147. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

445. Ref: Deptel 388.2 I believe General McGarr is right man for the job. He is vigorous, sound, forthright. He has respect of, and excellent relations with, Vietnamese military officers all ranks. His credence with Diem may have diminished somewhat recently because he has been pushing hard for greater operational authority to military command, which Diem reluctant to give. But McGarr is still making headway with Diem and Thuan. I think change in Chief MAAG at this juncture would be a mistake, but suggest independent look and fresh imaginative ideas might be supplied by on-spot visit and inspection (10 days to two weeks) by General Maxwell Taylor, if possible.

Gardiner extremely knowledgeable this country and wide-range USOM projects, competent, devoted. He has accepted, though somewhat reluctantly, concept of “break-through programs”, although temperamentally conservative and believing in long-term, self-help philosophy. I think it would be mistake to make change USOM director at this critical juncture. Prompt filling existing vacancies high-level USOM staff positions would, however, be most useful, as Gardiner’s personal supervision all aid activities poses almost impossible task. Diem, Thuan, and other GVN officials have expressed to [Page 327] me their impatience at USOM’s slowness and rigidity. I am working with Gardiner to try to correct this insofar as blame seems to lie on US side; but GVN itself inclined to want the impossible in expecting us to fall in immediately with plans and programs often half-baked and frequently changed. Have told GVN friends this in effort develop better planning and execution on their side.

McGarr and Gardiner respect each other and work well together, subject only to differing professional emphasis. MAAG wants as many troops as possible as soon as possible. USOM has to foot the bill in local currency. Urgency of military requirements and sound economic practices necessarily conflict. McGarr is urged on by his authorities, Gardiner has been restrained by his. We try to strike a balance and to reach prompt task force agreements.

In brief, if we do not succeed here, I do not think it will be the fault of either McGarr or Gardiner. They understand each other and work reasonably well together.

In trying to boil down essentials of what needs to be done here to prevent Viet Cong take-over, I am more and more convinced, that first thing is to assure that the frontier with Laos be restored to friendly hands, willing and able to cooperate with GVN in preventing large-scale infiltrations. As indicated Embtel 373,3 the only way I can see that this can be accomplished is through partition of Laos. I realize this presents most difficult problem to you. Up until September, I thought we were on upgrade here. Due to recent infiltrations, which stimulate Viet Cong internal recruitment and aggressiveness, GVN security forces now greatly overextended. This intensifies GVN tendency to procrastinate in developing and executing systematic counter-guerrilla plans, including needed rotational training of troops, and stimulates Diem’s proclivity to run things on ad hoc basis. Situation now seems to me thin, brittle. While no recent rumors of military coup, one is likely in my judgment if infiltrations continue unchecked. Potential for further infiltrations in men and materiel known to exist in eastern Laos adds to apprehension of military leaders and government.

Two of my closest colleagues4 believe that this country cannot attain the required unity, total national dedication, and organizational efficiency necessary to win with Diem at helm. This may be true. Diem does not organize well, does not delegate sufficient responsibility [Page 328] to his subordinates, and does not appear to know how to cultivate large-scale political support. In my judgment, he is right and sound in his objectives and completely forthright with us. I think it would be a mistake to seek an alternative to Diem at this time or in the foreseeable future. Our present policy of all-out support to the present government here is, I think, our only feasible alternative.

This carries with it, of course, the opportunity to bring about such ameliorations as we can. I think we have better than 50-50 chance of winning on this policy line provided the border with Laos is reasonably well protected. If not, I think this government will go down, or out, and that this will probably hasten a Communist takeover here.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/10-661. Secret; Niact; Eyes Only Secretary.
  2. In telegram 388, October 5, drafted by Rusk and sent eyes only to Nolting, Rusk noted that deep concern in Washington prompted him to seek Nolting’s “most candid assessment” of his principal colleagues, specifically whether McGarr and Gardiner were “the right men for the job” and whether they were able to “work effectively together.” Rusk also said that apart from personnel matters, he would appreciate Nolting’s “most urgent estimate” of the prospects in Viet-Nam and whatever “action you consider essential in Viet-Nam not to succumb to Viet Cong.” (Ibid., 751K00/10-561)
  3. Document 133.
  4. When later asked who it was that he was referring to here, Nolting said that one of the two was definitely Mendenhall and the other was either Anspacher or Gardiner. When the same question was put to Mendenhall, he said that Nolting was likely referring to him and Gardiner. (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Viet-Nam Interviews, Frederick Nolting, Jr., May 25, 1984, and ibid., Joseph A. Mendenhall, December 27, 1983)