KC Johnson

LBJ and Abe Fortas, 21 June 1968

President Johnson: I’ve got to make a decision on those [Phantoms], and I want to make it as soon as—far enough ahead of time, before I go out [of office], not to be the last thing.

But I want the Russians to turn me down on disarmament. I’ve got a letter in his [Alexsey Kosygin’s] lap now.

And this idiot of a [Stuart] Symington has sent us word that if I don’t give Israel the Phantoms, that he’s going to kill our [foreign military] sale bill, where we can sell planes. If I don’t go ahead and give ‘em to ‘em [the Israelis].

And I can’t do it until Kosygin answers me. He’s not going to pee a drop with me: I know that. But I’ve got to have that behind me so I’ve got that as an excuse. [I can] say, “By God, I’ve tried everything. I tried a conference, I tried a proposal, I tried letters, I tried meetings, I pled with him. And finally he turned it down, and I just—there’s no other alternative. I have no course in the world except this.”

  Abe Fortas: Yeah. That’s right.

  President Johnson: And that’s what I’m trying to do.

Now, I never have told anybody I’m going to give ‘em to ‘em [the Israelis]. But I made up my mind a long time ago I was going to give ‘em to ‘em. But I’m not going to give ‘em to ‘em unless I can protect myself. I’m not going to be a goddamned arms merchant! I’m going to make them [the Soviets] to be the outlaws if I can.

  Fortas: Sure. I think that’s very good.

  President Johnson: Now, that’s what I’m trying to do.

And this little Effie [Ephraim Evron, minister in the Israeli embassy], is the only one I think in their organization that’s got sense enough to see it. He sees it all the time. He’s just as bright as that goddamned Yuki dog [one of LBJ’s dogs] of mine. He catches everything that comes along without telling him. So he helps.

But Symington is just the biggest muddlehead I ever saw. I thought you and Clark Clifford could advise somebody. [teasingly] Are all of your clients muddleheads like me and Symington? [Fortas laughs heartily.]

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