(Picture courtesy of incredibleimages4u.blogspot.com.)
Watching the administration struggling with its inherited alliance with Pakistan reminds us old folks all too well of the end of the Vietnam War era. While today’s activists are horrified to find military allies in a heavily financed regime working either both sides, or the other side, this is not news to old hands.
When we were sacrificing U.S. soldiers to keep the South Vietnamese free of communism, or claimed to be, there were members of the supported Diem regime fully colluding with the Viet Cong. The news of this came from reporters who located themselves in our fighting areas and saw betrayals. Soldiers finding themselves unable to trust villagers in South Vietnam themselves committed atrocities against those civilians, as occurred at My Lai in 1968.
The news upset the public, which was fully aware of their own funds’ going to prop up a regime that had widely murdered rivals and that held a segment of the country by relying on U.S. assistance in military, economic, and service areas. Dissidents inveighed, emotionally, against U.S. ‘imperialism’, the sort of action ‘regime change’ personifies to us today.
The meeting covered by documents we now possess, of President Kennedy discussing Diem’s brutality and mismanagement with his cabinet, are revealing now.
The President opened the meeting by summarizing where we now stand on U.S. policy toward Vietnam. Most of the officials involved are in agreement. We are not papering over our differences. We are agreed to try to find effective means of changing the political atmosphere in Saigon. We are agreed that we should not cut off all U.S. aid to Vietnam, but are agreed on the necessity of trying to improve the situation in Vietnam by bringing about changes there. Reports of disagreements do not help the war effort in Vietnam and do no good to the government as a whole. We must all sign on and with a good heart set out to implement the actions decided upon. Here and in Saigon we must get ahead by carrying out the agreed policy. Because we are agreed, we should convey our agreement to our subordinates. There are no differences between Washington and Ambassador Lodge or among the State and Defense Departments and the CIA. Ambassador Lodge has full authority to pull into line all U.S. government representatives in Saigon.
The President then turned to consideration of the draft public statement (copy attached).(2) He said that attacks on the Diem regime in public statements are less effective than actions which we plan to take. He preferred to base our policy on the harm which Diem’s political actions are causing to the effort against the Viet Cong rather than on our moral opposition to the kind of government Diem is running.
Mr. Ball said that he and Secretary Rusk felt that there should be a stress on the moral issues involved because of the beneficial effect which such emphasis produced in world public opinion, especially among UN delegates. The President replied that the major problem was with U.S. public opinion and he believed we should stress the harm Diem’s policies are doing to the war effort against the Communists.
That public opinion was against the continued support of the anti-Communist Diem’s government because it was imposed unnaturally on it people is very like the problems today with Pakistan’s government.
While not having ‘boots on the ground’ in Pakistan is probably warding off more conflict between the U.S. government and its allies there, the position of sending money and keeping our mouths shut has probably intensified the frustration of officials trying to put a good face on a bad position.
What solutions there are would take in-depth knowledge of the actual relationship of the people of Pakistan with their government, and that government’s ability to give them the life they want. That isn’t possible for our U.S. presence to determine.
During the Vietnam War, a relative of mine was part of a team given the job of determining how to make the South’s government more functional. It was not part of their report, but a joke he told privately later, that they determined it would take some other people than the South Vietnamese to run their government. Needless to say, western bias made it impossible to do such a study, or produce viable results.
That the military in Pakistan feels more loyalty to its own people than to U.S. needs should not be a hindrance to our ends. Thoughtful and capable diplomats can work with, not against, the needs of a society when that is given to them as their job.