31. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Roche) to President Johnson1

Some time ago (in a memo dated November 4, 1966).2 I suggested that our plans in Vietnam should be predicated on a split between Thieu and Ky.

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  • —The Mission took a dim view of this prediction, arguing that Ky and Thieu were buddies for life.

But now the cables and intelligence reports indicate that a Ky-Thieu split is in full bloom with each of them building political capital for the presidential election.

This is splendid—so long as they both stick to political capital development.

However, the temptation to reach for guns is going to be very great.

  • —Only one of them can be elected President and clearly if a military man is President the Prime Minister must be a civilian.
  • —So, come election night, one or the other will be unemployed.

In power terms, Ky has General Loan and the National Police, who just did a spectacular job in disposing of General Co.3

Thieu, to a lesser degree, has ARVN, but the odds are that he could beat Ky in an open election, which would give him the mantle of legitimacy.

Whatever the outcome, we have enormous stakes in the peaceful, political evolution of South Vietnam.

I strongly recommend that we take out coup insurance, that is, announce privately to the Vietnamese through the Ambassador and General Westmoreland, that we will not permit a coup to take place.

And set up contingency plans in Saigon so that our power can effectively be utilized to block any coups. This is the only thing the Vietnamese will taken seriously.

John P. Roche4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXIV. Secret. A copy was sent to Rostow.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 291.
  3. Nguyen Huu Co was ousted the previous week from his Ministerial offices.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.