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Comments by YACCS
Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Time to coup?

They said nice things about Diem
as well. I wouldn't take any rides to
the airport if I were you

Rumors abound that the US government is looking to replace the Maliki government with a troika of strongmen.

First it was Tet, now it's Diem

JFK and the Diem Coup

by John Prados

By 1963, about mid-way through America's involvement in the wars of Vietnam, the policymakers of the Kennedy administration felt trapped between the horns of a dilemma. South Vietnam, the part of the former state of Vietnam which the United States supported, remained in the throes of a civil war between the anti-communist government the U.S. favored and communist guerrillas backed by North Vietnam. Government forces could not seem to get a handle on how to cope with the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, as the communist movement was known. American military and intelligence agencies disputed progress in the war. While denying journalists' observations that the United States was slipping into a quagmire in Vietnam, the Kennedy administration was privately well aware of the problems in the war and tried measures of all kinds to energize the South Vietnamese effort.

One big problem was in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, with the South Vietnamese government itself. Plagued by corruption, political intrigues, and constant internal squabbling, the South Vietnamese were often at loggerheads. With the Americans, whose interest lay in combating the National Liberation Front guerrillas, the South Vietnamese promised cooperation but often delivered very little. There were other difficulties rooted in the way the South Vietnamese government had been created originally, and the way the U.S. had helped organize the South Vietnamese army in the 1950s, but these factors would not be directly relevant to the events of 1963. (Note 1)

The Saigon government was headed by President Ngo Dinh Diem, an autocratic, nepotistic ruler who valued power more than either his relations with the Vietnamese people or progress in fighting the communists. Diem had originally come to power by legal means, appointed prime minister of the government that had existed in 1954, and he had then consolidated power through a series of military coups, quasi-coups, a government reorganization, a referendum on his leadership, and finally a couple of staged presidential elections. Diem styled South Vietnam a republic and held the title president, but he had banned political parties other than his own and he refused to permit a legal opposition. From 1954 onwards the Americans had been urging political reforms upon Diem, who repeatedly promised that reforms would be made but never enacted any.

The autocratic style of Diem's leadership was not lost upon the South Vietnamese, who were less and less enamored of the Saigon leader. A major military coup against Diem had occurred in November 1960, which he had survived only due to divisions among the military leadership. Diem exploited these to play factions off against each other and thus secure his own political survival. In February 1962 disgruntled air force pilots had bombed the presidential palace in hopes of killing Diem and forcing new leadership, but that too did not work, as Diem at that moment had been in a different part of the palace to the one that was attacked. Diem reassigned military officers to improve his security but again neglected to undertake political reforms. (Note 2)

The Kennedy administration between 1961 and 1963 repeatedly increased the levels of its military aid to Saigon, funding growth in the Vietnamese armed forces. The U.S. military, and American military intelligence, focused on the improvements in the ratio of troop strength between the government and guerrillas that followed from force increases and argued the war was successful. Diplomats and aid officials were more pessimistic. The CIA, ordered to make an intelligence assessment in the spring of 1963, permitted their view to be swayed by the military and produced a national intelligence estimate that downplayed Diem's political weaknesses. President Kennedy heard warnings from his State Department officials and a rosy picture from the military, and felt reassured by the CIA estimate. (Note 3)

White House impressions were shattered beginning on May 8, when South Vietnamese security forces acting under the orders of one of Ngo Dinh Diem's brothers, fired into a crowd of Buddhist religious marchers celebrating the Buddha's 2,527th birthday. The rationale for the breakup of this march was no more serious than that the Buddhists had ignored a government edict against flying flags other than the South Vietnamese state flag. Another of Diem's brothers, the Roman Catholic archbishop for this same area of South Vietnam had flown flags with impunity just weeks before when celebrating his own promotion within the Church; the Buddhists may have been encour-aged by that act to think their own actions would be permitted as well. Suppression of this Buddhist march in the ancient Vietnamese imperial capital of Hue led to a political crisis, the "Buddhist crisis," that ignited Saigon throughout the summer and fall of 1963. (Note 4)
President Diem's worsening situation led him to declare martial law in August 1963, and on August 21 Ngo Dinh Nhu used the martial law authority to carry out major raids on the largest pagodas of the Buddhist group behind the protests. Nhu conducted the raids in such a way as to suggest that South Vietnamese military commanders were behind them, and used troops funded by the United States through the CIA to carry out the raids. Within days of the raids, South Vietnamese military officers were approaching Americans to inquire as to what the U.S. response might be to a military coup in Saigon. (Note 6)

The rest of the story is simple: they murder Diem, appoint a strongman and lose anyway. IS this the new strategy for Iraq? Without an army to enforce the new rule? With Sadr having enough bodies to collapse any government? Well, I guess we really have to leave Iraq in a shambles.

posted by Steve @ 12:35:00 AM

12:35:00 AM

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