12. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
4336. For the President. The new Ky government is now in office following the promulgation of a new charter on June 19,2 which states that, until a permanent Constitution can be established, the sovereignty of Viet-Nam is temporarily vested in its armed forces. On the same day, General Ky announced his Cabinet and an ambitious and “revolutionary” 26-point program of action.3
On the whole, the new Cabinet seems a very good one by Vietnamese standards and potentiality. There are seven holdovers from Quat's team and a better regional balance of Ministers than Quat had, particularly in relation to the number of southerners. There is no particular religious complexion to the Cabinet which is outstanding for its number of young, competent technicians, many of whom in the past have hesitated to serve in a Cabinet. The main question mark remains General Ky himself, who thus far has been very cooperative and approachable in the limited dealings which I have had with him in the past few days. He has a rather disarming way of alluding to his inexperience and need for assistance in an unfamiliar role.
The chief danger appears to be that of trying to go too far and too fast with an extreme reform program. While Ky's motives are of the best, the program of action which he has outlined could easily generate heavy opposition if he goes about it in a heavy-handed manner. I am afraid that he is likely to ignore the administrative weakness of his government and clog the machinery by injecting too many projects at one time.
The charter which has been promulgated is an imperfect, hastily written document obviously designed to keep Ky under the control of his military peers. There is nothing of importance which he can do as Prime Minister without the approval of the directory of ten officers (of which he is a member) presided over by General Thieu. It looks as if this new government will be far more of an oligarchy than an autocracy.
The intensity of military operations dropped off very considerably from the high level of previous weeks. There are a number of factors [Page 35]which could explain this decline. Several of the Viet Cong regiments have suffered heavy losses and are probably licking their wounds while others, not yet committed, are probably awaiting the word to pass to the offensive. On the GVN side, the losses of preceding weeks have caused commanders to prefer to stay on the defensive rather than initiate engagements which may cause additional losses. Little progress has been made in restoring the combat edge of the four regiments and nine battalions (roughly two division equivalents) which I mentioned in my last week's message4 as being ineffective from lack of strength.
The use of B-52s of the Strategic Air Command from Guam in a bombing operation on a Viet Cong base 35 miles northwest of Saigon has aroused much interest and considerable discussion of the effectiveness of zonal bombing. Inevitably the effectiveness of such bombing depends upon the accuracy of intelligence, and good intelligence of conditions deep within a Viet Cong war zone is hard to come by. In this case, while the bombs themselves did little damage, they fell close enough to Viet Cong installations to shake their occupants and to facilitate the penetration of ground patrols which accomplished some damage. In future operations of this sort, I would hope that the exploitation by ground forces could be on a scale large enough to guarantee the destruction of Viet Cong personnel and installations which have escaped the effects of the bombing.
We have been watching with interest the development of the Commonwealth proposal5 for finding ways and means of settling the situation here. I have been somewhat concerned over the readiness of our friends to talk of a cease-fire in connection with these activities. A cease-fire under the conditions existing here would be a very tricky affair requiring very careful definition to avoid the many possible pitfalls. We are sending a cable shortly on this subject which I hope will be called to your attention.6
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. The source text does not indicate a time of transmission; the telegram was received at 10:51 a.m.↩
- For text of this charter, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 880-883.↩
- The Embassy analyzed the new 26-point program in telegram 4311 from Saigon, June 21. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)↩
- Document 5.↩
- See Document 6.↩
- Not further identified.↩