Thursday, October 19, 2006

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Does losing Tom Friedman mean losing middle america?

It seems that a lot of people in the Bush administration read Tom Friedman's Tuesday column, which characteizes recent Iraqi insurgency tactics to, "the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive."

ABC reports that this came up in Bush's interview with Georege Stephanopolous:

Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago.

"He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

"George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we'd leave," Bush said. "And the leaders of al Qaeda have made that very clear. Look, here's how I view it. First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they're trying to foment sectarian violence. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw."

Meanwhile, in a Time interview, Dick Cheney brings up the analogy on his own:
The other thing that I'd mention, too, not really in response to your question: I'm struck by the fact that what's being attempted here is to break our will. (New York Times columnist Thomas) Friedman has got an interesting piece today on it, talking about the extent to which the enemy in this stage in Iraq aim very much at the American people... (they) use the media to gain access through technical means that are available now on the Internet and everything else to create as much violence as possible, as much bloodshed as possible and get that broadcast back into the United States as a way to try to shape opinion and influence the outcome of our debate here at home. And I think some of that is going on, too.
The U.S. military also seems obsessed with Tet, as Michael Luo reports in the New York Times (link via Kevin Drum):
The American military’s stepped-up campaign to staunch unrelenting bloodshed in the capital under an ambitious new security plan that was unveiled in August has failed to reduce the violence, a military spokesman said today.

Instead, attacks have actually jumped more than 20 percent over the first three weeks of the holy month of Ramadan, compared to the previous three weeks, said Gen. William Caldwell, the military’s chief spokesman in Iraq.

In an unusually gloomy assessment, General Caldwell called the spike in attacks “disheartening” and added that the American military was “working closely with the government of Iraq to determine how to best refocus our efforts.”....

General Caldwell also raised the possibility that insurgents have intentionally increased their attacks in recent weeks as a way of influencing political events in the United States.

“We also realize that there is a midterm election that’s taking place in the United States and that the extremist elements understand the power of the media; that if they can in fact produce additional casualties, that in fact is recognized and discussed in the press because everybody would like not to see anybody get killed in these operations, but that does occur,” he said.

By almost any measure, the situation in the capital is in a downward spiral.

While it's interesting that the administration is now embracing Vietnam analogies, there's a problem with comparing Iraq now to the Tet Offensive. The two ostensibly share the efforts by insurgents to affect the domestic political landscape of their adversary. Today's New York Times front page spells that out.

However, Tet, was a military reversal of the first order for the Viet Cong and NVA. Is there any evidence, any metric out there, that shows the insurgency in Iraq to be weakening in any way? Even Cheney allows in his interview, "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence, I think that was premature. I thought the elections would have created that environment. And it hasn't happened yet."

Question to readers: given current trends, is there any evidence that it will ever happen?

posted by Dan on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM


Sad that the Prez believes al-Qaeda to be a major player in the Iraqi insurgency. From what I read they're small potatoes compared to the Sunni & Shi'ite sectarians, and a johnny-come-lately at that. Oh, well, can't blame him for wanting to steer clear of the reality-based community.

posted by: Ralph Hitchens on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

It’s important to note that the President's answer demonstrates his myopic posture regarding the war. While Stephanopoulos was attempting to have the President comment on the growing opposition to the war...asking if voters might be at a tipping point...the President sought to make the point that the terrorists might be attempting to create a Tet Offensive moment. Essentially, his answer virtually ignores the political implications and suggests that he is holding fast to the strategy that connecting the Iraq war to terrorism will produce GOP support. I don't think voter sentiment is moving in the direction that the President may think it is or hope it will.

In 2004 most GOP candidates were traveling downstream in their "swiftboats" attacking every Democratic candidate that dared to criticize the Bush administration's war in Iraq. In 2006 you not only can't find the GOP "swiftboat", you can't find a Republican candidate willing to jump in and try to navigate the hapless dingy against the strong current of voter dissatisfaction with the seemingly never ending war.

One, voters appear to have decided that the President's plan is a failure. Two, despite the fact that the Democrats haven't actually offered a cohesive or comprehensive alternative plan, voters are convinced any change might be better than more of the same. That stands to help Democrats on November 7th...but it also means that voters are hoping for change come November 8th...and that may prove to be the beginning of an even larger problem for both parties.

In my opinion, it will behoove both parties to find some tangible solutions to the Iraq mess if they hope to have any success in 2008. If one thinks voters are unhappy now, imagine their mood if Iraq is still at the top of their list of issues two years from now.

Read more here:

posted by: Daniel DiRito on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

The President doesn't "think". The President occupies an alternate universe in which all of his actions do make sense.

That's my conclusion, at least.

posted by: Laura on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

“However, Tet, was a military reversal of the first order for the Viet Cong and NVA. Is there any evidence, any metric out there, that shows the insurgency in Iraq to be weakening in any way?”

