Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tet-ly (The Hidden Friedman)

Thomas Friedman sees echoes of the Tet offensive from the Vietnam War in the latest cluster of chaos going on in Iraq (Barney and Baghdad fully available to Times Select subscribers):
In the competition for the biggest “October surprise” of the 2006 election cycle, it might seem hard to top North Korea’s nuclear test. But I’d suggest that in time we’ll come to see the events unfolding — or rather, unraveling — in Iraq today as the real October surprise, because what we’re seeing there seems like the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive.

For those of you too young to remember, the Tet offensive was the series of attacks undertaken by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese armies between Jan. 30, 1968 — the start of the Lunar New Year — and June 1969. Although the Vietcong and Hanoi were badly mauled during Tet, they delivered, through the media, such a psychological blow to U.S. hopes of “winning” in Vietnam that Tet is widely credited with eroding support for President Johnson and driving him to withdraw as a candidate for re-election.

Total U.S. troop deaths in Iraq this month have reached at least 53, putting October on a path to be the third deadliest month of the entire war for the U.S. military. Iraqis are being killed at a rate of 100 per day now. The country has descended into such a Hobbesian state that even Saddam called on Iraqis from his prison cell to stop killing each other. He told insurgents, “Remember you are God’s soldiers and, therefore, you must show genuine forgiveness and put aside revenge over the spilled blood of your sons and brothers.” When Saddam is urging calm, you know things have hit a new low.


It would be depressing to see the jihadists influence our politics with a Tet-like media/war frenzy. But there are only two reasons now for the U.S. to remain in Iraq: because it thinks that staying will make things better or that leaving will make things drastically worse. Alas, it is increasingly hard to see how our presence is making things better. Iraq, under our nose, is breaking apart into so many little pieces that no political solution seems to be in the offing, because no Iraqi leader can deliver his faction anymore — and there does not seem to be an Iraqi center capable of coming together. While leaving would no doubt exacerbate the civil war, staying in Iraq indefinitely to prevent even more Shiites and Sunnis from killing one another is not going to fly with the U.S. public much longer.

Bob Woodward quoted President Bush as saying that he will not leave Iraq, even if the only ones still supporting him are his wife, Laura, and his dog Barney. If the jihadist Tet offensive continues gaining momentum, Mr. Bush may be left with just Barney.


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