284. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1
3645. For the President. The situation was comparatively quiet both on the political and military fronts during the past week. Quat is proceeding with plans for a reorganization of his cabinet, a desirable action provided that he does not go too far and recreate the image of governmental instability which we are trying to dispel. In eliminating the incompetent, he hopes to strengthen himself politically by bringing in more southerners and thus placating the most important group which is showing dissatisfaction with his government.
Quat also hopes that he is about to get agreement from his generals to dissolve the Armed Forces Council. This, also, is a good thing particularly if it can be done without reopening dissension among the generals. I have the impression that Quat probably could go faster in straightening out the military but is restrained by his instinctive fear of confrontations and tests of strength. Perhaps in the long run this caution will pay.
Although Quat has displayed considerable adroitness in handling his opponents, he is not escaping growing criticism in the local press. Some critics complain of corruption and weak officials; some of the need for national elections; others comment on an alleged over-eagerness of the Quat government to consider negotiations with the Communists. Also, there is the chronic impatience over a government which does not [Page 619] show quick and dramatic successes in a short period of time. One hears all of these rumblings at the moment but we are not inclined to attach too much importance to them yet.
I was deeply vexed by the unfortunate border violation in which USAF planes bombed a Cambodian village and thus gave Sihanouk his excuse to break off relations with US and perhaps later grounds for scuttling the Cambodian conference.2 While the breach with Sihanouk was probably inevitable, it is most regrettable that it came about as it did. General Westmoreland is having a thorough investigation made of the violation and we will see that appropriate disciplinary action is taken.
The major events of the military week were the arrival of the advance party of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the announcement that Australia will send a battalion of combat troops to Vietnam. Both announcements were received with enthusiasm and, for the moment, constitute a lift to the local morale. What the eventual effect will be of the presence of so many foreign troops is still unpredictable.
There are many sensitivities in this country of which we foreigners are unperfectly aware. Recently, the local press picked up a report that a joint US/GVN command was being considered which has triggered many adverse comments both in public and in private. A joint command to the Vietnamese means one dominated by the US and such a subordination would be offensive to most Vietnamese. General Westmoreland is thoroughly aware of this sensitivity and will proceed cautiously in suggesting such changes of relationship as may be required by the presence of US ground forces in action.
I hope that your attention has been called to the highly successful anti-Viet Cong operation in Kien Hoa Province where the seventh division has just executed an extremely well planned operation. It resulted in the discovery of a large arms and supply cache and the capture of important documents giving considerable information on seaborne infiltration. It may well be that this discovery will be more valuable than the ship we sank at Vung Ro Bay in early March.
We enjoyed very much Cabot Lodge’s visit last Wednesday and Thursday. He said the right thing to the right people and left much good feeling behind him. Many thanks for having him call on us.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. No time of transmission is indicated on the source text, but it was received in the Department of State on May 4 at 10:51 p.m. and passed to the White House.↩
- For text of a May 6 message from Rusk to the Cambodian Foreign Minister regarding the severance of relations between the two countries, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 716–717.↩