219. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach) to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • Message to Ambassador Bunker

I have prepared the attached to carry out your instructions at lunch.2

I respectfully urge, however, that you amend the message to permit Bunker to comment and to give his view on the wisdom of this [Page 555]major step. This could be done simply by inserting the words “subject to your comment if you see any objection” at the very beginning of the message.

I believe Ambassador Bunker’s judgment is necessary for the following reasons:

a.
He himself clearly believes that it is fruitless at this moment to try to get Thieu to withdraw. (His CIA/channel cable received yesterday.) So does Westmoreland.3
b.
All our information, for example from Tran Van Do, tends to support the judgment that Thieu is so bitter at Ky that he will not pull out now.
c.
In our own judgment, the proposed action at this time would be construed by both men as telling Thieu to get out in front of Ky. At the time the promise was made to you in Guam, both men were on even terms. This is no longer so. Ky is much further along than Thieu in every respect having picked a running mate, set up an organization, and all the rest. Thieu has not done any of these things and is thus the only one in a position to withdraw without drastic loss of face.
d.
A renewed intervention in these conditions can only mean to Thieu that we are backing Ky. Since the message would be delivered in the presence of both, any action taken under it would almost surely be leaked by one or the other very rapidly. Ky would treat it as an American endorsement not only of his being the military candidate, but his being the candidate backed by the US.
e.
For these same reasons, the message in oriental terms would be a drastic blow to Thieu’s face and prestige if he acted on it. Far from getting him to withdraw, there is a very substantial chance that it would dig him in for keeps. As matters stand, he still might withdraw if he sees Ky’s strength is too great and if Ky has removed his present grounds for claiming that Ky is acting corruptibly and excessively.
f.
Both Ky and Thieu have individually been reminded of the Guam promise several times, and once as a direct message from you.4

In short, it is my own considered judgment that the message is at best a gamble and involves certain built-in drawbacks. At the very least, I believe you should have Ambassador Bunker’s judgment before directing him to proceed in this manner.

Nicholas deB Katzenbach
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967. Secret. Rostow sent this memorandum to the President on June 28 at 9:55 a.m. with the comment: “Herewith Nick, having thought over your instruction at lunch, asks that we give Bunker a chance to comment before we execute the order.” A notation on the covering note indicates that the President saw the memorandum. The regular Tuesday Luncheon met on June 27 from 1:20 p.m. to 2:40 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) No record of the meeting has been found.
  2. The attached draft instructions to Bunker requested that he inform Ky and Thieu that the inability to decide on one military candidate, as promised at Guam, “presents a grave threat to unity of military and apparently has contributed to atmosphere of doubt on honesty and integrity of elections.” The Ambassador should add that the President wanted the issue “worked out at once—and commitments kept—on some fair basis of common understanding.” (Ibid., National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967) A revised and expanded version of this message was sent and is printed as Document 222.
  3. The last sentence is handwritten by Katzenbach. Reference is to Document 218.
  4. In a handwritten footnote Katzenbach noted the times Ky and Thieu were contacted on the matter and by whom: “Ky—April 20-Lodge; May 30-Bunker; June 14-Bunker. Thieu—May 4-Westmoreland; May 26-Bunker; June 15-Bunker.”