The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

A snappy treatment of the US/Diem farrago

In the VVA, by Herbert S Parmet, The Making and Unmaking of Ngo Dinh Diem.

[From a cursory search, Parmet seems to have the web seal of approval.]

He makes the case (towards which I am currently inclined, as mentioned a couple of days ago) that the problem was intervention in SVN after Geneva in support of a leader of such little competence and legitimacy as Diem.

By the advent of JFK, it was way too late. He might have been able to contemplate a withdrawal maƱana (ie after November 1964) - as he is quoted as telling fellow Diem-lover Mike Mansfield (text to n102) - but, as the song almost says, we'll never know.

Parmet speaks of Diem's Catholic connection as as if it were already old hat. (His piece is undated.) I'm still intrigued, though.

Once Diem was in place, the condemnations of the likes of Lawton Collins (earlier piece) were overcome by the success of the evacuation of refugees from the North [1] and his crushing of the sects (something on which USG - in the shape of Dulles (p17) - was initially by no means keen.

Parmet doesn't (that I noticed on a first reading) deal with the possibility that JFK could have taken advantage of the Buddhist crisis in 1963 to withdraw from SVN on a tide of US popular outrage. (It's a suggestion I've seen made - but it sounds drutherful to me.)

The question of precedent needs to be addressed - I'll mention while I think of it:

The golden rule of any bureaucracy is, Don't do anything for the first time. So what were the precedents facing JFK?

There was the loss of China: I don't think (I have nothing to cite on the point, though) that any serious player seriously contemplated US military intervention against Mao's boys in support of the KMT. On the other hand, that was the GOP's Old Reliable big stick with which to beat the Dems. (Several political generations later, its effect could still be seen in the cramped and crabbed performance of John Kerry on national security matters in 2004.

On the other hand, Laos was neutralised in 1962 without Kennedy being run out of town on a rail.

Indonesia - a much larger country than SVN and next door to kith and kin ally Australia - was allowed to slide into something close to communism in the later years of Sukarno. The country enjoyed the attentions of the CIA (in the Sumatra rebellion in 1958 and the 1965 coup), but no sign of US combat troops!

The fear that US withdrawal from SVN would cause a fatal crisis of confidence amongst regional allies, leading to a tumbling of dominoes, I would hypothesise to be US cover for doing what they would have done anyway. I've seen umpteen dominoes quotes from US officials, but no analysis I can recall of how realistic the fear was. (I'm sure there's plenty somewhere!)

  1. The relative contributions of Diem, the CIA and Tom Dooley - if the two last can be separated - I wouldn't guess at.

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