Why Iraq Could be Like Vietnam

October 23, 2006


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From Investors Business Daily on Friday:

Iraq War: President Bush’s acknowledgment that some “could be right” in comparing Iraq to Vietnam cheered the anti-war left. But he didn’t mean it the way they think, and he won’t give them the results they want.

It’s a mantra of the anti-war left that Iraq is like Vietnam in the quagmire sense, a waste of vast amounts of treasure and blood in a futile attempt to impose our will on a population rising up to resist us. It’s also part of the mantra that 1968’s Tet offensive was an American and South Vietnamese defeat.

So when the president responded to a question by former Clintonista George Stephanopoulos by saying New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman “could be right” in his assessment that the current escalation of violence in Iraq was akin to the Tet offensive in Vietnam, leftist hearts everywhere fluttered in joy and the misquoting began in earnest.

What Bush actually said, for those who really paid attention, was that, as in 1968, there’s “certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.” He added that the jihadists in Iraq, like the North Vietnamese, “believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and force the government to withdraw.”

Tet was a military disaster for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap failed in his plan to seize and hold 13 of 16 provincial capitals and trigger a popular uprising. The communist forces lost upward of 50,000 killed and as many wounded. After Tet, the Viet Cong were effectively finished as a fighting force, with the NVA taking over.

But when Walter Cronkite was on the air proclaiming Tet a communist victory in the first televised war, the facts on the ground got lost. We may be thankful that CBS News didn’t have cameras in the Ardennes in 1944 while asking Eisenhower why he didn’t plan for the onslaught and what his exit strategy was.

In a postwar interview, Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army and who received South Vietnam’s surrender in 1975, said it was the anti-war movement, fanned by gloomy media reports, that was “essential to our strategy.”

Highly covered visits by Jane Fonda, Ramsey Clark, et al. “gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses.” Today we have Cindy Sheehan and John Murtha. America lost the war, Bui Tin observed, “because of its democracy. Through dissent and protest, it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win.”

What Bush meant when he conceded Friedman “could be right” in comparing the current escalation in violence to Tet is that the jihadists in Iraq hope to play our media like a fiddle, bombarding us with graphic images of car bombs killing innocent civilians until the last helicopter leaves the roof of our embassy in Baghdad.

This election is like the election of 1974. Thirty-odd years ago, the Democratic “Watergate babies” were elected, and one of their first actions was to vote to deny South Vietnam $800 million in military aid, including ammunition and spare parts. Five weeks after that vote, North Vietnam began planning an armored invasion of the South, knowing we had grown war-weary and would not help.

In 1975, two years after the armistice we signed with North Vietnam, Saigon fell to an army of 570,000 North Vietnamese regular soldiers and 900 Soviet tanks, well-supplied and armed by their Soviet and Chinese benefactors — after a Democratic Congress, in a fit of post-Watergate pique, cut off aid.

Georges Clemenceau once observed that war is a series of catastrophes that lead to victory. But only if the victor’s will and resolve remain unshaken. As in Vietnam, the decision of who wins in Iraq may not be determined on the battlefield but at the polls Nov. 7.

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