Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

Posts Tagged ‘Iraq War’

Winning the Battle, Losing the War

Posted by Tony Listi on March 6, 2008

Published: March 5, 2008

THIS winter is the 40th anniversary of the Tet offensive, which proved to be the turning point of the Vietnam War. By the time it was over, the American strategy in Vietnam switched from pursuing victory on the battlefield to finding a way to disengage. It is instructive to recall that the American and allied armies actually turned back the attackers and inflicted heavy casualties.

In the latter months of 1967, after more than two years of bitter fighting in Vietnam, many Americans believed that the war had degenerated into a bloody stalemate. Gen. William Westmoreland, the senior commander, did not see it that way; by his primary metric — the body count — American and allied forces were making significant headway. Under criticism by the growing antiwar movement at home, President Lyndon Johnson decided to make General Westmoreland’s optimism the focal point of an information campaign to convince the American people that we were winning the war.

In mid-November 1967, he brought the general home to make the case. Upon arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, General Westmoreland told waiting reporters that he was “very, very encouraged” by recent events. At an appearance on “Meet the Press” two days later, he said American troops would be able to begin withdrawing “within two years or less.” During an address at the National Press Club, he claimed that “we have reached an important point where the end begins to come into view.” He consistently gave an upbeat account of how things were going in the war, clearly believing that a corner had been turned.

Even as Westmoreland spoke, however, the Communists in Vietnam were preparing a countrywide offensive designed to “liberate” South Vietnam, which was set to begin at the start of Tet, the lunar new year.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 1968, Communist forces struck suddenly and with a fury breathtaking in scope. More than 80,000 soldiers from the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong guerrilla force launched nearly simultaneous attacks against major cities, towns and military installations from the Demilitarized Zone south to the Mekong Delta. They attacked 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six major cities and 64 district capitals. They seized and occupied Hue, the ancient imperial capital, and sent 11 battalions into Saigon to strike six targets, including the United States Embassy.

With a few notable exceptions — at Hue, Khe Sanh and Cholon — most of the fighting of the opening phase of the offensive was over in a few days as the American and South Vietnamese forces overcame the initial surprise and responded with superior firepower. The citizen uprising that the Communists had been counting on failed to materialize. The Communists suffered horrendous casualties; some estimates ranged as high as 40,000 killed. Their losses continued to grow as subsequent fighting extended into the fall months. By the time the offensive had run its course, the Vietcong had been crippled; the major fighting for the rest of the war would be done by the North Vietnamese Army.

The Americans had won a tactical victory. But the sheer scope and ferocity of the offensive and the vivid images of the fighting on the nightly television news convinced many Americans that the Johnson administration had lied to them, and the president’s credibility plummeted. Perhaps more important, the offensive shook the administration’s own confidence and led to a re-evaluation of American strategy. When General Westmoreland asked for an additional 206,000 troops to “take advantage of the situation,” the president balked.

On March 31, 1968, Johnson went on national television to announce a partial suspension of the bombing campaign against North Vietnam and call for negotiations. He then stunned the audience by announcing that he would not run for re-election. The following year, President Richard Nixon began the long American withdrawal from Vietnam, paving the way for the triumph of the Communist forces in 1975.

Historians are often reluctant to draw comparisons between historical events, and this has been especially true for Vietnam and Iraq, because the two wars have more differences than similarities. That being said, however, American military actions today can be informed by one general lesson from the Tet offensive, and that is the importance of not putting the best face on a military situation for political reasons.

To dampen antiwar sentiment, Johnson and Westmoreland encouraged what turned out to be false expectations about our prospects in Vietnam, and this colored Americans’ perception of the Tet offensive, stretching the president’s credibility gap to the breaking point. A tactical victory became a strategic defeat and led to the virtual abdication of President Johnson. General Tran Do of North Vietnam acknowledged that the offensive failed to achieve its objectives, but noted that the public reaction in the United States was “a fortunate result.”

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, is a student of the Vietnam War whose doctoral dissertation at Princeton was titled “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam.” Clearly, he internalized those lessons, because in discussing the surge and the progress of the war in Iraq he has studiously avoided building undue expectations and has repeatedly said that there will be tough times ahead. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was likewise careful in his recent comments about re-evaluating troop reduction plans this summer. The wisdom of their approach will become especially evident if insurgents in Iraq engage in any Tet-like offensive this year — especially with a presidential election looming and the future of the American military commitment in Iraq hanging in the balance.

James H. Willbanks, the director of the military history department at the United States Army Command and General Staff College, is the author, most recently, of “The Tet Offensive: A Concise History.”

Posted in American History, Government and Politics, Vietnam War | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Tony Listi on October 16, 2007

How powerful is the media, the guardians of the truth of daily events? It never gets bad press. That’s a pretty good position to be in.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “Who will guard the guardians?”- Juvenal (through Plato’s Republic)

“For some it seems that as long as you get a front-page story, there is little or no regard for the collateral damage that will be caused. Personal reputations sometimes have no value. They report with total impunity, and are rarely held accountable for unethical conduct. Given the near instantaneous ability to report actions on the ground, the responsibility to accurately and truthfully report takes on an unprecedented importance. The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media, appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry.

“Once reported, your assessments become conventional wisdom and nearly impossible to change. Your unwillingness to accurately and prominently correct your mistakes and your agenda-driven biases sometimes contributes to this corrosive environment. All these challenges combined create a media environment that does a tremendous disservice to America, in some instances. Over the course of this war, tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for our country because of the tremendous power and impact of the media — and by extension, you individually, the journalists.

“My assessment is that your profession, to some extent, has strayed from these worthy ethical standards and have allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, what they read in our newspapers, and what they see and read on the Web. For some of you, just like some of our politicians, the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases, or agendas.”

For full text of Sanchez’s speech:

Posted in Government and Politics, Iraq War | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

LOSING THE STRUGGLE FOR IDEAS: Lessons of Vietnam for Iraq and the War on Terror

Posted by Tony Listi on October 10, 2007

Watch this lecture here.

Click on the link below to see more clearly the slide show presentation he presents:

LOSING THE STRUGGLE FOR IDEAS: Lessons of Vietnam for Iraq and the War on Terror

Posted in Government and Politics, Iraq War, Vietnam War | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No Blood for Water!

Posted by Tony Listi on September 21, 2007

I interviewed this Code Pink wacko who was at an Iraq War protest at Texas A&M University at the corner of Texas Ave. and University Drive. And little did you know, we invaded Iraq for its water! Unfortunately, the video cut off on me unexpectedly. Who knows what else I could have gotten on tape if it had kept rolling.

It is just dishonest to unqualifiably say that our soldiers are commiting atrocities in Iraq, as she did. The vast majority of the men and women of our military are good people, well trained and disciplined, and making the lives of Iraqis better. 

Yes, you might say war is an atrocity. But it is a truism hardly worth saying. It’s like saying poverty, evil, or sin is an atrocity. They are all facts of life, of humanity. We can do our best to mitigate their effects and contain them, but we will never eliminate these evils completely. And the attempt to do so cannot be done without destroying humanity itself, an even greater evil. For as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Sirius of the Harry Potter series said, the division between good and evil, light and dark, runs straight through every human heart. Indeed, this is the message of the Bible and Christianity. Indeed, this idea is the basis for the Constitution that the American Founders framed.

Posted in Iraq War, Protests | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »