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

1445. For the Secretary from Ambassador Taylor. Ref: A. Deptel 1034. B. Embtel 1440.2 Reference A was received just before dispatch of Reference B which, I believe, goes far toward meeting your request for our planning thoughts for use in the development of your papers. As I read Reference A, you would appear to be considering something like the short-term military program of Reference B for the period roughly from end November until January. At that time, we would move into an overt series of graduated military actions combined with political pressures-generally speaking, the “subsequent projects’ mentioned in the second paragraph of Reference B.

We have had a great deal of discussion here as to the minimum level of government required to justify mounting military pressures against the North. I would describe that minimum government as one capable of maintaining law and order in the urban areas, of securing vital military bases from VC attacks, and gearing its efforts with those of the USG. As Reference B indicates, we do not expect such a government for three to four months-perhaps not then if the current attempts to chip away at the Huong government continue. Question: Do we withhold all action against the DRV (except those of the morale sustaining type) until we get this minimum government? What if we never get it?

My own answer would be that it is highly desirable to have this kind of minimum government before accepting the risks inherent in any escalation program. However, if the government falters and gives good reason to believe that it will never attain the desired level of performance, I would favor going against the North anyway. The [Page 900] purpose of such an attack would be to give pulmotor treatment for a government in extremis and to make sure that the DRV does not get off unscathed in any final settlement.

In the final paragraph of Reference A, it is suggested that I might take up this question of direct action against the DRV with Huong, Khanh and others before I return and before the USG reaches final decision. I do not see how I could do this except in the most general terms until we know ourselves what we intend to do. I have already suggested vaguely to Khanh and Huong that we could give consideration to various new courses of action once a reliable government is established.

With regard to stiffening the GVN to set its household in order and to press for political stability and the proper execution of the pacification program, I know of no words of eloquence or of persuasion which have not been tried in the past. At the moment the problem is not so much with the government, which means well, as with major outside groups such as some Buddhists, Catholics and politicians who refuse to give it support and are trying to tear it down before it even has a chance. Quat’s refusal to serve in the government is symptomatic of this attitude. We have gone so far as to suggest that this government may represent the last chance for a common victory. I point to articles in the American press showing clearly that the American people are becoming impatient with the politicking in Saigon with enemy at the gates of the city. My Vietnamese listeners never argue back but sadly acquiesce in the validity of such judgments. Unfortunately, they do not know how to remedy the situation, except at some damage to what they feel are their personal interests, and for all too many Vietnamese this is unthinkable.

Nevertheless we cannot abandon this enterprise. In spite of their inability yet to find a way of governing themselves, there is still much on which to build in the way of an individually capable and courageous people who do not want to be run by the North. There is also a surprising amount of vitality and resiliency in the country as a whole which remain generally unaffected by the political turmoil in Saigon. Thus we must hang on, doing our best in the hope that out of this welter some real leadership will eventually emerge, and play for the breaks. Taking the initiative against the North is one way to force the breaks.

In summary, the approach which I would like to make now to the GVN is that contained in the final paragraph of Reference B. We shall be very much interested in receiving your draft papers when they are ready.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. According to another copy, this telegram was drafted by Taylor. (Ibid., Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8)
  2. Documents 407 and 408.