After President Ngo Dinh Diem, Nguyen Van Thieu took over the South Vietnamese leadership. He also proved unpopular and an ineffective leader.
The American government propped up a series of authoritarian, tyrannical dictators. The men were not popular among their compatriots. Diem employed oppressive policies against the local Buddhist population, so much so that many local Buddhist monks burnt themselves alive in public in protest of his oppression. General Thieu was not much better. He jailed journalists and closed down the free press. His administration was accused of rampant corruption and inefficiency. His Presidency was racked by regular protests calling on him to resign.
The Vietnamese had little control over their own government. If the Vietnamese government was ineffective, it was because the US government had chosen poorly. CIA agent, Colonel Edward Lansdale, helped orchestrate Diem’s election victory. The election ballots appealed to the Vietnamese sense of good luck, placing Diem’s name in red on the ballot, a colour which signifies good fortune in Vietnam. His opponent’s name, Bao Dai, was printed in green, a colour of misfortune. Eisenhower would later admit that had the elections been free and fair in 1956, Diem would never have won. In the case of Thieu, Washington wanted a strongman to preserve order, not a charismatic leader who would charm the Vietnamese population. That was what they got. An autocrat who alienated his own population. Nixon provided Thieu with significant financial and political aid to ensure he won reelection in 1971. Nixon even delayed American troop withdrawals so that Thieu could show the Vietnamese population they were safe on election day. Nixon had the opportunity to replace Thieu in 1971 and put somebody in charge more in-line with Vietnamese thinking. But he didn’t. Blame for the failings of the South Vietnamese leadership falls squarely on American shoulders. There is also considerable debate surrounding the efficiency of Thieu as a war-leader. TUnder Thieu, the South Vietnamese government, with the help of US troops, had wiped out the Vietcong insurgency by 1971.
The South Vietnamese government were the link between the US and the Vietnamese population. It was up to them to mobilise the people to rally against communism. They didn't. Leading to the loss of the Vietnamese public support, and eventual loss of the Vietnam War.
Rejecting the premises