopeful—

President Johnson: What about the Security Council? What will they do on sanctions [against Israel]?

Goldberg: No, they won’t—well, there we are! We may be left alone again. But I wouldn’t think that would be possible I think we’d get some support against this. Although we’ve had some very weak reeds . . . You saw the British . . .

President Johnson: Looks like hell that the British quit us on this, and just 18 of us abstained.

Goldberg: Yeah. And it was—I told Rusk, it was kind of a motley company.

President Johnson: Who were the 18 with us?

Goldberg: Well, a couple of Africans, a few Latin Americans. That was about it.

President Johnson: Who were the Latins?

Goldberg: Uh, the Latins—

President Johnson: Nicaragua? [Chuckles.]

Goldberg: It’s published in the Washington Post; I don’t have the list in front of me.

President Johnson: Nicaragua, I guess. [Laughs heartily.]

Goldberg: Yeah, you can guess. It wasn’t a hell of an impressive showing. I felt a little lonesome over there.

President Johnson: Yeah, I did, too. I felt lonesome when I made it [the decision]. I knew it wouldn’t be anybody. But . . .

Goldberg: But it’s all right. It will go—our position was a pretty good position. We said that the whole kit and caboodle had to be settled. And I think that’s all right.

Dirksen and ARAMCO

The Arabs, Israel, and Postwar U.S. Policy

As the United States sought to outmaneuver the Soviets in the UN, the President also had to consider the state of the post-conflict Middle East. In this conversation with Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, Johnson appreciated the intra-Arab conflicts but appeared far too optimistic about the prospect of an early diplomatic settlement.

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President Johnson and Everett Dirksen, 22 June 1967, 10.45pm

WH6706.02 PNO 2, 11912-11913

Dirksen: I’m on a pay phone.

President Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead.

Dirksen: these people I had dinner with—one of them just got in from Paris tonight. He is the executive vice president of Mobil Oil.

President Johnson: Yes.

Dirksen: [with Johnson concurring] They have a 10 percent interest in ARAMCO. Some of their people were in attendance when, yesterday morning, Faisal of Saudi Arabia had a meeting with five or six of the foreign ministers—including Syria, Algeria, Jordan, and Egypt.

They tried, of course, to sell him a bill of goods—that we had started the Israelis, that we were in the [unclear]—

President Johnson: Yeah, I read the report on that.

Dirksen: All that sort of thing.

President Johnson: I read the report on it. We got an intelligence report on it.

Dirksen: Yeah. Faisal just laughed them off.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Dirksen: Said it was sheer nonsense.

President Johnson: That’s right. Nonsense is the word he used.

Dirksen: Yeah. Now, the one thing that he is interested in, and that Kuwait is interested in, was that fifth item of yours in your statement of principles—namely, territorial integrity.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Dirksen: Now, Brown mentioned that (George Brown) in his statement before the UN. Arthur [Goldberg] mentioned it, too. But they think that it’s got to have some emphasis in order to persuade these people over there that we mean business in that field.

President Johnson: Mm-hmm.

Dirksen: It’s just a question of how far you go. I think you’ve got to be rather cautious about it.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen concurring throughout] Well, we’ve talked to—we have talked to Kosygin about that specifically. And we don’t think that the Israelis are at all interested in Syria’s boundaries. We don’t think that they’re interested in the Egyptian boundaries. The Jordan thing we hope is negotiable.

As a matter of fact, I asked them yesterday to encourage the King of Jordan to come on over here.

The Israelis have said, in effect, that they’re not after this Syrian territory, Egyptian territory. They just want to live and let live. They, I think, would be pretty willing to follow recommendations to give that back and get out of there.

But, on Jordan, they hope that’s negotiable. This little area there—they hope that they can do it to the satisfaction of the Jordanians themselves, and our people think they can.

So I think that we have some chance on it.


Domestic Pressures

Lyndon Johnson was a President unusually sensitive to the domestic impact of his foreign policy decisions. In 1964, he prolonged and inflamed crises with Panama and Cuba lest he appear weak in the run-up to the election. In 1965, his desire for “guns and butter” in part dictated his strategy regarding the Americanization of the Vietnam War.

