32. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
- CIA Assessment of Thieu’s Prospects
The CIA Station Chief in Saigon has submitted a very optimistic assessment of President Thieu’s prospects for the near term in South Vietnam (Tab A).2 The report stresses that Thieu presently is in a very strong position, and the Communists present no political threat in the near future; however, in the longer term, economic uncertainties and resulting popular malaise probably will represent Thieu’s greatest challenge.
We share the Station Chief’s confidence in the viability of the Thieu government—provided it receives adequate foreign assistance—but believe that he has underestimated the psychological, political and economic strain posed by the continued presence of the NVA in South Vietnam. The highlights are summarized below.
- —Thieu’s popularity and political grip has never been stronger. His traditional allies, the military and the bureaucracy, remain as firm in their support as ever. No threat to his rule is likely to materialize within the army as long as he projects a credible image as a firm anti-Communist leader able to secure U.S. support. Despite its inadequacies, his centralized and personalized administration will be a major asset and widespread anti-Communism will certainly offset any shortcomings in Thieu’s grass roots organization.
- —Political parties—regardless of their line-up—do not pose any immediate danger to Thieu. His nationalist opponents are divided and ineffectual. There is little prospect for opposition unity or for violent confrontations with the authorities during the cease-fire period.
- —Short of another main force offensive, the Communists are in no position to pose a direct and significant threat to the Thieu administration. Their urban infrastructure has been paralyzed by the GVN’s pre-cease-fire rallies.
- —Considering the Communists’ relative weakness, Thieu will not need to concede anything significant, such as the modalities for national elections. The Communists therefore will probably abstain from any conceivable election contest whose conditions will likely favor Thieu’s position.
- —However, the transition from war to peacetime politics will not be easy for Thieu. Economic problems—demobilization, resettlement, austerity—may prove his greatest challenge. GVN efforts to reduce dependence on U.S. aid will be unpopular and will certainly become a major political issue.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 163, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, January 1973–April 1973. Secret. Sent for information. Kissinger’s initials appear at the top of the page.↩
- Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Information Cable, TDCS DB–315/02299–73, March 13, attached but not printed.↩