THE CURRENT "anti-corruption campaign" in South Vietnam may be the final and fatal development in the Thieu regime's two-year struggle for increased American military and economic aid. The struggle has been littered with deceptions--between Vietnamese officials and American intelligence groups, and between these groups and Congress.
The Thieu aid lobby opened its campaign last March. Its "Committee to Beg for Aid" boasts of a three-star general, a Cabinet member with Washington connections, and a former ambassador to the United States. Thieu has given them over $2 million to wine, dine, and womanize potential Washington supporters of increased U.S. aid. One week after this fact was revealed in the Saigon newspaper Dai Dan Toc, Saigon's Department of Social Welfare announced that it would spend less than $10,000 to relieve the central provinces threatened with famine.
The activities of the committee are apparently not enough. In an effort to dramatize a "North Vietnamese offensive," Saigon has feigned "tactical withdrawals" from its own territory. After Congress voted to reduce the military aid request, a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee report, released on August 5, acknowledged that the U.S. Embassy assisted Saigon in falsifying the maneuvers around Tong Le Chan and Ben Cat in order to sabotage the talks between Saigon and the PRG in Paris.
The Saigon daily Dien Tin reported this spring that the regime's slogan this year is "Anything goes in seeking aid." But anything is not going so well with Congressmen, who are increasingly skeptical about U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin's pleas for more weapons. Martin is shifting his position, calling for aid which will induce "economic takeoff." In order to achieve this, Thieu's trusted minister Hoang Nha explained to U.S. officials last March 30, "South Vietnam would need some $700 million in economic aid from the U.S. each year until 1980, at which point it could get along with $80 to $90 million."
But no nationally-based economy is possible without dependence on PRG-controlled areas, and the gigantic Saigon army, bureaucracy, and urban refugee population are also impressive obstacles to postwar reconstruction. According to the Vietnam Resource Center in Cambridge, "What the Saigon regime and the World Bank have in mind is not a nationally-based economy but a foreign-based one...where labor and natural resources such as timber and sea-products can be cheaply exploited." The army bureaucracy and refugees could then serve as pools of cheap labor.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs reported in July that "if the U.S. is going to continue to provide economic and military assistance to South Vietnam it makes no sense to exclude incentives for private American companies to invest in that country. The stimulation of private investment is needed to help South Vietnam's movement toward economic self-sufficiency as well as to cushion reductions in grant assistance programs." Corporations have not, however, been scrambling for these incentives because of Thieu's aggression against the PRG which, if anything, has made investment seem much less attractive.
Thieu has become progressively more embarrassing to the United States, as stories break on how U.S. aid is funnelled to the prison system, bogus newspapers, and the Saigon secret police. This year it was discovered that Thieu has blocked investigation into the shady business dealings of a fertilizer company owned by his brother-in-law, has built houses and acquired land with government money, and has profited from the distribution of scarce rice in famine areas. He has also been accused by Catholic priests of smuggling drugs. Father Thanh, a conservative Catholic, stated at a recent anti-administration rally that South Vietnam needs a clean government so "our allies will trust us" and send aid and investments.
AT SENATE HEARINGS during June and July, Senator Humphrey implied that a clean, well-financed government in Saigon might not necessarily include Thieu. Surprisingly, Ambassador Martin agreed; however, it was noted that a military coup would be, for public relations, a bad gamble. Last month the Ford administration sent General William Lansdale to South Vietnam. Lansdale is an ex-CIA agent who has been enshrined in the Pentagon papers for planning, along with Henry Cabot Lodge, the overthrow of Diem in 1963. Lansdale then headed the "pacification program" until Thieu banished him from the country, to make room for a safer replacement--Chuck Colby. Lansdale is despised by members of the Dai Viet, Thieu's party. The Vietnamese press reports that last month he sounded out religious leaders and supporters of the '63 coup on the possibilities for replacing Thieu. Ngo Vinh Long, a member of the Vietnam Resource Center, said that the visit, Lansdale's first since 1968, intends to show U.S. leaders that the Ford administration may want to pressure Thieu into resigning.