So it came as little surprise that the President was concerned with how Middle Eastern affairs played on the domestic front. In this clip from a Dirksen call, Johnson complained about how American Jews such as Goldberg and New York senator Jacob Javits were poor representatives for the Israeli cause.

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Everett Dirksen: They read me a long cable tonight, that covered that [Saudi King] Faisal meeting.

President Johnson: Well, I have that. We got that in our intelligence. It was very good. His people told it to us, too. And the Kuwaits [sic] have been pretty good.

Dirksen: Yeah. So they have.

President Johnson: The Arabs cannot unify behind anything ever except the Jews.

Dirksen: Well, now—

President Johnson: And if the goddamn Jews had behaved, and be quiet, and let you talk for them or let [Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield talk for them, or let somebody else—instead of Goldberg and [New York senator Jacob] Javits and all them . . .

That just sets them afire when they get up—

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: They just get afire.

Dirksen: By the way, you didn’t forget to tell [Undersecretary of State] Nick [Katzenbach] to get on Jack [unclear], did you?

President Johnson: I told Nick to come talk to you, and get your judgments on it. He’s not for the resolution.

Dirksen: No.

President Johnson: He thinks we oughtn’t to have any resolution.

Dirksen: Yeah. Well, Jack [Javits] was working like a goddamn eager beaver, you know.

President Johnson: Well, he wants to, and I can understand his concern. I’d be worried if it was Texans. But it’s not wise. That’s not the best thing,

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: Because somebody else . . . You know, it’s a man that’s a fool that is his own lawyer.

Dirksen: Yeah. But the hell of it is you can’t talk him out of it when he gets these ideas. And then he just scours that goddamn [Senate] floor.

President Johnson: Yeah.

Dirksen: Saying, “Will you join with me in this resolution?”


At the same time, the Middle Eastern conflict presented an opportunity for the President to appeal to elements of the Democratic base disaffected by his Vietnam policy. In this clip with Foreign Relations Committee chairman Fulbright, perhaps the most powerful of the Vietnam dissenters, Johnson stressed the evenhanded aspects of his policy.

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President Johnson: If you will look at my speech, with the fellow coming over here—

J. William Fulbright: I think that your speech was OK. I liked it. I [unclear] as a matter—

President Johnson: I sent you a copy of it; I don’t know whether you got it—

Fulbright: I got a copy, and I heard it this morning. But I think that the part where you stood up to Israel by saying you still believe in territorial integrity was pretty damn good.

President Johnson: Well . . .

Fulbright: I was afraid they was going to put on a lot of pressure on you—

President Johnson: And I said, “A little humility,” too. I said. “We’ve got to have a little humility in this operation.” And—

Fulbright: That’s right. Well, I thought—

President Johnson: I’m trying to balance this thing as much as I can—

Fulbright: I thought you did—

President Johnson: We’ve got a reasonably good reaction from the Arab world. And we got an awfully good reaction from the Congress. Dick Russell told me tonight he thought it was as perfect an operation as he had ever seen.

Fulbright: Well, I thought it was.

Russell Long

Despite such appeal, the President harbored no illusions that the U.S. response to the Six Day War would win over Fulbright.

President Johnson and [Louisiana senator] Russell Long, 16 June 1967, 7.48am

WH6706.01 PNO 7, 11907

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President Johnson: If I said to one senator—I never saw a senator I could say anything to that wouldn’t repeat it.

Russell Long: Not even Dick Russell?

President Johnson: No. No, sir. Not in my life. Not one.

As a matter of fact, most of my trouble last week with the Israel thing was because we said to senators that we hoped that we would get a declaration, and then a flotilla over there—and in 20 minutes after they walked out, by God, every communist country in the world was pressuring the other countries not to go with us because this was our plan.

Long: The time you told Bill Fulbright that, Mr. President, you knew that the Soviet ambassador was going to know that within six hours. I mean, you need to have known that if you told Bill Fulbright. [Both laugh.]