The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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American influence (under Ngo Dinh

Diem) merely replaced French domina-

tion. Even had the United States adopted

a unified and enduring anti-corruption

approach, neither Diem nor Nguyen Van

Thieu (or the revolving door of generals

between them) could have established

strong popular legitimacy for a simple

reason: The ROV fought for its own sepa-

rate survival as the de facto successor to

a colonial administration, with no more

than lip-service paid to Vietnamese

nationalism and unification. In contrast,

North Vietnam, led by nationalist—albeit

Communist—figures credited

for the end of French rule, pur-

sued national unification with

ruthless focus that garnered

support in large swaths of the

South quite ignorant of Karl

Marx or Cold War politics.

Saigon fell quickly in

1975, not because the Nixon

administration “took its

eye off the ball” on corrup-

tion or because Army of the Republic of

Vietnam generals were pocketing ghost

soldier salaries, but because the ROV

never was a sustainable entity. And in

1975 (unlike 1965, 1968 or 1972), Ameri-

can forces were not employed to rescue a

state that had no legitimate claim to birth

or continued existence. It is, in fact, quite

plausible that Diem would have fallen

earlier had he refused to countenance

the corruption that the Saigon elite had

mastered during French rule.

Also, the historical record is replete

with examples of corruption, profiteer-

ing and other malfeasance in North

Vietnam during the war; and corruption

remains a scourge in Vietnam today. Yet

Hanoi won, despite its own corruption

and enduring bombing well exceeding

the combined totals for U.S. bombing

of Germany and Japan in World War

surprise and disappointment that the

first program in the listing, the National Security Language Institute for Youth,

requires only a 2.5 GPA.)

Jan Zehner

FSO, retired

Ogden, Utah

Legitimacy and

Corruption in Vietnam

I enjoyed the June


’s focus on the

corrosive impact of corruption, espe-

cially having witnessed the distorting

and counterproductive effects of poorly

managed project funding in

Iraq and Afghanistan.

I similarly continue to

appreciate State Depart- ment Historian Stephen Randolph’s analyses (and

commentary in the Foreign

Relations series), including

his case study (based in part

on a post-war RAND survey)

on the role of corruption in

undermining U.S. objectives

during the Vietnam conflict.

However, it is critical to distinguish

between root causes and attendant

symptoms. The Saigon regime’s corrup-

tion was the latter, and South Vietnam’s

artificial character and lack of political

legitimacy from inception to collapse

could not have been cured by a bolder or

more consistent dose of American anti-

corruption programming.

Salvaged as a non-Communist rump

entity after Dien Bien Phu, the Republic

of Vietnam inherited the French colonial

bureaucracy and erstwhile French/

Vichy/Japanese puppet emperor Bao

Dai as head of state. The ROV’s rejec-

tion of the Geneva provision for national

elections (which Ho Chi Minh certainly

would have won) solidified the funda-

mental illegitimacy of the regime.

II, because of single-minded pursuit of

intangibles—national unity and rejection

of foreign interference—supported by a

majority of Vietnamese in most sections

of the country.

As we champion anti-corruption

efforts in our diplomacy (and ensure bet-

ter stewardship of taxpayer resources in

future stability operations), it is critical to

identify and learn from the core reasons

for our Vietnam tragedy and not again

fall under an illusion that we can invent

a sustainable partner polity irrespective

of a foreign political culture’s legitimacy


Neil Hop


Washington, D.C.

Aid to Africa:

The Policy Context

Permit me to comment on Don Lot-

ter’s interesting article regarding aid to

education in Africa in the April issue of

your excellent journal (“Development Aid to Africa: Time for Plan B?”).

The United States and other donors

have been funding education programs

and projects in African countries for

decades. Many have been quite success-

ful. Others have failed—in most cases not

because they were ill-designed or badly

managed, but because political strife and

civil conflicts ruined them along with

other aid activities. Unfortunately, this is

likely to continue in many countries.

Mr. Lotter states that “foreign aid

has failed to pull sub-Saharan Africa

out of poverty,” and refers to “the failure

of development aid.” Such opinion

deserves comment on several counts.

First, only a country can advance

itself. Outside aid can help, but cannot

do the job absent a strong will and con-

tinued positive effort from the receiving