View Full Version : A mini-Tet offensive in Iraq? -- I Hope not

04-06-2004, 10:59 PM
By Arnaud de Borchgrave
UPI Editor at Large
Published 4/6/2004 4:12 PM

WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- Any seasoned reporter covering the Tet offensive in Vietnam 36 years ago is well over 60 and presumably retired or teaching journalism is one of America's 4,200 colleges and universities. Before plunging into an orgy of erroneous and invidious historical parallels between Iraq and Vietnam, a reminder about what led to the U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia is timely.

Iraq will only be another Vietnam if the home front collapses, as it did following the Tet offensive, which began on the eve of the Chinese New Year, Jan. 31, 1968. The surprise attack was designed to overwhelm some 70 cities and towns, and 30 other strategic objectives simultaneously. By breaking a previously agreed truce for Tet festivities, master strategist Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap in Hanoi calculated that South Vietnamese troops would be caught with defenses down.

After the first few hours of panic, the South Vietnamese troops reacted fiercely. They did the bulk of the fighting and took some 6,000 casualties. Vietcong units not only did not reach a single one of their objectives -- except when they arrived by taxi at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, blew their way through the wall into the compound and guns blazing made it into the lobby before they were wiped out by U.S. Marines -- but they lost some 50,000 killed and at least that many wounded. Giap had thrown some 70,000 troops into a strategic gamble that was also designed to overwhelm 13 of the 16 provincial capitals and trigger a popular uprising. But Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for Hanoi and its Vietcong troops in South Vietnam. Yet that was not the way it was reported in U.S. and other media around the world. It was television's first war. And some 50 million Americans at home saw the carnage of dead bodies in the rubble, and dazed Americans running around.

As the late veteran war reporter Peter Braestrup documented in "Big Story" -- a massive, two-volume study of how Tet was covered by American reporters -- the Vietcong offensive was depicted as a military disaster for the United States. By the time the facts emerged a week or two later from RAND Corp. interrogations of prisoners and defectors, the damage had been done. Conventional media wisdom had been set in concrete. Public opinion perceptions in the United States changed accordingly.

RAND made copies of these POW interrogations available. But few reporters seemed interested. In fact, the room where they were on display was almost always empty. Many Vietnamese civilians who were fence sitters or leaning toward the Vietcong, especially in the region around Hue City, joined government ranks after they witnessed Vietcong atrocities. Several mass graves were found with some 4,000 unarmed civil servants and other civilians, stabbed or with skulls smashed by clubs. The number of communist defectors, known as "chieu hoi," increased fourfold. And the "popular uprising" anticipated by Giap, failed to materialize. The Tet offensive also neutralized much of the clandestine communist infrastructure.

As South Vietnamese troops fought Vietcong remnants in Cholon, the predominantly Chinese twin city of Saigon, reporters, sipping drinks in the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel, watched the fireworks 2 miles away. America's most trusted newsman, CBS' Walter Cronkite, appeared for a standup piece with distant fires as a backdrop. Donning helmet, Cronkite declared the war lost. It was this now famous television news piece that persuaded President Johnson six weeks later, on March 31, not to run. His ratings had plummeted from 80 percent when he assumed the presidency upon Kennedy's death to 30 percent after Tet. His handling of the war dropped to 20 percent, his credibility shot to pieces.

Until Tet, a majority of Americans agreed with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson that failure was not an option. It was Kennedy who changed the status of U.S. military personnel from advisers to South Vietnamese troops to full-fledged fighting men. By the time of Kennedy's assassination in Nov. 22, 1963, 16,500 U.S. troops had been committed to the war. Johnson escalated all the way to 542,000. But defeat became an option when Johnson decided the war was unwinnable and that he would lose his bid for the presidency in November 1968. Hanoi thus turned military defeat into a priceless geopolitical victory.

With the Vietcong wiped out in the Tet offensive, North Vietnamese regulars moved south down the Ho Chi Minh trails through Laos and Cambodia to continue the war. Even Giap admitted in his memoirs that news media reporting of the war and the anti-war demonstrations that ensued in America surprised him. Instead of negotiating what he called a conditional surrender, Giap said they would now go the limit because America's resolve was weakening and the possibility of complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp.

