444. Memorandum From the President’s Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson1

SUBJECT

  • A Coalition Proposal from the Viet Cong

There are many signs indicating that during the coming months we may have to consider seriously the proposition of a political settlement in Viet-Nam based on some kind of coalition government. It is not clear what form such a proposal may take but the New York Times editorial of December 242 is an example of what it might be. While we are informally on the record as opposing a coalition government, I think that we should be considering what variations of this theme we may encounter and how best to respond to an overture under conditions when there is sure to be a great clamor for a quick, affirmative reply and impatience over any delay to look for booby traps.

Since a coalition government is only one way to provide a political role for the Viet Cong in postwar South Viet-Nam, it should be considered along side other alternatives which are within the bounds of feasibility. Starting with the coalition concept in its most unattractive form, there are at least four formulas which need to be taken into account.

a.
Abolish the new constitution and the recently elected government in South Viet-Nam. Choose up sides again under some agreed formula, probably under some sort of international supervision, assigning certain government positions to the Viet Cong, the others to non-Communists (probably excluding Thieu, Ky and their principal associates). General elections to be held later under ground rules established by the coalition government. Just what is happening to the war in this period is not clear. The Times editorial indicates that the coalition government would restore peace prior to the elections.
b.
As a result of negotiations and following a cease-fire, hold a new general election under international supervision. NLF to participate as a party in the election and to join the ensuing coalition government as a bloc in numbers based on the outcome of the election.
c.
Reject the concept of a coalition government on the ground that it is the historic Communist ploy to bring government to a standstill and to prepare an eventual Communist takeover. Counter with the offer of a special general election held one year after the termination of hostilities during which time repentant Viet Cong receive amnesty and economic assistance in establishing themselves in South Vietnamese society. These rehabilitated Viet Cong to be permitted to participate as a party in the election if they desire. Whatever they can win by the ballot will be theirs.
d.
Same as c but with any Communist party barred from the election. Amnestied Viet Cong to be permitted to participate as individuals but not as a political party.

Any initial Communist offer will probably be something like a. They may regard b as a possible fall-back position to be taken only under extreme duress.

From the U.S. point of view, either a or b should be viewed as a sell-out and a strong case prepared for public use setting forth the reasons why both are unacceptable. Alternative c looks to me like the preferred solution from our point of view and one susceptible of a strong public defense. However, it is not likely to receive ready acceptance by the South Vietnamese who are afraid to take on the cohesive and disciplined Viet Cong in a political campaign because of their sense of weakness in their own ranks arising from internal divisions.

Thus, the South Vietnamese will not want to go beyond alternative d and it will take some doing on the part of our representatives in Saigon to soften their position. But I believe that it is essential to do so if we are to be able to defend our case before U.S. and international opinion. It simply will not do for our Vietnamese allies to stymie a reasonable political settlement on the ground that they are afraid to contest a Communist minority party of less than 20 percent in a free election.

I am submitting this memorandum from a feeling of concern that, as a government, we have not made up our minds as to how to respond to a Communist overture directed at a coalition government and have not concerted adequately with our Vietnamese allies. (I am not aware of what may have taken place during your recent trip which bears on this matter.) We need to know what political formula we would prefer (or at least would accept), prepare public opinion for the rejection of such alternatives as a and b, and get a concurrence from Saigon to a proposition which we could jointly espouse.

If such work is going on at the present time, I have no knowledge of it. I am always afraid of a tendency to delay our preparations until we have the Communist proposition on the table in front of us. Then [Page 1126]we are committed to a defensive response which abandons all the advantages inherent in the initiative.

M. D. T.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8I, Taylor Memos (2 of 2). Secret. In an attached covering note to Rostow, December 26, Taylor wrote: “Walt, I would appreciate an opportunity to discuss this with you.”
  2. The editorial asserted that military victory was unachievable and that a settlement involving a temporary coalition government would be in line with U.S. war aims. See The New York Times, December 24, 1967.