140. Memorandum for the Record1
- Meeting Between the President and Ambassador Bui Diem
The President met late yesterday with Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem in the President’s office. Purpose of the Ambassador’s call was to review the present situation in advance of Bui Diem’s return to Saigon this week for consultation with his Government. William J. Jorden of the NSC Staff was present. The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. and ended at 7:10 p.m.
The President welcomed the Ambassador and remarked on his early return to Saigon. The Ambassador said he planned to underline three things in his talks with his own President and other Government officials:
- the mood in the United States and the rising tide of criticism against American involvement. He planned to stress the extent to which the criticism is aimed at the Vietnamese themselves and their lack of vigorous action.
- the desperate need for improved performance by the Vietnamese—especially the Army and the Government. He would stress the need for the GVN to attack such social evils as corruption.
- the need for President Thieu and Vice President Ky to work in harmony and to form an effective team.
The President indicated he thought these were all matters worth emphasizing. He said that criticism was indeed rising here and that he was under heavy pressure.
He was firm in his conviction of the rightness of our course in Viet-Nam. And he planned to ask the Congress and the American people for additional sacrifice and expenditures. But he said we could not do the job alone. The Vietnamese had to bear a heavier load, too.
He noted how much of the criticism focused on Vietnamese actions or lack of action—the slowness in drafting Vietnamese youth, the misuse of AID supplies, the buying of draft deferments, the corruption of officials and others.
The President noted that some officials had been removed but he thought indications were that more should be ousted. He suggested [Page 409] that the Vietnamese ask MACV for a list of inefficient or corrupt commanders and then “get rid of them.”
The Ambassador noted that present plans called for drafting 65,000 Vietnamese in the next few months. They were now thinking of raising that to 100,000 or 125,000 and perhaps even 200,000 by the end of the year. He said this kind of increase raised problems of equipment, training facilities and budget support. The President assured him of our help in meeting equipment requirements.
The President asked Jorden to prepare a memo for the Ambassador listing the 8 or 10 things we think need most to be done. The Ambassador assured the President he would use such a memo in his talks with his own officials.2
As the Ambassador was about to leave, the President wished him success and asked him to tell President Thieu and Vice President Ky to “work together and get moving.”3
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1 EE (3), 3/16–31/68, Post-Tet Political Activity. Secret; Nodis. Prepared by Jorden on March 19. Rostow supplied talking points for the meeting in a memorandum to the President, March 18, 1:25 p.m. (Ibid.)↩
- In a March 20 covering memorandum transmitting this memorandum to Rusk, March 20, Bundy wrote that it was “based upon the recent exchange of messages with Ambassador Bunker on what needs to be done in Viet-Nam as a matter of priority.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)↩
- In a meeting on March 20, Rusk told Diem to “emphasize that the problem of public opinion in the United States is directly related to the feeling our people had as to the dedication and performance of the Vietnamese Government and armed forces. It would be good news that would make an important difference in the attitude of the people of the United States if it were clear that a maximum effort was being made by the people involved in Viet-Nam.” (Telegram 134107 to Saigon, March 21; ibid.) Diem also met with Clifford on March 20. Clifford told him that the United States and Vietnam had to end the war before the American public’s support for it ended, although “the results of this conclusion will not be very satisfactory to the GVN or to us or to Hanoi or to the NLF” since “everybody is going to have to give up a lot.” (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, 1968 Files, VIET 091.112)↩