Hanoi's Easter offensive in March 1972 was another disaster for the communists. Some 70,000 North Vietnamese troops were wiped out -- by the South Vietnamese who did all the fighting. The last American soldier left Vietnam in March 1973. And the chances of the South Vietnamese army being able to hack it on its own were reasonably good. With one proviso: Continued U.S. military assistance with weapons and hardware, including helicopters. But Congress balked, first by cutting off military assistance to Cambodia, which enabled Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge communists to take over, which, in turn, was followed by a similar Congressional rug pulling from under the South Vietnamese, that led to rapid collapse of morale in Saigon.

The unraveling, with Congress pulling the string, was so rapid that even Giap was caught by surprise. As he recounts in his memoirs, Hanoi had to improvise a general offensive -- and then rolled into Saigon two years before they had reckoned it might become possible.

That is the real lesson for the U.S. commitment to Iraq. Whatever one thought about the advisability of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the United States is there with 100,000 troops and a solid commitment to endow Iraq with a democratic system of government. While failure is not an option for Bush, it clearly is for Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who called Iraq the president's Vietnam. It is, of course, no such animal. But it could become so if Congressional resolve dissolves.

Bui Tin, who served on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army, received South Vietnam's unconditional surrender on April 30, 1975. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal after his retirement, he made clear the anti-war movement in the United States, which led to the collapse of political will in Washington, was "essential to our strategy."

Visits to Hanoi by Jane Fonda and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and various church ministers "gave us confidence that we should hold on in the face of battlefield reverses."

America lost the war, concluded Bui Tin, "because of its democracy. Through dissent and protest it lost the ability to mobilize a will to win." Kennedy should remember that Vietnam was the war of his brother who saw the conflict in the larger framework of the Cold War and Nikita Khrushchev's threats against West Berlin. It would behoove Kennedy to see Iraq in the larger context of the struggle to bring democracy, not only to Iraq, but the entire Middle East.


(Arnaud de Borchgrave covered Tet as Newsweek's chief foreign correspondent and had seven tours in Vietnam between 1951 under the French and 1972.)

04-07-2004, 12:05 AM
Well the MSM and the democrats would LOVE for it to be another TET. They expecially would love for Bush to lose resolve and show weakness. It's pretty disgusting to see the political shots and the barely hidden glee when bad news happens both in Iraq and in our economy. Truly there is a fifth column at work and the terrorists know it.

04-07-2004, 12:41 AM

With Ted Kennedy's shameful statement that Iraq will be Bush's Vietnam (which, of course means our Vietnam), and the violence unleashed by both the Baathists and Iran's proxy, Sadr, the door to the Tet Syndrome has been opened.

Here are the signs of the Tet Syndrome:

* Statements by pundits that we are losing the war in Iraq.

* A strong focus on American casualties by the mainstream press.

* Adjectives in the news like "failed," "unexpected," "foolish".

* Mentions of Vietnam in headlines and text, and by the president’s political opposition.

* Specials with titles like "Iraq - Can We Ever Win?” or “Iraq, Bush’s Vietnam?"

* Calls to find an "honorable way out" from Democrats.

* A focus on civilian casualties after the battle is over.

What is the Tet Syndrome?

The Tet Syndrome occurs when, in light of an escalation of violence by the enemy, our will to fight is rapidly eroded by biased and inaccurate reporting coupled with misleading attacks on our strategy by political opponents of the President, pundits and radicals. It starts with spectacular and violent enemy attacks in which the American casualty rate temporarily spikes or atrocities against Americans are widely shown.

What are the Results of the Tet Syndrome?

The enemy hopes to win by damaging the will of the Americans. Today, Al Sadr, Iran, Baathists and assorted terrorist groups including Al Qaeda hope to drive Americans out of Iraq by destroying our political will to stay. Failing that, they hope to damage Bush’s re-election chances in hopes of electing a less determined president, which is how they view Kerry, especially in light of his post-Vietnam behavior. In the Vietnam War, the Tet Syndrome won the war for the enemy.

What is Really Going On in Iraq
There are several groups in Iraq who wish to attack the US in order to seize power. One is the Sunni Baathist dead-enders who hope to regain their position of privilege. Another is the young Shiite cleric Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army (reminiscent of the Mahdi Rebellion in Sudan in the 1884). Al-Sadr is closely allied with Iran’s extremist government and has announced an alliance with the Iran proxy Hezbollah terrorist organization. In addition, a number of terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, view democracy in Iraq as a major threat to their fanatic aims.

