52. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

109831. 1. We recognize here that situation continues to remain fluid in Saigon and throughout the country. We fully endorse the moves you have begun with the GVN in an effort to recover from the physical and psychological blow against the Allied effort. We feel particularly that joint GVN and US task force is good first step and we would hope that it will prove to be the vehicle by which Thieu and the members of his government can be urged not only to take the emergency measures that are necessary to recover from recent events but also to move ahead with the programs outlined in his Inaugural address and his January 25 State of Nation speech.2

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2. In the aftermath of their urban offensive, the VC seem to have achieved a short term advantage, in political if not in military terms. Assuming that the remaining NVA/VC forces can now be rapidly driven from positions they still occupy in cities and towns and the GVN can get on with the business of picking up the pieces, the advantage could be swung to our side.

3. There are some indications which incline one toward the judgment that VC have put significant portion of their resources on this “throw of the dice.” Interrogation reports and other intelligence sources support the thesis that they expected and hoped to find a significant percentage of the urban populace ready to join their cause in response to direct exhortations following their show of force in the cities and towns. However, as you have pointed out their expectations do not appear to have materialized.

4. Another interesting indication tending to support the “all or nothing” thesis is the announcement by Liberation Radio of the creation of the “Front of National Democracy and Peace Alliance.”3 In unveiling what purports to be a wholly new organization, with its sweeping revolutionary call to arms, the NLF has tacitly conceded that its own capacity to stir up and mobilize broader segments of population has remained limited, notwithstanding its claim to be sole representative and spokesman for the SVN people. If this ploy does not produce significant defections from the government side, the NLF may subsequently find itself at a disadvantage in its efforts to represent itself before the world as the one valid organization representing the majority of the people. This suggests the importance of vigorous psywar effort to expose it as just another phony Communist front.

5. Thieu and the GVN on the other hand have been dealt a significant blow and Thieu must move energetically if GVN is to recover from it. Even assuming that the GVN can regain firm control of the situation in the cities, and the VC forces are forced to withdraw, Thieu may encounter important criticism in the press, the National Assembly, and in the Council of Generals, all of whom may seek to blame him for letting the enemy forces strike such a blow. It is important that we do what we can to spur him and to assist him in taking the kinds of measures which will neutralize this criticism and channel it in a constructive direction. But in doing so we would want at all costs to insure that the constitutional fabric so carefully woven over the last 2–1/2 years should not be torn at this time.

6. With this preamble we would like to lay out for your consideration certain of our own thoughts as to what steps we believe might be [Page 122] considered at this time. Essentially these are our first thoughts following the events of this week but they derive from the experience of the past few months. As we see it, the immediate tasks of the government include the following:

An energetic and well-coordinated effort to mobilize all elements of the government, particularly the leadership of the National Assembly, in a rededication to the struggle against the enemy.
A carefully thought out program of contacting important nongovernmental elements within the body politic and enlisting their support for the government. This would include obviously labor, the religious sects (including even the militant Buddhists if it can be determined that they did not conspire or collaborate with the VC/NVA forces), the intellectuals, and the press.
A sweeping re-appraisal of the bureaucracy in an effort to evaluate performance of key officials during the crisis. We would hope and expect that officials on the national, provincial, district levels who performed well during the recent crisis would have their performance acknowledged in some suitable way. By the same token we would expect the GVN to dismiss those who had failed to measure up. (If GVN can be persuaded to conduct such a review, this might provide opportunity we have long sought to get rid of inefficient elements, both military and civilian.) The GVN should get on with the task of clearing house.
A useful by-product of recent developments might be a modification in Thieu’s sense of timing and priorities. As a result of the crisis he might shift from his cautious, methodical approach to problems and programs to a more dramatic energetic one—or at least give freer rein to those who naturally take a more activist posture. We might come, hopefully, to find him more receptive to our advice in future and more willing to act quickly on it. Crisis might also convince him of necessity of collaborating more closely with Ky and delegating him more authority. Note that Ky appears to have been taking de facto control of task force on GVN side presumably with Thieu’s blessing. This would now provide opportunity to discuss and clear projects and programs directly with him without undue risk of damaging Thieu’s sensibilities. Thieu might, indeed, be willing to assign him action role and withdraw himself into position of presiding officer.
Finally, in addition to our suggestions above and those actions being considered by the joint GVN-US task force, we would like to see an energetic hard-hitting psywar effort organized immediately. This would have three basic purposes: (1) to reassure the populace that the GVN authority is still intact and will be rapidly reasserted; (2) to reaffirm the US commitment; and (3) to exploit what we hope will be a significant [Page 123] disarray and confusion in VC ranks if their offensive fails completely. All the mass media facilities available to the Mission and the GVN should be organized in an effort to achieve those three goals.

7. As stated above this represents only our preliminary comments on a still fluid, fast moving situation. The steps you have taken so far, including your excellent backgrounder, and the apparently helpful first meeting with Thieu-Ky of the joint GVN/US task force seem to us eminently correct. We are very aware of the difficult situation facing you and we intend to be as helpful as possible while at the same time trying to avoid adding to your already enormous tasks.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by John Burke (EA/VN), cleared by Lannon Walker (S/S) and Katzenbach, and approved by Habib.
  2. See Document 53.
  3. As broadcast on January 30.