Over 1,500 Americans died in the Tet offensive (with today’s medical tech that would be more like 1150). The bloody uprisings in Iraq today have killed, what, a tenth of that? We have a long way to go before this turns into a Vietnam equivalent “quagmire.”

Of course metrics are less important than the effect casualties and attack have on our will, and I think here the analogy is more apt. According to The Sling and the Stone, after waging a long Guerilla war, Ho thought that the time was right to launch a traditional offensive against the US. Ho thought this would rally Southern support and expel the Americans in a conventional battle.

He was about 6 years early in his thinking, but what it did do was show to the American people that the North was no closer to breaking now than it had been before. The military setback for the NVA was a success in quantitative terms, but it did not—in the long run—dampen the ability of the North to continue waging war.

What did severely damage the NVA/VietCong way of war was later counter insurgency techniques, such as the ink blot and take-and-hold strategies. By the time these were tried the North had won its war against American will.

The point is that during Tet we were not winning, militarily or otherwise. It took the addition of innovative tactics years later to start to turn the tide. Until we got the tactics and strategy right we continued to incorrectly define our metrics of success.

A similar pattern is emerging in Iraq, we kill countless insurgents—every encounter with insurgents is an American military victory—but we are having problems winning the war at home. We are also having a hard time adapting our tactics to combat the insurgency and secure/provide-for the Iraqi people. Fortunately wee are starting to do that now.

In many ways increased American casualties is a good sign, it means that we are finally taking the security of Iraqi civilians and Iraqi armed forces as seriously as we were taking the security of our armed forces. To use a quip from Fiasco, we are starting to root out the “termites.” With the addition of strategic and tactical rewrites, and a new focus on the Iraqi people we may just be developing the means for victory—that is, as long as we don’t lose the war at home.

Now I’m not one to blame Democrats as defeatists on this issue, the Administration has mishandled the War at Home just as it has mishandled the War Abroad. But regardless, victory in Iraq is too important for America’s foreign policy to punish Republicans by voting for anti-war Democrats. A popular call to oust Rumsfeld would be another issue entirely…

posted by: Jacob on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

cheney said "I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence,"

What he said of course was that the 'insurgency' was in its 'last throes'
. He said that in may 2005.It's now oct 2006. He now says "I think that was premature".

Seriously why does anyone give this man the time of day ?

Any wmds? No
any links to 9/11 ? no.

He & his boss swore up & blind that iraq had wmds and links to 9/11.

All lies.

posted by: kb on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

My sense is that the analogy to Viet Nam and especially is Tet is to set up the argument that we are facing a similar choiceand should react differently. Thus the question that the Administration will raise is is one of Do we persevere and win (implicitly as we could have after Tet) or do we retreat?

I think the analogy is false. First we could not and did not win after Tet despite persevering for a number of years and second while the Viet Cong was destroyed in the Tet offensive (the NVA was not committed to the same extent), that was possible because they came out in the open which the insurgency is generally not doing in Iraq.

The one point in which the analogy to Tet may hold true is that Tet pointed out in a way that the American people could not miss that the US Armed Forces (for all their overwhelming firepower and mobility) were not prepared to fight a counter-insurgency in an effective manner and they were not willing to admit it. I suspect the same thing is happening now and that the willingness of the American people to believe what the administration is telling them is even lower than it was at the time of Tet.

posted by: HCM on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

We're hearing a ton of arguments today about the strategic and psychological importance of the Tet Offensive. Any Vietnam analogy makes me think of David Halberstam's book, "The Making of a Quagmire," which, to my mind, laid out an ironclad, first-hand account of why the U.S. would never win in Vietnam. It was written in 1964.

Just sayin'.

posted by: ARW on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

To answer Dan's question, of course Iraq will reach a point when it is over the hump in terms of violence. The Balkans did. West Africa did. Even Congo is at or near that point.

Iraq just may not get there for a while, and when it gets there may not have as much to do with American policy as we'd like to think. Sunni Arab/Shiite violence did not just happen; the Sunni Arab insurgency, with the support or at least acquiesence of most Sunni Arab political and tribal leaders, worked hard to make it happen, starting within a year of Saddam's fall. What we are seeing now is very largely what the insurgency wanted to have happen. Many Iraqi Shiites, for varying reasons, came to want it as well. They will both stop wanting it either when they decide they have won, or when they decide that they can't win.

