273. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) and the Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam (Berger)1

CAP 81279. The cable (State 181155)2 in response to news of Thieu and Huong interest in a large national political party went out from Washington without high-level attention. But you should know that we are all interested in this development and regard its success as critical to the consolidation of all that we have been trying to achieve in Vietnam by military and political means.

[Page 790]

We look forward greatly to your own reflections on how best this new impulse in the GVN may be encouraged and backstopped by the U.S. and, in particular, what we can do from here to help you.

As you know, I have brooded about this problem for some years. Only you on the spot can assess how this initiative can be nursed along, but for what it may or may not be worth, here are a few thoughts which did not emerge clearly in the cable.

The operational objective of this party or coalition is, of course, to prepare itself to beat the inevitable Communist Popular Front, under whatever name, that will seek power politically in South Vietnam after the war. From the beginning, this election objective should be kept in mind in organizing the party and preparing the way for it to back a single Presidential and Vice Presidential slate.
Obviously the concept of this party is emerging because intelligent South Vietnamese fear the Communist capacity for organization, and fear equally their own history of and instinct for factional fragmentation. Fear is a pretty good beginning for men to group together; but, equally, the party requires a platform and a vision on which all non-Communist groups might agree. The headings will be clearer to you and the South Vietnamese than to me. But among them might well be:
  • —loyalty to the Constitution and the constitutional process;
  • —true independence of everyone, including the U.S.;
  • —equity with respect to rural and urban affairs;
  • —rapid economic development;
  • —ending of corruption;
  • —a commitment to cooperation with the New Asia and its institutions;
  • —a willingness to normalize relations with North Vietnam, but no unification unless the people of South Vietnam want it under conditions where there is no duress.
In my judgment, quite obviously, this should be, in a double sense, the government’s political party. Under present constitutional circumstances I think we have to put aside the old Diem fixation in this matter. The South Vietnamese should be studying the experience of Mexico, India, Tunisia, Malaysia, and South Korea in particular with respect to this party or coalition. Specifically, the constitutional government should build the party for the good straightforward purpose of getting itself re-elected. On the other hand, this very wide-based party, like any other, should be one of the instruments which influence the content of the government’s policy. Its broad and, if possible, almost universal non-Communist political base should ensure that the government is sensitive to the widest possible spectrum of interests in the country.

The ability to beat the Communists in national elections obviously must rest on the ability to beat them in both open and closed politics at [Page 791] the local level. This suggests to me that an effective party must have the means for exercising influence at the local and provincial levels, whether through elections or more informal mechanisms. The task is to help our friends find and institutionalize that blend of idealism and self-interest that makes an effective political party. Among other things, this is going to mean access to power by party members at both the national and local levels—for otherwise nobody is going to lose sleep politicking for an existing government.

You will forgive me for what is, almost certainly, an exercise in teaching the sucking of eggs; but I believe you both know my long-standing concern with the issue.

In any case, we all look forward greatly to getting your own reflections.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1 EE (6), 6/68, Post Tet Political Activity. Secret. Sent through back channels to Saigon. Five days earlier, Vietnamese Senator Tran Van Don had informed the Embassy that, at Thieu’s request and with the support of Huong, he was to form a new front group that would include all political groups. (Telegram 29475 from Saigon, June 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 13 VIET S) A report on the evolution and development of the Lien Minh is in CIA Intelligence Information Cable TDCS DB–315/02565–68, August 1. (Central Intelligence Agency, DDI Substantive Political Files, Job 91–R0084R, DDI Files on Vietnam, Vietnam 1968 (General), Part IV)
  2. ln telegram 181155 to Saigon, June 12, the Department requested the Embassy’s assessment of the viability of a national political organization and the problems that would encumber its formation and operation. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 13 VIET S)
  3. Bunker reported his concurrence with Thieu’s contention that such an umbrella group would be an effective means of eventually dealing with the NLF in terms of national reconciliation. (Telegrams 29880 from Saigon, June 13, 29981 from Saigon, June 14, and 30500 from Saigon, June 20; ibid., POL 27 VIET S) This idea was seconded in joint Embassy-CIA Station telegram 30859 from Saigon, June 24, in which the prospects for a national political movement were assessed. It concluded: “This view of the realities here demands that the American mission focus its energies on a few key objectives, in revolving around improved Government of Vietnam performance and effectiveness, not only technically but politically. If this can be accomplished, it will facilitate the formation of a political mechanism whereby the people will return this government to power or bring in another nationalist combination which is acceptable or at least reject any alternative offered by the political guerrillas who pick up where the 122 millimeter rockets leave off.” (Ibid., POL 13 VIET S) Further operational issues were discussed in joint Embassy-CIA Station telegram 4461 from Saigon, June 26. (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/ISS Files, Job 78–32, [word not declassified]/Chronological File, Vol. 2) Telegram Director 12439 to Saigon, June 28, transmitted approval for the Station and the Embassy “to proceed with actions on several different levels to stimulate the development of a political vehicle in preparation for an eventual free electoral contest with the NLF.” (Ibid.)