The U.S. is in the middle of a troop exchange, which is both good and bad. It means there are extra troops available, but there is likely a disrupted command and control structure and logistical system.

Neither the Baathists (who are currently the target in the Marine besieged city of Fallujah) nor Sadr's Mahdi Army represent a significant military threat. Sadr’s army is likely to be destroyed quickly by main force action. Sadr is hiding in the most sacred shrine of the Shia, which makes his arrest a difficult problem. However, Sadr is not well respected in Shiite Iraq, where Ayatollah Systani holds almost all power. It is possible that Shias themselves will ultimately remove Sadr from his hideout.

What is the Danger Today?
The threat is that events in Iraq will be used by domestic enemies of Bush (including much of the media) to discredit his position, forcing an alteration that will prevent an Iraqi democracy or will otherwise be perceived by Islamists as a victory for themselves. This will greatly increasing the terrorist danger to the United States and the nuclear threat from Iran.

Another danger is that Bush will lose the election, bringing into power one of the key figures involved in exploiting the Vietnam Syndrome in the ‘70s, John Kerry, who met with the enemies of the US and then urged unconditional surrender in a widely publicized Senate appearance. Our enemies know this and are looking forward to an administration run by him.

Okay, Why is this called the “Tet Syndrome?”

In Vietnam during the early 1968 Tet holidays, the Viet Cong launched a truce-breaking surprise nationwide assault against American and allied troops and South Vietnamese population centers. The assault for the first time penetrated formerly safe cities like Saigon, bringing the war to the view of rear area journalists and pundits. Because this truce-breaking attack was not predicted (militarily it was insane), because of Lyndon Johnson’s policy of over-positive reporting of the situation, and because of the media’s completely incompetent reading of the military situation, the impression was permanently implanted in the media’s world view that the situation in Vietnam was hopeless and the U.S. military was lying when it said otherwise. This view spread rapidly to many Americans.

The military result of this offensive (and two lesser ones in the same year) was the total destruction of the Viet Cong, a great military victory for the United States, which resulted in the demotion of North Vietnam’s famous “genius,” General Giap.

But more important were the domestic consequences in the United States, The switch by the media to an active anti-war viewpoint greatly empowered the anti-war movement and deceived most Americans about the actual status of the war. It quickly used up the political capital available for prosecuting the war, forcing Nixon to run on a “bring the troops home” platform. It caused such an increase in cynicism and distrust of the government that many Americans (including those in the press) chose to believe the enemy rather than their own government. This cynicism, an inflamed political climate, and Nixon’s habit of cover-up also led to Watergate, which further destroyed the U.S. confidence.

After Tet, the the US cemented its victory with the successful Vietnamization and Phoenix programs. In 1972, the North Vietnamese launched a massive “Easter Offensive,” which was readily defeated by South Vietnamese forces aided by United States air support, with no US ground troops. This victory was so significant that the North required 3 years to rebuild its internal forces enough to try again. During this same period, as a result of the Tet Syndrome, the US pulled out all forces, a Democratic congress banned US participation in Southeast Asia and Congress eliminated the military material assistance on which our strategy was predicated.

Seven years after Tet, having defeated the United States in the halls of Congress, the North conquered the supply-depleted south. In some battles, South Vietnamese soldiers had only 6 bullets each. The North invaded with more divisions and personnel than the US now has in its entire military and using more armor than George Patton had in World War II.

The ultimate result of the Tet Syndrome was the betrayal of our ally, great damaged to our society, and strengthening of our enemies throughout the world,

04-09-2004, 11:49 AM
TetII (http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/alt200404090656.asp)

Tet II?
There’s a similarity.

By Robert Alt

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — The media hailed the recent battles in the Sunni Triangle and the coordinated attacks orchestrated by radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr's militia as evidence of a new crisis in Iraq. The Guardian, for example, referred to the conditions in Iraq as being "[o]n the brink of anarchy," and the New York Times opined that "the events in Falluja and the other cities on Sunday appeared likely to shake the American hold on Iraq more than anything since the invasion...." It wasn't long before Senator Ted Kennedy waded into these deep political waters, declaring Iraq to be "Bush's Vietnam." Unwittingly, the senator may be onto something. The recent round of attacks bears a striking resemblance to a particular battle in Vietnam — the Tet offensive — a battle that America decisively won on the ground, but lost in the press.