As to Vietnam analogies, we do face in Iraq another situation where America has committed itself to a cause with high odds against success in a region of peripheral importance to itself. But the President's Tet analogy says more about the age of the Me Generation Presidency than it does about Iraq. Sunni Arabs are not killing Shiites nor Shiite militias going on rampages through Sunni neighborhoods to weaken American will or influence American midterm elections. Even attacks against American troops in Iraq are increasing now mostly because they are patrolling more frequently in the hope of deterring sectarian violence. Insurgents and Shiite militias are not looking for a Tet moment; they are looking for Srbenica moments, Interahamwe moments, not to create reasons for America voters to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. In fairness to the President I believe he is quite sincere in his conviction that the latest wave of violence in Iraq is happening because Iraqi insurgents want to test his will and make Americans doubt his leadership.

I'd never advocate making policy based on historical analogies, but simply on an intellectual level it might be worth spending some time on Vietnam and Iraq. A good case could be made, I think, that the arguments for staying in Vietnam after Tet were much more persuasive than the arguments for maintaining the commitment in Iraq now. I doubt President Bush has carried his thinking about Vietnam analogies quite that far, and doubt he will in the future. But the rest of us might want to think about it.

posted by: Zathras on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

In answer to your question: No.

Regarding the TET offensive, although the VC/NVA may have lost tactically, they won strategically by showing that they could still draw blood after the U.S. threw everything it had at them. After that, the U.S. public became convinced that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

In my opinion, an event of similar impact has not yet happened in Iraq. What you have instead is a series of daily bloodlettings whose impact on the American public is more like water torture.

posted by: Antonio Manetti on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

I feel like comment sections have been plagued by paid for commenters and the pompous and selfritious. They have become almost unreadable. The signal to noise ratio is bad.

posted by: aaron on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Just to clarify, I was referring to the comments of Laura and above.

posted by: aaron on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

The analogy doesn't hold for a number of reasons -- either Tet or Vietnam more generally.

Tet was a strategic offensive. It is likely that we are seeing in Iraq one of the periodic upsurges in violence that have been characteristic of this war since I was there in 2003.

There is (so far) no evidence in Iraq of a PAVN-equivalent -- that is, a conventional army from outside Iraq conducting military operations inside Iraq. Let us bear in mind that there were at least two Vietnam wars -- one against a domestic insurgency (the NLF) and one against a conventional army (the PAVN). Whatever the "foreign fighters" might be, they are more on the order of opportunists than a cohesive, third-party to the fight.

Tet was intended by the Vietnamese high command to be a decisive military operation. Again, there's no evidence of such cohesive planning in Iraq.

I understand that Vietnam is a kind of analogical touchstone because so many of our colleagues took Ph.D.'s (or undertook political careers) to avoid it. It is as false to constantly invoke Vietnam as an analogy as it is to say that Iraq is "just like" World War II (which commentary will be forthcoming in spades from the right, with the release of Eastwood's new film).

If you need an analogy -- and there's certainly evidence out there that we humans do -- my own preference is for El Salvador, Chile, or Laos.

posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Tet is a less than perfect analogy,however,there is a WWII sequence that is apt,in my view.And that is the German invasion of Russia.As the Wehrmacht moved into the Ukraine,Georgia and the Caucuses,the remaining White Russian opponents of the Communist regime were willing to help and greeted,at first,the Nazis as liberators.That quickly changed as the Nazi pogroms began.
Wht could have been an indigenous ally was turned into a partisan enemy because of Nazi policy.Not a perfect analogy,but I think,closer to the Iraqcle debacle today than Tet.

posted by: TJM on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

The Tet Offensive was in 1968. But the US did not really pull our troops out until 1973 and the war lasted until 1975.

If the VC & NVA loses in Tet were so massive, I wonder where they got the resources to continue fighting for years after that massive defeat.

The objective of war is to destroy the enemies will and/or capacity to continue fighting. Tet might have done that for the US but it clearly did not do that to the enemy. By comparison the US is clearly not destroying the insurgents willingness or capacity to continue fighting in Iraq -- so on this basis I guess the current offensive and Tet are great analogies.

posted by: spencer on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

If the VC & NVA loses in Tet were so massive, I wonder where they got the resources to continue fighting for years after that massive defeat.

Conscription. The VC were basically wiped out in the Tet offensive, subsequent fighting was mainly carried out by NVA forces (which may have referred to themselves as VC, but were actually North Vietnamese, not South Vietnamese).

I suspect that he people in Hanoi might not have been entirely unhappy about this result- they had an opportunity to replace nominally-independent southern insurgents with hand-picked personnel of known reliability and loyalty.

posted by: rosignol on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

The Tet analogy holds when considered as a case where a suposedly rag-tag insurgent group can launch surprise attacks against technologically and numerically superior forces. In Iraq the attacks are smaller in scope than Tet, but take place on average about 100 times a day. (The actual amount is classified, but that is what WOodward is reporting.)

The total effect is the same: demorilzation of the occupying force and therefor the public back home.

Which is exactly what is happening.

posted by: Carl W. GOss on 10.19.06 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?