352. Letter From the Ambassador to Thailandʼs Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency (de Silva) to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy)1

Dear Bill:

On the eve of Grahamʼs departure and Lenʼs arrival, I should like to make a few observations relating to the tasks I have been carrying out over the past 11 months.

I am more than ever convinced that the approach we are using here is the right one. The approach: to appoint a State Department officer to an Embassy position senior in rank to the heads of all other U.S. Diplomatic Mission elements, and to charge this person with the responsibility of carrying out successful counterinsurgency doctrine, to require support of and adherence to that doctrine, and to encourage, cajole, or otherwise cause the appropriate Thai authorities to adopt and follow the same doctrine through tactics and procedures in harmony with the Thai environment. Graham has gone to great lengths to arm me with his authority over all U.S. counterinsurgency activities, and has ranked me, in terms of [Page 783] protocol, above the other elements of the mission, including our military establishment here. This has proved itself very correct, and absolutely necessary. This kind of job could not have been seriously attempted, let alone accomplished, from any lesser stance.

We like to think ourselves, as a government, as being flexible, quick to respond, and wizards in the fields of organization and coordination of various efforts. I can tell you with assurance that, in the field of counterinsurgency work, this is simply untrue. Institutional jealousy, reluctance or even refusal to modify or depart from programs which are no longer relevant or which have been overtaken by hostile developments—these are only a few of the kinds of problems we face in trying to develop the light-footed and nimble ability quickly to divert resources or to shift priorities, as is required to deal effectively with a fast moving and rapidly changing insurgent movement. I think Graham has done a masterful job in shaping and molding the resources he had to deal with and priorities facing him. I like to think that, using the authority he vested in me, that I have been able further to bring internal flexibility to our use of resources in support of counterinsurgency efforts. This is a constant battle, however, one that is never won, and one which requires the knocking of American heads and generally just being unpleasant from time to time. In this field, believe me, we donʼt coordinate or cooperate instinctly or easily. I am not referring to individual personalities, but simply to the parochial natures of the bureaucracies involved.

To this general observation I shall add one in particular: the presence and conduct of Stilwell was more than a burden, it was a deliberate and positive danger to achieving our objectives. He is a walking disaster, and I hope he never gets near to a policy or political role again.

To sum up this point, itʼs clear that a senior point of concentrated authority, (a civilian and probably a State Department officer) needs to be put in charge of the American aspects of this kind of problem, not simply to adjudicate differences of opinion or interdepartmental problems, but to dominate and lead the composite effort, in a coordinated and cohesive way. I think it understandable that an ambassador himself, or his DCM, are probably not able to give this matter the kind of concentrated attention it requires; hence, a senior counselor or even a minister-counselor.

In this connection, Mac Godley made an interesting observation during his stay here as head of the Inspectorsʼ group. He recognized and endorsed the need for a senior person to perform this function, but despaired of ever getting the few qualified senior FSOs who might be available to accept such an assignment in times to come. His remark was: “FSOs of that caliber and seniority simply want to become ambassadors, and they wonʼt allow themselves to be diverted to a specialization such as this, however important.” He may be right, but if he is I think that we, all of us, are in trouble. I am ever more convinced that a civilian must sit at [Page 784] the head of the American counterinsurgency table, and in my opinion that civilian should come from the State Department. He must exercise control and direction, and be able to dispose of resources as among independent departments, establish or change priorities, influence or change on-going programs, and impose criteria and doctrine on the other elements of the diplomatic mission, military and civil alike. I am plagued by the conviction that had we established such relationships in Vietnam several years ago we would have had the chance of coming successfully to grip with the basic challenges of “peoplesʼ war” without having to go the military route in order to deal with a civilian rural problem that was ignored and allowed to get out of hand and become a full scale war. Key to this is that civil control and seniority over our military structure be established early, firmly, and without equivocation. This requires a strong ambassador who understands the problem, as Graham has, and a Department of State that is, in its turn, prepared and indeed determined in all ways to sit at the head of the counterinsurgency table at the Washington end, and to require and supervise the supporting roles to be played by the other agencies and departments, military and civil alike.

I think we have made much progress out here. We have defined and enunciated concept, doctrine and tactics. We have, in the American community, established a common understanding and acceptance of objectives and the basic means of getting to those objectives. We have also been able to bring about an adequate but broadening understanding and acceptance by our Thai colleagues of the essential tasks of counterinsurgency, and the detailed ways in which these tasks must be advanced. Both of these are significant accomplishments, essential to Thai success in dealing with their problem. I might add that they could not have been accomplished except for the support, understanding and indeed insistence that Graham has lavished on the effort. In my opinion, we have come to the point now where the Thai will really be able to get their arms around this insurgency, and contain it, even compress it. And thatʼs what our purpose here has been. There has been demonstrable progress in this direction in recent months; I believe the next six months will continue in the same favorable direction.

As you know, I wish to leave here by next May at the latest, and believe I can do so in good conscience, considering the reasons why I came here in the first place. Of course, matters here may develop in such a way as to make an earlier departure appropriate. I would be quite agreeable with this. I would imagine that early talks with Len will have a bearing on this, depending on how he wishes to dispose his mission, and the ways in which he wishes to approach the matters I have discussed in this letter. I remember our luncheon conversation just before I left Washington, at which you speculated even then that Len might indeed become Grahamʼs successor in 1967. You also remarked that we could review my [Page 785] status at that time, in terms of staying on or returning to my original organization. I assume this understanding still obtains.

I donʼt think that Graham necessarily agrees with everything I have said in this letter, but I donʼt believe that he would disagree strongly with the major outlines of it. He has of course seen the letter. In any event I offer it to you for whatever interest or value it may have.

Best regards.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Ambassadorʼs Private Correspondence, 1967–1968. Secret; Official-Informal.