Johnson had given a speech at UCLA that accused the Vietnamese of engaging in a "deeply dangerous game" in Southeast Asia. Reaction had not been favorable. Internationally, the U.S.S.R. warned the United States against extending the war to North Vietnam. Domestically, Mansfield∇ reiterated his public and private calls for a negotiated settlement leading to the neutralization of Southeast Asia in the face of a widespread popular impression that the United States was preparing to begin a psychological campaign against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). In further fallout from the perceived stiffening of policy, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Roger Hilsman announced his resignation. Although the stated reason was a desire to return to academia, the New York Daily News claimed that Hilsman departed under pressure because of his approach to Vietnam policy, a assertion that Hilsman's memoirs confirmed.
In this discussion with McNamara, Johnson seemed to backtrack from both his public and private statements on Vietnam and to reconsider the wisdom of escalation. In the process, he displayed a level of assertiveness on an issue where heretofore he had deferred to his advisers or avoided discussing the broad outlines of policy. The major issue here was Johnson's criticism of the announced withdrawal of 1,000 troops from South Vietnam, a move that many commentators cite as evidence that President Kennedy would not have escalated the war in Southeast Asia.
The immediate reason for the call concerned the shaping of remarks for this night's congressional reception at the White House.