1915. For Secretary from Ambassador. Deptel 1324.22. Supra. This cable responds to questions 1
and 2 of reftel. Since his collapse before the Buddhist pressures last
August, Khanh's standing with
his military colleagues has been low. On several occasions, they would
have dropped him except for the understanding that he had U.S.
His position now is somewhat different. Insofar as the current issues are
concerned he seems to have the full support of the 20 Generals of the
Council of the Armed Forces who include the “Young Turks” and the corps
commanders who accept responsibility with him for the illegal acts of
December 20. Since they are all out on the same limb, that uncomfortable
position imposes considerable unity in the ranks. Khanh is smart and will try to hold
them in line by using anti-American themes and reminding them how
offended they have been by U.S. disapproval of their actions. However,
in the long run, he will probably fail to retain their support because
of the normal tendency to bickering and disunity within any VN group and
because of his personal unpopularity with most of the Generals.
As to likely candidates to replace Khanh, I can only mention a few who seem to us the best
qualified. General Nguyen Huu Co, now commanding II Corps, seems to be
an able soldier who commands the respect of the Vietnamese and Americans
close to him. So far as we can see, he has thus far stayed clear of
politics. General Pham Van Dong
has handled himself very well in his sensitive assignment as CG, Capital
Military District, and has the confidence of Prime Minister Huong. Although one of the oldest and
most senior officers in length of service, he works closely with the
Young Turks. General Nguyen Van
Thieu, commanding IV Corps, is usually included in our
list of possible candidates. He has had wide experience including that
of Chief of Staff, Armed Forces and I know General Westmoreland thinks well of his
military ability. However, he has two political strikes on him—he is a
Catholic and a Dai Viet, hence a target for the Buddhists.
I am not putting Big Minh on the list. Even if he were not lazy and
generally incompetent, he is too controversial a figure in the officer
corps to consider for Commander-in-Chief.
With regard to their relationships to the political groups, Dong is not
liked by the turbulent elements of the Buddhists or of the students
because of his execution of the orders of Huong to put down demonstrations. Thieu would have the
disadvantages cited above. I do not know of any political counts against
Of the three, I believe that Huong
knows only Dong and likes him. I have no reason to believe that Co and
Dong could not work well with the Huong government. However, Thieu, having many of Khanh's characteristics, would have much greater
As to desirability from U.S. point of view, General Throckmorton, speaking for MACV, would rate the three in this order:
Co, Dong, Thieu. If General
Westmoreland is still
available, I suggest you get his personal opinion.
Before signing off, I must point out that, while Khanh is definitely dispensable, no
officer in the RVNAF stands out like a
light as his possible successor. Any choice will involve some risk as we
will never fully know his capability and limitations until we try him.
In any event, the choice will by no means be entirely with us.
1 Source: Department of State,
Central Files, POL 15 VIET S.
Secret; Flash; Exdis. Repeated to CIA, the Department of Defense, and the White House.
Received at 6:01 a.m.