A more surprising event, reported by Doi Dan Toc on September 23, was Henry Cabot Lodge's secret entry into South Vietnam, kept secret from the Western press. Meanwhile, Douglas Pike, once a CIA agent, had also arrived, and saw many political leaders, mainly moderates connected with religious groups who ran candidates in 1967. He suggested that they might be interested in coming forward during a "crisis." On September 9 he was appointed personal secretary on Vietnam to Henry Kissinger.
Last month a secret radio station in the region around Hue began broadcasting well-documented reports of rallies against Thieu. On September 14 a second station close to Saigon joined in. The NLF expressed great surprise in its own broadcasts, because no group--religious, students, or military--has the facilities in Saigon to broadcast without detection. Experts guess that a mobile transmitter is involved. The only group which is known to possess one of these expensive, hard-to-come-by devices is the CIA.
BUT PERHAPS the most bizarre development recently was the secret meeting between Kissinger and Saigon's foreign minister in New York on October 1. According to two Vietnamese dailies, the minister met afterward with individual congressmen to emphasize that aid to Saigon is not synonymous with aid to Thieu. The Western press did not report these meetings.
Thieu, it seems, is in a touchy situation. On the one hand, he cannot continue to suppress newspapers and the demonstrations led by a strong Catholic opposition. Even the daily run by Thieu's nephew is publicizing the riots to show that the president has eased up on censorship. As Thieu said in a speech October 2, obviously directed to the Western press, without the support of "the people and the military" he will resign. On the other hand, the current demonstrations allow opponents to continue publicizing corruptions of the regime which were not permitted to filter down to the masses, and certain segments are focusing on Thieu's sabotage of the Paris talks. Thieu's response has been to selectively beat up demonstrators. No right-wingers have been injured to date, although two left-liberal priests were severely beaten last week. Thoi Bao Ga, a Cambridge-based Vietnamese monthly, argues that liberalization by the regime will lead necessarily to a settlement at the talks, followed by Thieu's ouster. If the Americans don't get to him first.
A middle-level CIA agent recently leaked information on one possible successor to Thieu, a trade union bureaucrat named Buu. A report issued this month by a group of South Vietnamese senators documents how Buu's organization is funded by the "American Institute for Free Labor Development" and the CIA, the same agencies which bribed Chilean unions to oppose Allende. Buu's group in turn controls the "Peasant-Labor Party," which ironically lacks either peasants or laborers in the party hierarchy. Buu knows George Meany personally and after an expose this summer in the German weekly Der Spiegel, may be too vulnerable to propel himself into power.
A more likely choice is Tian Van Lam, the young president of the Saigon Senate known chiefly for his eloquence at the Paris talks, as well as for such gallantries as attending to the cape of NLF negotiators Madame Binh. Lam is also conspicuously untouched by any hint of scandal. He was made president of the senate soon after his election and enjoys connections with several international firms. In the event Thieu resigns, his Cabinet must resign with him, and by Vietnamese law the head of the senate becomes president.
But rather than wait patiently until someone more "liberal" arrives in power to accept U.S. aid, or hope for reforms by the present regime, we must demand that all aid to South Vietnam be cut off immediately. In the light of unabated repression of religious groups, students and others--with the help of U.S.-funded prison and police systems--it is clear that any aid to the current regime wiolates Article 4 of the peace agreements, which says that the U.S. will not "intervene in the internal affairs of South Vietnam." The American government also stands in clear violation of Article 9, which guarantees the Vietnamese people's right to self-determination and states that foreign countries "shall not impose any political tendency or personality on the South Vietnamese people." This prohibits America from trying to choose Thieu's successor, as much as it prohibits America from working to keep Thieu in power at any cost.