By Meteor Blades
A few days ago, in his column Barney and Baghdad, Thomas Friedman compared Iraq's bloody October with the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam. There was follow-up from Tony Snow and Mister Bush. Tet's shock to middle America's psyche, Washington's propagandists and the U.S. military arguably affected the country in a way not seen since Custer left his presidential ambitions leaking into the dust of Medicine Tail Coulee. Although another 34,000 Americans and 2-3 million Southeast Asians would die first, Tet ultimately led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a defeat that still divides the nation.
Out of this came the "Vietnam Syndrome," and an American version of Germany's post-World War I stab-in-the-back theory - that is, traitors in the media and the streets caused the U.S. to lose a war that could easily have been won with a different, more aggressive strategy. Tet, they argued, had been a military disaster for Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, the latter being permanently crippled. But the naive and treasonous on the homefront had allowed them to win the propaganda battle, which had been General Giap's and the NLF's real objective all along. In other words, in the parlance of the time, radical-liberals wimped out, forcing what amounted to an uncalled-for surrender. About the time this myth was being crafted, nascent neo-conservatives began their plans to ensure this never happened again.
The WSJ has made a pre-emptive strike this morning against what we might call "Tet syndrome" without ever mentioning it.
Yes, the Iraq project is difficult, and its outcome dangerously uncertain. The Bush Administration and its military generals have so far failed to stem insurgent attacks or pacify Baghdad, and the factions comprising Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government have so far failed to make essential political compromises. But the American response to this should be to change military tactics or deployments until they do succeed, and to reassure Iraqi leaders that their hard political choices will result in U.S. support, not precipitous withdrawal.
The current American panic, by contrast, is precisely what the insurgents intend with their surge of October violence. The Baathists and Sadrists can read the U.S. political calendar, and they'd like nothing better than to feed the perception that the violence is intractable. They want our election to be perceived as a referendum on Iraq that will speed the pace of American withdrawal.
The "panic" here didn't start in October. There were, after all, 2948 Coalition troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis already dead by September 30. There were already 1.3 million Iraqis in exile in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere. Half a million or so displaced inside Iraq. Maybe 50% unemployed. Three hours of electricity a day, even in Baghdad. $6300 a second spent on the war. And that's the short list.
And while every terrorist success is broadcast far and wide, acts of bravery by Iraqi forces go unheralded. Only 10 days ago, insurgents staged a huge attack on government and police offices in Mosul, but it was successfully repulsed by Iraqi forces. Dozens of insurgents were killed or captured, and one heroic Iraqi police officer gave his life successfully defending others against a suicide truck bomber.
See. It's the damned media. Previous failure to report on painted schools - many of them now half-empty because parents fear to send their children to class - has now become the failure to report body counts of enemy dead, a grisly - and usually exaggerated - tally that was popular among the Pentagon's light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-crowd in the Vietnam era, too.
To remedy what the Journal's editors call a "false picture of what's happening in Iraq" painted by the critics, all that's required is reporting of good news, some tweaking of tactics and perhaps some elevation of "force levels." Two generations ago, Americans got earfuls of that kind of crap.