235. Telegram From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to Secretary of State Rusk1

CAS 9117. “For the Secretary of State from Ambassador Bunker.

  • “1. I have carefully examined the implications of recent political developments here culminating in the filing of the Thieu/Ky Presidential slate and their consequences in terms of U.S. interests. The Thieu/Ky alliance, however shotgun, removed the threat of a rancorous political fight within the military establishment during the election campaign, and this, in the long run, should prove a substantial net gain. Both men appear able and willing to keep their respective military supporters in line and handle the residual restiveness in both camps. It is unfortunate that the ticket lacks the civilian element we had hoped the military slate would have and we recognize that, if the Thieu/Ky slate wins, the charge will inevitably be made that the election process has done little but formalize present arrangements. Nonetheless, in the likely event that Thieu and Ky do win, the need for serious and significant civilian participation can be met through inclusion of civilian elements in the campaign, in the new government, and through the development of organized civilian support which can evolve in the direction of a broadly-based national party.
  • “2. It seems to me that a Thieu/Ky victory is probable and, more important, that it can be achieved in a reasonably honest manner in an honest electoral contest. Furthermore, in light of political realities here, I believe an honest victory by the Thieu/Ky slate would be in our national interests and would facilitate the effective prosecution of the many difficult tasks which we and the GVN face in a variety of spheres. The problem is to keep the election honest and to keep the military slate’s campaign moving in acceptable fashion in the proper directions.
  • “3. All factors considered, I feel the best way to address this problem is to have [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] embark on [Page 588] a modest [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] political action and advisory effort with General Ky. Thieu [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]2 has informed Ky that he (Thieu) has neither a campaign organization nor plans for an election platform and said that he will rely on Ky to take the initiative in these matters. At their 10 July meeting, Ky informed his [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] contact that he was undecided whether to take the initiative in waging the campaign, or sit on his hands and allow the ticket to be defeated. I believe we should encourage Ky to act, but guide his actions and influence their directions in the manner outlined below. Using the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] channel, I am passing word to Ky encouraging him to campaign energetically. In addition, within the framework of the Department’s message of 30 June via CAS,3 I am authorizing [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to proceed with a modest [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] program as outlined below.
  • “4. A [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] channel for a continuing exchange of views with Ky (and hence a secure means of getting our advice to him) has been established. Ky has selected as his representative an individual whom he trusts implicitly, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], whose contact role will not be known to other members of Ky’s entourage, and whose past experience does not include undue association with Americans. I am satisfied that this channel can be kept [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and that the risk of using it is acceptable. I plan to use it for the following purposes:
    • “A. To provide us with a comprehensive view of the GVN’s campaign strategy and tactics and a means of influencing them.
    • “B. To monitor the evolution of the Ky/Thieu relationship. The last-minute creation of their joint ticket under stress-filled conditions has obviously made for an uneasy balance between these two rivals. Through the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] channel (and other [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] assets), we should receive early warnings of any serious rift developing between Ky and Thieu that could affect their continued candidacy or the election process itself.
    • “C. Through this channel, we can exert continuing pressure to insure that the military slate does not employ politically counterproductive campaign tactics, and that the government keeps its promise of affording equal transportation, communication, and other support services to the civilian candidates. Any abuses of military, police, or [Page 589] bureaucratic elements in the furtherance of the Thieu/Ky ticket can be brought immediately and forcefully to Ky’s attention for immediate action.
    • “D. A properly-drafted platform for the campaign can go far beyond the simple and immediate objectives of voter appeal. Using this channel to provide platform guidance and advice will enable us to shape the position taken on questions of domestic and international importance (e.g., national reconciliation) and keep the military slate moving toward the democratic objectives we would want to see realized in Vietnam.
    • “E. In recent months, Ky and his immediate circle of Vietnamese advisors have laid the groundwork for an alliance composed of various Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, and VNQDD segments. This alliance has the potential for becoming a civilian group taking an active role in the campaign and attenuating the image of the Thieu/Ky slate as a military monolith. After the election, this group could conceivably evolve into the kind of genuine, broad political party Vietnam urgently needs. This [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] channel could be used to monitor and guide the development of this organization in ways that will civilianize a Thieu/Ky government and facilitate the creation of a true political party.
  • “4. The above program is one of guidance and advice in return for information and influence. I am not proposing that we support Ky’s campaign in any substantial material way, although by separate message I shall request modest financial support for the rather hopeful effort described in paragraph 3E above. In addition I believe it will be desirable, quite independently of this effort with Ky, to give a limited degree of financial support to certain candidates for the new Vietnamese legislature, and will cover these in the separate message also.4 I believe that the program we are undertaking with Ky, supplemented by modest [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] support to some worthwhile parliamentary candidates, will help us along the road to healthy democratic government in South Vietnam.”
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. This telegram was passed to Read under cover of a July 11 memorandum by George W. Allen, Vietnamese Affairs Staff, CIA, who noted that it was received at 5:45 a.m. (Ibid.)
  2. Not found.
  3. Document 224.
  4. Not further identified.