Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter One: From Terror to Aggression Segment 18/27
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Robert Kennedy also had reservations about making the withdrawal plan public. He felt that we were "so deeply committed to the support of the effort in Vietnam that Diem will not be greatly influenced" by the announced plan (one of its purposes being to press Diem onwards with the war effort). At a White House Staff meeting on October 7, Bundy noted that reservations had been voiced about the withdrawal, expressing his surprise that "some people were taking as `pollyanna-ish' the `McNamara-Taylor' statement that we could pull out of Vietnam in two years." He stated that the "general line" for a forthcoming presidential press conference "will be that in two years the Vietnamese will be able to finish the job without US military forces on the scene -- a position considered reasonable by everyone around the table" (Bundy, Forrestal, Generals Taylor and Clifton [JFK's military aide] are mentioned).59

Through October, problems with the GVN continued to mount. Nhu openly called for the Americans to depart, saying that he and his brother had opposed the American intervention at "the time of greatest danger" in 1961-1962, and now wanted US troops out completely. The US should only provide aid, he demanded. Ambassador Lodge warned that "we should consider a request to withdraw as a growing possibility."

Another problem was the lack of "effectiveness of GVN in its relation to its own people." Asked about this, Lodge responded in an "Eyes only for the President" communication that "Viet-Nam is not a thoroughly strong police state...because, unlike Hitler's Germany, it is not efficient" and is thus unable to suppress the "large and well-organized underground opponent strongly and ever-freshly motivated by vigorous hatred." The Vietnamese "appear to be more than ever anxious to be left alone," and though they "are said to be capable of great violence on occasion," "there is no sight of it at the present time," another impediment to US efforts. The same concerns were expressed about the Indonesian Generals at the same time, though they proved equal to the task, gaining much esteem for their Nazi-style ruthlessness. The Saigon Generals, however, were never able to meet Washington standards.60

Small wonder that JFK was unwilling to commit himself to the McNamara-Taylor withdrawal proposal. Note that the same defects of the US clients underlie the critique of the strategic hamlet program by Kennedy doves (see page 54).

Intelligence continued to report that the optimistic projections were dubious while pressures for unification and neutralization remained strong. Paul Kattenburg, at the dovish fringe, reported yet another problem: "Chemical defoliation and crop destruction operations are effective weapons against the VC," but "Present approval procedures are too cumbersome" and "The psychological and civic action aspects of the operation are not particularly good." The need is for more efficiency and better PR.61

Washington's coup plans continued, with Ambassador Lodge in operational command. The only hesitation was fear of failure. JFK thought that we "could lose our entire position in Southeast Asia overnight" if the coup plans failed. When the coup finally took place on November 1, replacing Diem and Nhu (who were killed) by a military regime, the President praised Lodge effusively for his "fine job" and "leadership," an "achievement...of the greatest importance" that "is recognized here throughout the Government." With the generals now in power, "our primary emphasis should be on effectiveness rather than upon external appearances," the President added. We must help the coup regime to confront "the real problems of winning the contest against the Communists and holding the confidence of its own people." The "ineffectiveness, loss of popular confidence, and the prospect of defeat that were decisive in shaping our relations to the Diem regime" are now a thing of the past, the President hoped, thanks to Lodge's inspired leadership and coup-management, with its gratifying outcome (November 6).62

Two weeks before Kennedy's assassination, there is not a phrase in the voluminous internal record that even hints at withdrawal without victory. JFK urges that everyone "focus on winning the war"; withdrawal is conditioned on victory, and motivated by domestic discontent with Kennedy's war. The stakes are considered enormous. Nothing substantial changes as the mantle passes to LBJ.

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59 Ibid., 359, 387.

60 Ibid., 385-6, 402. Ch. 5.

61 FRUSV, IV418-20, 448.

62 Ibid., 472, 579-80.