30. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to the President1


  • Durbrow on Alsop on Diem on VietNam
It is the general consensus that Joe was exercising his great talent for needling ambassadors; and that, understandably, Durbrow has reacted with some force-perhaps excessive force.2
It would be unwise for us to instruct Durbrow, in his final days in Saigon, to issue the kind of ultimatum he suggests. We shall have to negotiate with Diem on these matters with strength and tact; but this is not the moment nor the setting in which to do it. Durbrow should relax with Diem from here on out and leave the arm-twisting to men with fresh capital.
In terms of substance, the showcase province is a special case because of Thao’s great capabilities; but it is also one of the most difficult provinces. They are not all like Thao; but he’s done well with a tough area.
On the issue of centralization and decentralization, the Counter-Insurgency Plan calls for some elements of decentralization; but we would back Durbrow in his view that the centralization of intelligence and planning of counter-guerrilla operations is required.
The whole incident underlines the extreme urgency of getting our VietNam program moving with new faces, enlarged resources, and renewed conviction. Perhaps a visit to the field by a Washington team to see what is going on, is called for. I gather that McNamara would like to go himself or send Gilpatric with Lansdale.
Nolting arrives back as of Wednesday, April 19; and we should, I believe, set aside time for a major meeting on VietNam next week.
On Lansdale as Ambassador, he may have been good. I believe so, but Diem never had to deal with him when he bore the full burden of an Ambassador, with all the awkward inevitable [Page 73] problems of negotiation. I think we must go with Nolting, whom I know well personally. You will find him a man of rare strength and character. But I am sure we must find a way to send Lansdale for a visit to VietNam soon in a way that will strengthen Nolting’s hand-not weaken it. This is wholly possible.3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series. Secret. Printed also in Declassified Documents, 1975, p. 329C.
  2. In telegram 1599 from Saigon, April 12, Durbrow reported on his talks with Joseph Alsop during the latter’s recent visit to Vietnam. Alsop told Durbrow that Diem, in a 2-hour discussion, criticized the United States for not properly backing him. Durbrow suggested that the Department send him instructions to the effect that unless Diem began to implement the CIP, the United States would not provide MAP aid for a force increase. (Department of State, Central Files, 951K.62/4-1261: also printed in Declassified Documents, 1975, p. 317A)
  3. A memorandum to Rostow, presumably from Komer, dated April 14, reads:

    “General Lansdale telephoned following message: Reference the Alsop telegram, Joe is expert at using the needle on Ambassadors and this is some evidence of it. Probably Durbrow wrote this message too soon afterwards while still in somewhat of a state of shock.

    “Secondly, I think there is an obvious personality clash type of involvement in which Durbrow is involved with the President out there and this would make it a mistake to have him the one to go in and lay down the law to the President, as he requested the Department instruct him to do.

    “Thirdly, I think the best answer might be some prompt Executive action and it would be the best answer to meet either forthcoming criticisms as they come or to do what probably the Boss would like to do now. Along these lines, I would suggest I would like to see Rostow, and either McNamara or Gilpatric, and myself go out for a quick visit for the President, and either [sic] pull Alexis Johnson from Bangkok for a meeting with us in Saigon, and maybe spend a couple of days talking to people and finding out where things stand today and advising some action we can start working with.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series)