Bush and Tet
Saigon, Tet 1968
When George Stephanopolous asked George Bush if the war in Iraq was like the Tet Offensive, he said yes.
Most people interpreted that to mean that he sees that Iraq might be a disaster.
Military historians regard Tet as the greatest US victory of the Vietnam War. It broke the back of the VC and forced the NVA on the defensive for four years. What the Tet offensive did was basically destroy the PAVN/VC at the cost of the cohesion of the US Army.
After Tet, by Ronald Spector, a Marine Vietnam Vet who served from 1968-69, chronicles the bloody year of fighting which followed the Battles for Khe Sahn, Saigon, Hue and the Central Highlands. By rising up, the guerrillas, trying to move to a conventional phase, and expecting a mass uprising among the proletariat, were to be severely disappointed, despite the carnage which followed.
It was also during that time, that the Phoenix Program, which targeted the VC infrastructure for elimination was in effect. It was ruthlessly efficient, crippling what was called the VCI and forcing the PAVN to take over the guerrilla war.
But in American politics, Tet is a Rohrschact test. To historians, it's a military victory, but a political defeat, to conservatives, it's when the media stabbed the US Army in the back. To liberals, it's when the American public turned against the war. So of course, the White House doesn't mind it as an example, because it means many things to many people.
What I would say is that Bush is wrong in comparing the 4th Ramadan offensive to any event in Vietnam. Because the ARVN was a professional army, not an armed militia. There was real support for the existing government in Saigon, corrupt as it was. US military lived off-post and dated, even married the local women. The People's Army of North Vietnam, or what non-historians call the NVA, was a highly professional, trained Army led by a cadre of battle hardened veterans throughout the ranks.
Iraq is nothing like this. It is vastly more dangerous, despite the lack of conventional combat. When Jim Webb and some of the readers here went into the Central Highlands, they were facing soldiers in another army, with uniforms, ranks and organization. But when US troops face Iraqis, there is no such cohesion, despite their lavish armaments. I would suggest that they are the best armed guerrillas in modern history. Every Iraqi with a modern weapon and enough ammunition. Which is amazing. A country with a high degree of military training. Only Algeria and Kenya come close to having this level of ex-soldiers engaged in combat.
What's even worse is that the number of arms and explosives available has allowed a large number of people to be armed.
This is the 4th and most dangerous Ramadan offensive because the US has failed to contain the secterian violence. Iraq is in the twilight world between insurgency and full blown civil war. What I don't think people realize is that the US will be powerless to control the outcome of that war. Too many Americans, on the right and left, think the US cannot lose or can defeat any enemy on the field.
As it stands, the US has to deploy it's forces in penny packets, doing local security, because the local paramilitary police turned out to be death squads. People have tried to lay this off on Negroponte, but Saddam got his start in a death squad. They didn't need US help for this.
What we need to realize is that as long as the Shia only tippy toe into challenging the US, leaving is still an option without massive bloodshed.
People have mistaken the opposition to the Iraq war. The anti-war movement has blocked the enlistment of thousands of kids, quietly, effectively, helped thousands of UA members escape or stay underground, has mobilized veterans against the war. While this isn't the generation defining movement of the 1960's, it's also vastly more effective.
But because it's one on one, there is no massive repression or sterotyping of the movement. Cindy Sheehan is hardly Abbie Hoffman. The attacks by the right have largely been ineffective.
And unlike the Vietnam War, 50 veterans are running for office as Democrats, something unimaginable two years ago. If just 10 of them win House seats the ability of Bush to make shit up ends.
Also, the general embrace of servicemembers have given their complaints about Iraq vastly more credibility. They are not angry and alienated, they are angry and working for change within the system. Which is why the GOP has to Swift Boat, because of the power of their stories.
Bush is going to receive a series of bad news about Iraq and the ability to maintain the course by the end of November. A new Congress, an even more desperate Iraqi "government". The GOP is running an ad saying the Dems won't protect the country, throwing up the AQ high command, not mentioning that they aren't in custody.
What has to be understood about Iraq is that there is a disaster on the cusp. AQ guerrillas march in the streets of Anbar's towns and the neigborhood clearance plan for Baghdad is an utter failure because they lack the men to enforce it
The reason I use the Wenck-Steiner analogy is not to compare the fall of Berlin to Iraq. It is to compare the same kinds of magical thinking which created Armies out of air.
The crisis for Iraq is just starting and only kicks off when US troops leave and the real fight for power begins.
Disclosure: I have contributed to VoteVets.org and IAVA.
posted by Steve @ 12:42:00 AM