To understand the similarities between the Tet offensive and recent activity in Iraq, it is necessary to revisit both. In the Tet offensive, the North Vietnamese forces abandoned guerilla tactics to launch a massive coordinated assault across South Vietnam. (This is admittedly a cursory review of North Vietnamese strategy. Those interested seeking a more detailed analysis of this subject should see Mac Owens.) They engaged hard targets, including the United States embassy, which they stormed but never actually entered. While U.S. casualties were high, the military scored a major victory, putting down the offensive in a matter of days, and inflicting astronomical casualties on the opposing North Vietnamese forces. However, the images of the fighting at the embassy and the media's emphasis on U.S. casualties led Americans to believe that the U.S. had suffered a major setback.

In Iraq, anti-Coalition elements likewise abandoned guerilla warfare this past Sunday for a series of coordinated attacks on hard targets designed to be spectacular — or, more precisely, media spectacles. In one attack on a Coalition base outside Al Najaf, the insurgent numbers were large enough to justify calling in air support, although the aircraft quelled the crowds without firing a shot. And in the Al Sadr region of Baghdad, members of the Al Sadr's so-called Mehdi Army temporarily seized three police stations and claimed control of the city. These incidents preceded Operation Vigilant Resolve, an intense crackdown by Marine forces in the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah which began on Monday, but which notably had been planned for several weeks.

The U.S. sustained eight casualties and more than two dozen wounded in Sunday's attacks, as well as twelve casualties in a seven-hour firefight in Ramadi on Tuesday. The sacrifice of these fallen heroes should not be forgotten, but neither should we forget that which their sacrifice purchased. By Sunday night, the U.S. regained control of all seized police stations and checkpoints in Sadr City. The challenge to Al Najaf was put down without the loss of a single U.S. soldier. After months of operating as "the wild west," the outlaw cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are now finally subject to U.S. scrutiny, including checkpoints and curfews. The number of Iraqi insurgents killed, injured, or captured is staggering — with conservative counts numbering in the hundreds. And Muqtada Al Sadr is in hiding, running like a common criminal from an arrest warrant issued for his role in the murder of a rival cleric. All this was done by a military which has scrupulously avoided collateral injuries while fighting a foe whose policy seems to be to maximize the collateral harm to its own people.

But these successes should not be mistaken for an end of hostilities. The Coalition has long anticipated violence corresponding with the influx of pilgrims in the south for the Shia holiday of Arbaeen. Unfortunately, it is expected that terrorists and extremists will capitalize on this event to kill Iraqis and foment turmoil. There is no way to completely prevent this outcome without simply forbidding the celebrations — a cure which the Shia likely would view as worse than the disease.

Notwithstanding the predicted holiday violence this weekend, and contrary to popular wisdom, there was no major change in the nature of the opposition during the last week. Ramadi and Fallujah were known opposition territories that held a disproportionate number of Saddam supporters, Fedayeen, and international terrorists. Similarly, Muqtada Al Sadr and his followers were known to be hostile to the Coalition long before he made a statement last week aligning himself with Hezbollah and Hamas. These contingencies respectively were believed to be responsible for the continuing guerilla-style terrorism in the country which was claiming the lives of Coalition members and civilians alike. The one major change in the last week was tactics. The insurgents chose to attack hard targets directly, and paid dearly.

But the recent attacks did demonstrate that the insurgents have a very powerful weapon: not bombs or bullets, but the media. By interpreting a series of attacks in which the insurgents were soundly defeated as a crisis, the media has been used as a dull pawn by Coalition opponents. And make no mistake: Those seeking to aggrandize their power and to destabilize Iraq are attempting to use this pawn to wage war against the king. Having witnessed the change in resolve from President Clinton to President Bush, the eyes of friend and foe in Iraq are fixed on November. To provide but one example, a local Iraqi priest in Baghdad recently grilled me about Senator Kerry. Would his policy be different than that of President Bush? The priest was gravely concerned, because a change in course would have dire consequences for Iraq. And a change of course is what undoubtedly motivated the futile attacks this week.

By objective criteria, the past week has witnessed victories for Coalition forces, and stunning losses for the extreme anti-Coalition factions. But for all the cries of despair, the only real crisis in Iraq is in the subjective eyes of a media unwittingly being used by extremists, and in the jaded eyes of politicos like Senator Kennedy, who are willing to concede American defeat in their quest for Democratic victory.