140. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

1838. For the Ambassador from the Secretary. Your 21082 has been considered carefully at the highest level. It raises extremely grave issues and we feel that our reactions must be developed with care. We will be meeting with the President again tomorrow afternoon3 on this matter prior to departure of McNamara (who will be taking up these issues with you) and would like to have your answers to the following questions before Noon, Washington time, May 6 if possible: [Page 292]

What is your assessment of Khanh’s motivations? He obviously entered on this train of thought after considering the problem of issuing a mobilization declaration. Do you detect any pique because we have been urging him to place the country on a more austere war footing? Do you feel that he believes such a mobilization program would make sense only as a prelude to military action against North Viet Nam?
We detect a trace of despair in Khanh’s remarks. Has he reached the conclusion that he cannot successfully win the war in the South unless he undertakes military action against the North? There is, of course, a distinct inconsistency between his statements about “making the agony endure” and his claim to be systematically regaining control over the entire population.
When Khanh discussed action against the North with McNamara,4 he spoke of the need to consolidate his base in the South before he acted. When he talked with me recently5 he spoke about the political nature of counterinsurgency and the need to undertake a long slow struggle. Do you feel that he has changed his view on these matters and that he wants to move now regardless of the progress in the South? Experience in Greece, Malaya and Korea demonstrates the need for a sound structure of support before active advances can be made, and this would seem to mean genuine progress in South Viet Nam itself before action against the North.
Khanh’s description of the mobilization program, and especially the talk of evacuation plans for all 2 million people in Saigon seem to take on exaggerated proportions. Is this merely his way of telling us that he does not have the administrative machinery capable of carrying out any mobilization which he should declare?
Were his remarks concerning warnings to Hanoi and to Cambodia, as well as the actions to be taken against the French all part and parcel of mobilization, as he envisages it? Or would this merely indicate the course of events which he would expect to ensue if air strikes were mounted against North Viet Nam? Of course, if Khanh has convincing evidence against French nationals, he should move now to have them expelled rather than having to wait for a mobilization program. Similarly, with respect to Cambodia, it would be logical for Khanh to react if Sihanouk actually carries out his threats; but for the present we are inclined to regard them as needling gestures which the Vietnamese have very sensibly ignored to date.
Do his remarks concerning “an army corps” of US special forces represent, in your opinion, a genuine desire on his part to have US or other foreign combat forces introduced into Viet Nam? Or, was he merely illustrating the contingent use of such forces in the event of Chicom or DRV conventional intervention?
Finally, do you consider that there is any sort of limited mobilization program, within the capacity of the GVN to administer, which Khanh could put into effect with good results as a step toward the elimination of a “business as usual” mentality without necessarily moving to the more spartan extremes which he has suggested?

We are earnestly attempting to gauge our view of the issues raised in your cable both on the basis of Khanh’s needs as well as your own assessment of his state of mind. It becomes most important to us to know whether this conversation represented an accumulation of frustrations which Khanh sees in facing up to all the hard questions or whether it is a forced effort to determine the ultimate US intentions if he asks us to assist him in carrying the war to North Viet Nam in the near future. Obviously, Khanh’s attitude has a bearing on the Canadian matter, but I am confident we should not discuss this with him at this time.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis. Drafted by Sullivan, cleared by McGeorge Bundy, and approved by Rusk. This cable was apparently discussed at the luncheon meeting at the White House on May 5. A draft with revisions by Bundy and comments by Forrestal is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. V111, Memos. At 7:28 p.m. on May 5, McGeorge Bundy called Rusk and made the following suggestions:

    “B. said the end of the first paragraph of this draft cable to Lodge he thought ran the risk of emphasizing to Lodge that Yes indeed we want to go in the North. Both agreed to soften the line a bit and take out the last sentence of the first pare. B. and Sec. discussed further changes and Sec. told B. that his brother and Sullivan were with him and would get it out.” (Department of State, Rusk Papers: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)

    The last sentence of paragraph 1 in the draft referred to above reads: “Is he [Khanh] attempting to have us commit the US to support action against North Viet Nam before he will move upon a mobilization program?”

  2. Document 136.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 139.
  4. See Document 77.
  5. See Document 118.