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

29059. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my ninth weekly telegram:

A. General

The half way mark in 1967 coinciding as it does with the completion of two years of the present government and with the approaching elections may mark a good time to attempt to cast up a balance sheet of developments here. We shall be doing this in detail during the visit of Secretary McNamara and Under Secretary Katzenbach next week. This is obviously a difficult and complicated undertaking involving many questions of judgment and some imponderables. I thought it might be worthwhile, however, if I were to attempt a summary of the more important elements relative to the present situation and prospects ahead as I and others here see them.
The military situation has greatly improved. The North Vietnamese army has not won a single major victory in the South, on the contrary has suffered ever heavier losses on the battlefield. At home much of their infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, half of their aircraft destroyed, an estimated half million people diverted to repair of war damage, and the movement of men and supplies made infinitely more difficult. Food shortages have developed. It seems apparent that physically and materially the country has been badly hurt.
By contrast South Viet-Nam has made substantial progress in a good many ways. On the political front there has been a stable government for two years, a Constituent Assembly has been elected, a Constitution drafted and promulgated, village and hamlet elections held and Presidential and Congressional elections scheduled for September and October.
Inflationary pressures are severe, but these have been kept under reasonably good control. While prices have gone up, food supplies are ample.
Vietnamese armed forces are being steadily improved and in many instances have turned in excellent performances.
Pacification is gaining some momentum.
Defections to the GVN under the Chieu Hoi program are running at nearly twice the 1966 rate.
There are other aspects of the picture, however, which must be considered. While the enemy offensive has been blunted, it has not been eliminated. Infiltration continues from the North at an estimated rate of 6,500 a month. Hanoi’s determination does not seem to have been seriously affected by the severe physical punishment it has taken. Indeed there is one school of thought which holds that North Viet-Nam is determined to continue the struggle with the expectation that we will eventually tire of carrying the heavy burden involved in our effort. There is apparently no present indication of Hanoi’s desire to enter into negotiations. And it seems quite possible that the Soviets and Communist China may have some kind of open end commitment to keep North Viet-Nam supplied with weapons and matériel.
On the South Vietnamese side there are also problems.
With two military Presidential candidates there is danger that the armed forces will become politically involved and diverted from the essential task of fighting the war.
As far as the electoral process itself is concerned, Ky’s arbitrary use of censorship and General Loan’s activities have been subject to widespread criticism. Serious doubt has been cast on the possibility of holding honest elections.
Although ARVN/RF/PF have been greatly improved, there is still a long way to go. Leadership, ability to cope with guerrilla warfare, and security are areas in which there are still substantial deficiencies.
This is especially true of the ARVN/RF/PF involvement in the pacification program. The crux of the program is adequate Vietnamese motivation and involvement, for pacification in the final analysis must be done by the Vietnamese. No matter how efficient the organization of our role in pacification may be, without Vietnamese carrying the main burden the program cannot succeed.
This is true not only of pacification but of all the other aspects of the effort here—military, economic, political, and social. Lack of involvement and motivation are evident in the apathy, inertia, widespread corruption and incompetence one finds in many areas of the civil administration.
In this connection I believe that we lack adequate means of finding out what the Vietnamese people are really thinking and what their aspirations are. There is no fully adequate opinion-taking organization here, such as we had in the Dominican situation. I believe this is a serious deficiency for we ought to know more about what Vietnamese [Page 558] are thinking, especially the 55 percent to 60 percent of the population which lives outside of the cities. However, from soundings throughout the country, security and social justice, especially getting rid of corruption, seem to be highest on the list. There is obviously great deficiency in both.
While there is much work still to be done on many counts and many obstacles to overcome it seems to me that we should continue to concentrate on our main priority objectives. I believe these to be:
A vigorous, imaginative and flexible prosecution of the war within acceptable limits. Here, as I have stated previously (Saigon 28293),2 it seems to me that the crux of our military problem is how to choke off NVN infiltration. I believe ways can be found to do this effectively and that we should pursue this matter with the utmost urgency.
Through free and honest elections establishing a broadly based, stable, functioning, constitutional government. It will require constant vigilance on our part to see that electoral procedures are kept free and honest; and that the fact of their being so is credible. There is fortunately evidence now that our pressures on Ky in this respect are beginning to have some effect.
An expedited pacification program which will win the allegiance of the Vietnamese people including the Viet Cong, and which offers them the opportunity to become part of the social fabric of the country.
Reorientation of the mission of the Vietnamese armed forces and their revitalization with increased emphasis on improvement and quality.
The optimum use of available manpower. This study is already underway under Ambassador Locke. We have discussed some of the problems including the need of mobilization after the elections with Thieu and Ky. We have found them both receptive and understanding of the need to move ahead on this vitally important matter.
Economic stability and development. Economic stability will depend on our ability to restrain the inflationary pressures. Economic development is an essential means to political progress especially as it affects the more than half of the Vietnamese who live in the villages and the hamlets. Production can be increased through imaginative and carefully conceived programs, despite the war. Looking to the longer run, it seems to me that the work of the Lilienthal group in planning long range economic development is both important and hopeful. I doubt if there is any better political weapon than involving the Vietnamese [Page 559] people in their own development, to let the people themselves plan and carry out activities through which they can increase their incomes and improve their lives.
There is obviously much work still to do. Balancing out the pluses and minuses, however, I find none of the latter insuperable. The Vietnamese are intelligent, hard-working, and if properly guided, encouraged and well led can perform effectively. I believe that we are making steady progress and are gradually achieving our aims in Viet-Nam. If we stick with it and reinforce the success already achieved, I am confident that we shall come out very well in the end.

[Here follows discussion of political, economic, and military matters.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Rostow sent this telegram to the President under a covering note dated June 29 in which he stated: “Herewith Amb. Bunker’s mid-year summary. The priorities are clear: the task is to move on them.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8B (1)[A] Bunker’s Weekly Report to the President) The notation “L” on the covering note indicates that the President saw the telegram. This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 60–68.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 215.