318. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency Station in Saigon to the Agency1

Have not seen Halberstam article but I believe that the important matter Ambassador Lodge wishes to talk about in Washington is the replacement of General Harkins.
The Vietnamese junta members certainly do consider General Harkins as a symbol of the old order and it is perhaps significant that there is no great depth of contact between U.S. military and the key junta figures. Advisers still have official contact on their military affairs but the Generals are clearly moving in the direction of occupying themselves with the problems of running the country, for which they do not look for advice from the U.S. military. With respect to General Harkins himself, during the pre-coup period, the junta leaders did not feel they could confide in him without fear of repetition to the Palace. MACV as a whole, and specifically General Harkins, were very much caught off base by the coup, in good part because, as he has many times stated, he believed such a development would be unfortunate. Most dramatic example was the briefing given Admiral Felt who departed the very morning of the coup with MACV assertions that no coup would take place. With respect to his assessment of the war, we are on less clear ground as he was talking generally about military and strategic hamlet progress and the opposite view was talking mainly about political dissatisfaction in the cities. Certainly General Harkins’ emphasis has been that of a good soldier resolved to take his objective and not being easily deterred by evidence of difficulty or opposition. However, this emphasis on progress and strengthening of the Vietnamese has somewhat obscured the fact that the enemy has only been contained, not reduced in the short term, although containment in this subversive war should lead gradually to reduction.
With respect to General Harkins’ position vis-a-vis Ambassador Lodge, it is quite clear that the Richardson case was only the overture to the opera. Ambassador Lodge has many positive qualities of political sagacity, courage and meticulous insistence on following specific Washington directives, but the fact is that he is running very much a vest-pocket operation and not a country team or total American effort. This method of operation puts a premium on subordinates who can operate on a tactical level rather than as co-workers in the strategic vineyard. The relationship of course has been exacerbated by the incident in which Harkins was telling Don that it was not the time to [Page 603]run a coup when the Ambassador was trying to support a Vietnamese effort in this direction, by Harkins’ personal intervention with Thuan to dissuade him from resigning on the basis of a very private and sensitive conversation Thuan had with D’Orlandi which was reported to Lodge, and the fact that Harkins was kept out of the coup planning in response to Washington’s instructions to Lodge that this be discussed only with CIA. Putting the U.S. effort and the American community into an integrated bundle is made no easier by the absence of any working system of policy coordination, since top level country team meetings are seldom held. On the military side the usual multiplicity of staff and command levels and the emphasis on the statistical approach separate General Harkins from the highly personalized political activities of Lodge.
In summary, the junta members have no great love for General Harkins but probably would be content to see him remain on purely technical military level. The Vietnamese themselves are groping around the organizational, bureaucratic and political jungles, trying to turn their convictions and their popular support into specific ways of strengthening the country against its enemy. Ambassador Lodge has established a highly positive image in their eyes and in the eyes of many Vietnamese for his obvious support of the revolution. How this image will bear up against their inevitable day-to-day negotiations and collaboration with the working level American community remains to be seen. If the approach is to be the one outlined by Ambassador Lodge however it will be clear that the members of the community will have to learn to adjust to his style or be replaced.
  1. Source: Declassified Documents, 1977, 94B. Secret; Priority; Eyes Only. The number of this cable was deleted when the document was declassified in 1976.