Iraq & Tet, George W. & LBJ

Patrick J. Buchanan

September 29  2003

"Things perceived as real are real in their consequences."

So it has been wisely written, and repeated so often it has become a cliche.

The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a desperate roll of the dice by the Viet Cong. It ended in their disastrous defeat. Some 50,000 of its critical cadre were killed, and all the gains of Tet were rolled back by the Americans in three weeks.

But America, which had been hearing only triumphal news of U.S. victories, was stunned by the enemy's capture of Hue and the massacre of 3,000 of its leaders, and by Viet Cong sappers trading fire with Marines on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. And the American media portrayed Tet as a communist triumph.

"If we've lost Walter Cronkite, we've lost the country," LBJ is reputed to have said after Tet, when the CBS anchor declared the war unwinnable. After Tet, the establishment that had marched us into Vietnam broke and joined the antiwar movement, just as soon as Richard Nixon finished taking his oath of office.

George W. Bush is in a situation today similar to that faced by Lyndon Johnson at the time of Tet.

While U.S. casualties in Iraq, five dead a week, do not approach the 150 we lost every week, for seven years, in Vietnam, the home front does call to mind 1968 and even the early Nixon years.

The behavior of Senate Democrats today, savaging the same president they gave a blank check for war last October, may be repellent. But it reflects a cold assessment that President Bush is vulnerable on Iraq, that the postwar mess is erasing in the public's mind the brilliance of our victory, and that his calls to unity and a suspension of politics-as-usual in debating the War on Terror may be safely ignored.

Consider the reaction to Sen. Kennedy's brutal charge that the war was nothing but a "fraud," concocted in Texas, to advance the interests of the GOP. If true, this would be an impeachable offense.

But when the president retorted that the Kennedy accusation was "uncivil," Senate Democrats rallied to Kennedy. Said Sen. Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations, the Bush administration's "leading members believed we would find an oil-rich functioning country, that we'd be met by cheering crowds, that all we had to do was sweep out the top Baathist layers, implant our favorite exiles, and watch democracy take root as the bulk of our troops returned home by Christmas."

Biden has provided a succinct but accurate description of the neocon party line, prior to the war. What he failed to say is that he, as well as Sens. Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards, Daschle and Clinton, as well as Rep. Gephardt, swallowed that line, or refused to challenge that Utopian vision before transferring to the president their constitutional power to decide on war or peace.

Kennedy's rhetoric was over the top. But, at least, he and Rep. Kucinich and Gov. Dean stood up against attacks on their patriotism to oppose the war before, not after, its fruits had turned rancid.

Which brings us back around to President Bush. Whether we are making headway in winning the hearts and minds or the Iraqi people, or whether the Iraqis want us out of their country and support those fighting to throw us out, the perception here in our own country is that Iraq is a mess.

Also clear is that the American people are coming to conclude that we ought to cut our losses, get our troops out and turn it over to the Iraqis, or to the United Nations, as early as the transfer can be arranged.

If Bush intends to fight this war to victory, he had best begin to prepare the American people for the long, hard road ahead. This he has not done. Indeed, every indication is that he, and even Secretary Rumsfeld, have no intention of sending in more U.S. troops, but are looking for the next exit ramp out of Baghdad.

Yet they should know it is not only opportunistic ex-hawks in the Democratic Party who hope to secure advantage out of any debacle of a U.S. retreat. The French, Germans, U.N. and anti-Americans all over the world are slavering over the possibility of a humiliating retreat of the American Empire.

One wonders: Does President Bush realize that by listening to the siren's call of the neocons he has put his presidency in peril? Does he recognize now that they fed him a warmed-over policy they had cooked up long before 9-11, and had even tried to feed Clinton, who had the good sense to reject it?

2003 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


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