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In the autumn of 1963, the Kennedy administration was made aware of a plot against the president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. There had been growing unhappiness within the elite of South Vietnam over his handling of the Buddhist crisis and the Viet Cong insurgency. Earlier in the year a plot had been hatched by junior officers, but it had been suppressed. This new plot had the support of the generals.
Unhappy with Diem’s leadership, the Kennedy administration, upon learning of the pending coup, sent a cable to the American ambassador in Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, instructing him to inform Diem of their unhappiness with him and to let the generals know that they would not intervene in a coup attempt. This, in effect, gave Washington’s stamp of approval to the plot.
On November 1, 1963, the coup was launched, led by General Duong Van Minh, the senior general in the army and the main coup plotter. Diem’s loyalists were quickly scooped up by the army and then Diem and his brother were arrested. Instead of just deposing him, which was the plan communicated to the American government, both were executed in the back of an America armored personnel carrier.
The reason that this long forgotten bit of 20th century trivial still matters is it led directly to what Americans refer to as the Vietnam War. Instead of realizing that they had no idea what they were doing in that part of the world, the Kennedy administration plunged the country into a guerilla war in Asia. The result was a calamity for both the military and the political class of the United States.
In one of life’s great ironies, the people who cut their political teeth in the domestic revolts over the Vietnam War now find themselves in the same situation. This time they are the people in charge and the client state is Ukraine. Similar to 60 years ago, the American government has to deal with an erratic and reckless leader who may not be long for this world. That leader is Volodymyr Zelensky.
Contrary to all of the happy talk in Western media, the proxy war against Russia is not going well for the West. On the battlefield, the Russians are slowly grinding down the Ukrainian army, which has become a blackhole for Western arms. Everyone is waiting for the winter offensive that the Russians have been planning for months. This promises to put the Ukrainian army in an even more difficult position.
The Russians are also systematically dismantling the infrastructure of Ukraine with waves of missile and drone strikes. The Ukrainians have no way to defend against these attacks and contrary to the predictions of Western planners, the Russians are no where near running out of missiles. If anything, it appears they have ramped up their production of missiles and drones.
This promises to unleash a humanitarian disaster on the rest of Europe as Ukrainians flee the collapse of their country. Current estimates say that as many as eight million Ukrainians could make their way to Europe this winter. Europe is teetering on the abyss economically because of soaring energy and food costs, so waves of migrants from Ukraine could not come at a worse time.
This is where the Zelensky – Diem comparison comes into play. Like Diem, Zelensky is becoming a serious problem for Washington. They built him into a folk hero who must be supported at all costs. The trouble is Zelensky is a loose cannon who seems to be hell bent on escalating the war. The most recent example is the Ukrainian missile that landed in Poland. Zelensky still insists it was the Russians.
To make matters worse, Zelensky has surrounded himself with ultranationalist and Bandera fanatics. Even if Washington could find a way to have him agree to negotiations, the fanatics would probably kill him. Zelensky understands this perfectly well, which is why he continues with the overheated rhetoric. There is only one way out for him and that is getting NATO directly involved in the war.
This is an impossibility for Washington. The military sees that the foreign policy establishment badly miscalculated. There is zero appetite for getting involved in a war for which NATO is clearly not prepared. Compounding it is a growing Ukraine fatigue around the West, as the cost of this debacle begins to bite. Not only is there no appetite for escalation, but everyone is also growing tired of Zelensky and Ukraine.
This is where the Diem solution could become an attractive option. If something unfortunate were to happen to Zelensky, then that would solve a lot of problems for Washington and the collective West. They would be free of this folk hero they created and maybe have a villain on whom they could blame the defeat. Those nationalists around Zelensky would be easy to characterize as the bad guys.
It may seem a bit farfetched given the way in which the collective West has behaved over the last year, but they have no better options. Russian public opinion has shifted steadily against negotiations. The pressure on Putin to unleash the full fury of the Russian war machine on Ukraine grows daily. The destruction of the Ukraine energy grid is just the beginning of what lies ahead this winter.
This means the West has two options at this point. One is to find a way to keep Ukraine going as a civil society, which will cost hundreds of billions. This may not even be possible, given the complexity of the problem. The other is to accept the inevitable collapse of Ukraine, millions of refugees flooding into Europe and a total defeat of the Ukrainian army. In other words, the West can bleed to death or commit suicide.
That is why Zelensky will have to go and go soon. It offers a third way out of this problem that allows everyone to save face. Washington can blame the fanatics for his demise and the collapse of Ukraine. The Europeans will be free to abandon the ruinous sanctions regime. Worst case scenario Russia installs a new government. Best case scenario Russia is stuck with a failed state and thousands of armed lunatics.
Whether or not there is anyone in Washington smart enough to understand what is happening is hard to know. It may be left to the Europeans to save Washington from itself or maybe the Ukrainians make the same error as the Vietnamese. At some point someone with the power to make it happen is going to figure out that the way out of this quagmire is to get rid of Zelensky.
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