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

26229. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my forty-ninth weekly message.

A. General

I have not detected much change in the mood of the GVN or the people since my message of last week.2 Although some anxiety is still evident, the feeling of apprehension regarding American intentions, apparent in early April, has very considerably lessened. In my talks with Thieu within the last few days, he has exhibited a quality of orderly thinking about the plans and purposes of the enemy’s politico-military strategy and has viewed with a quiet self-confidence our ability to cope with the next enemy offensive which he is certain is coming. He believes our spoiling operations may have delayed Hanoi’s efforts to launch another offensive, but that it cannot be long delayed, the timing probably May or early June. One excellent result of your March 31 statement and Clark Clifford’s speech3 has been that the Vietnamese are really beginning to face up to the fact that the time will come when they will be on their own. This, together with the after effects of the Tet offensive, has meant that the GVN and the Vietnamese people are buckling down to the job of mobilizing their resources with much greater energy and determination than they have heretofore exhibited. In this Thieu has taken the lead. He had grown in stature and in confidence and is beginning to exhibit qualities of real leadership. He has set about the numerous tasks involved in getting the mobilization bill through the Assembly, in setting up machinery for its implementation, and restructuring the government so that it will function more effectively, and making plans to broaden its base in order to widen popular support with characteristic thoroughness; also with characteristic caution in view of the sensitive problems and relationships involved with Ky, the military, Loc, and others.4
In fact, I have some fear that, spurred on by our urging, as well as by the other factors I have mentioned, the GVN may be trying to do too many things at once, its reach may be beyond its grasp. There are obvious limitations on the human resources available to it and on their capabilities and these are being strained to the limit. There are, however, some untapped resources both here and among individuals abroad which should be utilized. I have previously urged Thieu to bring back competent people who, for one reason or another, have either left or been forced to leave the country, but whose talents under the changed conditions now existing, I believe, could be put to good use. We can also help by influencing the government to concentrate on the priorities. For the immediate present, I think these are a) getting the right kind of mobilization bill passed with adequate and effective machinery for its implementation; b) the restructuring of the government, broadening its base to give it wider popular support and organizing itself so that decisions can be taken more quickly and, of equal importance, followed through and implemented: good decisions often are made by Thieu at the top, orders are given to carry them out, but the breakdown comes in the follow-through; c) effective pulling together and coordination of all the GVN pacification activities, as the US supporting side is coordinated; and d) a continuing program to equip, train, and improve the Vietnamese armed forces.
Enemy propaganda has stressed the theme that 1968 is the year of climax and it seems to me that there is reason to believe that Hanoi in fact now intends to move on the negotiating, as well as military front. I also think that the present stalemate in agreeing on a site for negotiations is a preview of the kind of tactics we may expect from Hanoi, that it is prolonging the stalemate in order to strengthen its military posture in South Vietnam, to continue a massive infiltration of men and materiel, and trying to get the maximum propaganda advantage out of what it chooses to picture as our unreasonableness.5

[Omitted here is discussion of political, military, civil, and economic issues.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. The telegram is printed in full in Pike, ed., The Bunker Papers, Vol. 2, pp. 426–432.
  2. Document 207.
  3. See Document 169 and footnote 8, Document 205.
  4. Bunker reported in telegram 26386 from Saigon, May 4, that 2 days earlier Thieu saw Tran Van Huong to discuss Huong’s assumption of the premiership. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. The first two consultative meetings between Embassy and GVN officials on negotiations were held May 2 and 6. (Telegrams 26094 from Saigon, May 3, and 26630 from Saigon, May 7; ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE)