Discussion in 'Vietnam - General Discussion Forum' started by Rod Page, Oct 6, 2012.

  1. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Jan 7, 2010
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    Insights from an article by Professor Alfred Mc Coy, which originally appeared at


    VIETNAM ('V') : When Diem returned from exile to Saigon in 1954 he had no real political base. He could, however, count on powerful patrons in Washington, notably Democratic senators Mike Mansfield and John F. Kennedy & also legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale to secure his tenuous hold on power in southern Vietnam whilst U.S. diplomats sent his rival, the Emperor Bao Dai, packing for Paris.
    AFGHANISTAN ('A') : In Afghanistan Karzai too had little or no political base. The Bush administration installed Karzai in power not through a democratic election, but in lobbying foreign diplomats to appoint him interim president. When King Zahir Shah, a respected figure whose family had ruled Afghanistan for more than 200 years, returned to offer his services as acting head of state, the U.S. ambassador in a “showdown” with the monarch forced him back into exile.

    V :
    Within months, thanks to Washington’s backing, Diem won an absurd 98.2% of a rigged vote for the presidency and promptly promulgated a new constitution that ended the Vietnamese monarchy after a millennium.
    A :
    When Karzai attempted to win on the first round of elections through gaining more than 50% of the vote, UN observers found 28% of his votes to be fraudulent.

    V :
    Channeling all aid payments through Diem, Washington managed to destroy any of his potential rivals in the south, while winning the president a narrow political base within the army, among civil servants, and in the minority Catholic community. Backed by massive American support, Diem proceeded to deal harshly with South Vietnam’s Buddhists (1), harassed the Viet Minh veterans of the war against the French, and resisted the implementation of rural reforms that might have won him broader support among the country’s peasant population.
    A :
    As Karzai's regime slides into an ever deepening state of corruption, election rigging and incompetence NATO allies rush to fill the void with their manpower and material. As billions in aid pours into Kabul, a mere trickle escapes the capital’s bottomless bureaucracy to reach impoverished villages in the countryside.

    V :
    When the U.S. Embassy pressed Diem for reforms, he simply stalled or threatened negotiating with Hanoi, convinced that Washington, having already invested so much of its prestige in his regime, would be unable to withhold support. Diem’s ultimate weapon was his weakness - the threat that his 'shaky' government might simply collapse if pushed too hard.
    A :
    When the U.S. demands reforms of Karzai, he taunts America with threats of allying with the Taliban. Washington seems so deeply identified with the counterinsurgency campaign in the country that walking away does not seem an option.

    V :
    The Americans invariably backed down, sacrificing any hope of real change in order to maintain the ongoing war effort. As rebellion and dissent rose in the south, Washington ratcheted up its military aid to battle the communists, inadvertently giving Diem more weapons to wield against his own people, communist and non-communist alike.
    A :
    Washington seems so deeply identified with the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan that walking away does not seem an option.

    V :
    Working through his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu the Diems took control of Saigon’s drug racket, pocketing significant profits as they built up a nexus of secret police, prisons, and concentration camps to deal with suspected dissidents. At the time of Diem’s downfall in 1963, there were some 50,000 prisoners in his gulag.
    A :
    In Afghanistan opium production soared from 185 tons in 2001 to 8,200 tons just six years later - 53% of the country’s economy. Recent Karzai’s presidential campaign teams have included vice presidential candidate Muhammed Fahim, a former defense minister linked to drugs and human rights abuses; Sher Muhammed Akhundzada, the former governor of Helmand Province, who was caught with 9 tons of drugs in his compound in 2005; and the president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, reputedly the reigning drug lord and family fixer in Kandahar. The U.N. estimates that ordinary Afghans spend $2.5 billion annually, a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, simply to bribe the police and government officials.

    V :
    From 1960 to 1963, the regime only weakened as resistance sparked repression and repression redoubled resistance. Soon South Vietnam was wracked by Buddhist riots in the cities and a spreading Communist revolution in the countryside. Moving after dark, Viet Cong guerrillas slowly began to encircle Saigon, assassinating Diem’s unpopular village headmen by the thousands.
    A :
    Karzai's presedential campaign teams have also included the likes of Abdul Dostum, an Uzbek warlord who slaughtered countless prisoners in 2001. Karzai's regime remains weak with Taliban capable of threatening it at will.

    V :
    The US military mission in Saigon tried every conceivable counterinsurgency strategy. Nothing worked. Even the best military strategy could not fix the underlying political problem. By 1963, the Viet Cong had grown from a handful of fighters into a guerrilla army that controlled more than half the countryside.
    A : Every possible counterinsurgency option has been tried in Afghanistan; unsuccessfully it would appear.


    In the midst of the crisis in Vietnam newly appointed American Ambassador Lodge approved a plan for a CIA-backed coup to overthrow Diem. When troops stormed the palace, Diem and his brother Nhu fled to a safe house but were flushed from hiding by promises of safe conduct into exile & boarded a military convoy for the airport. The CIA operative Conein, however, had vetoed the flight plans. A military assassin intercepted the convoy, spraying Diem’s body with bullets and stabbing his bleeding corpse in a coup de grace. The country soon collapsed into a series of military coups and counter-coups that crippled army operations. Over the next 32 months, Saigon had nine new governments and a change of cabinet every 15 weeks — all incompetent, corrupt, and ineffective.

    Washington was convinced that it could not just withdraw from South Vietnam without striking a devastating blow against American “credibility" & searched desperately for anyone who could provide sufficient stability to prosecute the war against the communists eventually embracing a military junta headed by General Nguyen Van Thieu. Installed and sustained in power by American aid, Thieu had no popular following and ruled through military repression, repeating the same mistakes that led to Diem’s downfall. But chastened by its experience after the assassination of Diem, the U.S. Embassy decided to ignore Thieu’s unpopularity and continue to build his army. Once Washington began to reduce its aid after 1973, Thieu found that his troops simply would not fight to defend his unpopular government. In April 1975, he carried a hoard of stolen gold into exile while his army collapsed with stunning speed, suffering one of the most devastating collapses in military history.

    So to what's to be learnt from Vietnam:

    The question to ponder is - will president Karzai, like Diem, be doomed to die on the streets of Kabul or will he, one day, find himself like Thieu boarding a midnight flight into exile?

    (1) When protesting Buddhist monk Quang Duc self immolated in Saigon in June 1963 (1) the Kennedy administration could no longer ignore the crisis. As Diem’s batons cracked the heads of Buddhist demonstrators and the wife of Diem's brother, Nhu, applauded what she called “monk barbecues,” Washington began to officially protest the ruthless repression. The car in which Quang Duc drove to Saigon before self-immolating can be seen at Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue - see:


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