TET OFFENSIVE REDUX
Frank Gaffney has an interesting piece today drawing parallels between the Tet Offensive and the current situation in Iraq.
[T]he Vietcong used the cover of an important religious holiday, Tet, to launch temporarily successful but ultimately, utterly pyrrhic attacks across South Vietnam. The results on the battlefields and in the cities were decisive, with U.S. forces and their South Vietnamese allies triumphant and their foes routed at immense loss of life.
Yet, thanks to the exceedingly negative portrayal of the nature and implications of the Tet Offensive in the American media, this campaign proved a turning point in the war. Its principal strategic objective had been accomplished: to strengthen the hand of the anti-war American left in the campaign to win the war for the Communist North here in the United States.
It is true that the counteroffensive launched by U.S. forces after Tet was indeed hugely successful at the tactical level. However, the fact that the North was able to launch such a powerful attack in the first place provided evidence that they were much stronger than believed and that the American people were being lied to with regard to the progress of the war.
Gaffney continues the analogy:
Today, the reporting from Iraq is, if anything, even more defeatist than was true at the time of Tet — with even less basis in fact for its gloominess. Yes, American servicemen and women are being killed or wounded in small numbers with regrettable frequency. And yes, there have been several successful and murderous attacks by those determined to undo the liberation of Iraq on strategic targets such as U.N. headquarters, an important Shiite mosque and Iraq’s economic infrastructure.
Still, seen in perspective, these amount to even more isolated incidents than those associated with Tet. The costs to America and her friends are far smaller, though still acutely painful. To hear the chattering class — the media and political elite that construed and succeeded in defining the Tet Offensive as a rout for the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies — tell it, however, Washington now “needs” to be bailed out of a yawning quagmire in Iraq.
This is correct, I think. By any reasonable historical standard, American losses in this war are infinitesimal. But journalists are in the business of presenting the news of the day. They’re notoriously bad at putting things into historical perspective. As I’ve noted before (along with many others–it’s hardly original), if one were to get one’s information about life in any U.S. city only from the television news, one would presume we live in a war zone. Life is nothing but drive by shootings, robberies, fires, and babies left in garbage cans. (Plus sports and weather, of course.) It’s rather hard to get a story out of incremental progress in fixing the infrastructure or establishing civil society. Those things will happen gradually if we continue the effort–and all indications are we will–but there’s going to be a lot more bad news before that happens.