212. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1
- Ambassador Bunker’s Proposals
I would have to vote against the proposals. I don’t think they will work. I think they would do more harm than good.
First, I simply do not agree with the Mission’s appraisal—shared to a great extent by State—that Ky is the only choice and that any other would be a disaster. As you know, I think highly of Ky and he might be an effective President. But I have come to believe that the healthiest thing that could happen in Viet-Nam right now would be the election of a civilian. The best government I can think of would be: Huong as President, Big Minh as Vice President, Ky as Prime Minister, and Thieu as chief of the Army.
Ky is a military man—and there is a strong stream of opposition to continuing military rule. He is a Northerner, and the electorate is largely Southern, and regional feelings are strong. He is young, and there remains a deep underlying respect for maturity. Moreover, his campaign, thanks to the activities of Loan and others, is rapidly becoming a source of bitterness.
A good many Vietnamese believe deeply that Ky’s election would be proof-positive that corruption, pressure, and bribery dominated the political process.
I urge that we not get out too far on a “Ky is the only man for us” limb.
Further, on the proposals:
- —The kind of direct U.S. involvement proposed would be a grave mistake. It would be known. It would put us right in the middle of internal contention. And I recall too many people getting burned in the past when they felt one Vietnamese was indispensable.
- —The removal of Loan would not in itself solve the problem of chicanery and manipulation. There are plenty of eager successors in [Page 536] the wings. It would have some useful cosmetic effects, but they would not be long lasting if the same practices persisted.
- —I am utterly convinced that a power play against Thieu would backfire badly. It would become widely known, and would put us in a bad light with many thinking Vietnamese. His future is going to have to be worked out in a Vietnamese context.
- —Financial assistance for one candidate is a bad idea. This, too, will become known.
This being said, what do we do?
I would favor the following:
I would put real heat on Ky to rein in his followers, to do it fast, and to make it stick. I would call in Bui Diem and lay down the law and urge him to return immediately to Saigon with the message. I think you should do this rather than State; it would underline the President’s concern and strong feeling.
There are three principal items that need correcting:
- —the use of the police and security apparatus in support of Ky;
- —inept use of censorship on political matters;
- —Ky’s use of his position and the machinery of government for political purposes.
I would stress that a dishonest election would undercut our President’s position and endanger continued American support. I would state that we are not going to consider any additional U.S. involvement unless we are convinced that Viet-Nam has a reasonable political future and that Vietnamese are putting their country ahead of themselves.
- Some Vietnamese of real standing and ability has to be put in charge of Ky’s campaign. General Thang is an obvious choice, though the blow to RD is obvious. But, again, we get into the indispensable man argument. RD would be a good assignment for Big Minh, though he probably wouldn’t take it. How about General Thi? How about a civilian?
Instead of backing one man, we should be working closely with all candidates. With the deep involvement we have in Viet-Nam, it is shocking that our contacts with the country’s leading politicians is so tenuous. I would pick four good men to work with Ky, Thieu, Huong and Suu on a full-time basis. We should touch base regularly with the others, too, but it is less important.
Our contact men should have plenty of political savvy and solid empathy for the Vietnamese. They could provide advice, suggestions, and ideas, and help to keep their man on the track. They would make clear that the U.S. interest was in real democracy and the development of a solidly-based political process. They would also, by their actions, make clear our strict neutrality in the electoral process.
- The Ambassador should stay very aloof from these proceedings. We have had a succession of envoys who have hurt themselves by over-involvement in politics and personalities. We are involved—and deeply—but I urge that we keep the Ambassador out of the front lines.
These, in any case, are my sentiments.
As a footnote: how much money are we putting into the Vietnamese police program? How many advisors do we have working on police and security services and how effective are their contacts with Loan and his subordinates? Doesn’t our help—and our contacts—give us any leverage at all? Someone should look into this angle.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967. Secret; Nodis. On his covering memorandum to the President, June 20, Rostow wrote: “The reason for his recommendation on page 2 is:—time is very short, in Bill’s judgment; —Bui Diem is trusted by Ky. If not this route, then Bob should get out there fast.” A handwritten postscript by Rostow reads: “Perhaps you might talk to Bui Diem on the three key points (p. 2).” The President wrote in response: “I agree, see me.”↩