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

23179. Personal for Bundy from Lodge.

During a call by former Vice President Nixon, Prime Minister Ky remarked that the election of such a man as Phan Khac Suu to be President of Viet-Nam could destroy much of what has been accomplished in the last two years, with a real risk of the Viet Cong regaining control of large elements of the country. He obviously was not in any way reflecting on Phan Khac Suu’s patriotism or loyalty, but on the impossibility of a man of his age, of his lack of knowledge of modern governmental problems and of his general inadequacy to lead the country against a resourceful and determined enemy.2
I agree with Ky in this regard and have already said as much, both in cables and at Guam.
After Nixon had left, Ky discussed the forthcoming election and asked me what I thought. I said that it was very hard for me to make a prediction as to how the election would turn out as there were no previous election figures. I also did not have much confidence in public opinion polls taken in Viet-Nam because I believed that most Vietnamese, when interrogated by a poll-taker (or by anyone else), tend to tell the interrogator what they think he wants to hear. Ky laughed and said that I had it sized up absolutely right.
He said he thought that in the forthcoming election, organization would have a decisive effect. Most Vietnamese, he said, were still not politically minded, even though the number who were was growing. Most Vietnamese also did not have strong views concerning the various candidates because they did not know much about any of them. In a situation like that, the candidate who was the best organized would have the best chance of winning. What did I think?
I said there was a good deal of truth in that and that if he were a candidate, he would obviously have an advantage as regards organization. Even if, I said, there was no impropriety regarding General Loan’s activities and even if there was no impropriety as regards the activities of the Ministry of Revolutionary Development, these agencies [Page 320]naturally have personnel spread all over the country and the mere fact that they know Ky and he is a flesh and blood figure to them could have great influence—probably more influence if all the proprieties were observed than otherwise. In general, I said, organization is decisive in an election which is very close. In such a situation, it can decide the issue.
Comment: I can still conceive, however, of Phan Khac Suu getting quite a big vote, not because anybody thinks he would make a particularly good President or because anybody thinks he is a really able executive, but because of what he symbolizes—the South, his conspiracies against the French and against Diem. End comment.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Nodis. Received at 7:40 a.m.
  2. For a description of former Vice President Richard Nixon’s brief mid-April private visit to Vietnam, see Richard Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1978), pp. 282–283; and Stephen Ambrose, Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962–1972 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), pp. 110–112.