Friedman's fractured history
I can’t hold a candle to Bill Bonner when it comes to dissecting the nonsense Thomas Friedman writes, but Friedman's column yesterday, given President Bush’s reaction to it, is more than I can resist. The choice excerpts:
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…
But while there may be no single hand coordinating the upsurge in violence in Iraq, enough people seem to be deliberately stoking the fires there before our election that the parallel with Tet is not inappropriate. The jihadists want to sow so much havoc that Bush supporters will be defeated in the midterms and the president will face a revolt from his own party, as well as from Democrats, if he does not begin a pullout from Iraq.
Oh dear, where to begin. In the first place, Friedman is reviving the canard that jihadists want Bush neutered politically. But as we learned this summer from Ron Suskind’s book The One Percent Doctrine, the CIA concluded that Osama bin Laden’s tape released just before Election Day in 2004 was timed to boost the president’s electoral chances, because a titanic “clash of civilizations” is exactly what bin Laden wants, and Bush was sure to keep delivering.
More important, Friedman is reviving the canard that Vietnam was lost only because the will of the American people was broken with the aid of a wussified American media. (How convenient for the Bush administration that the nation’s most prominent liberal hawk acts as its enabler in perpetuating this myth.)
Here’s what he leaves out, as told ably by Neil Sheehan in his warrior biography-cum-history of the war, A Bright Shining Lie: The Tet Offensive came only a few weeks after a massive public-relations blitz the Johnson adminisration orchestrated in late 1967 to assure the American people that victory was just around the corner. Johnson brought Gen. Westmoreland home from Vietnam for a series of triumphalist press conferences and TV interviews. When Tet came around, it indeed ended in military victory for American forces; but the strength shown by the enemy was enough to convince the American people they’d been hoodwinked by their leaders.
So it goes now. Only it’s been a slow-motion process, beginning in the spring of 2004, when the Abu Ghraib torture revelations more or less coincided with the first battle of Fallujah and the bloody showdown with Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces. Every fatuous “last throes” utterance from our leaders since then has been subject to progressively greater degrees of ridicule.
For a more sober (and sobering) assessment of where things stand in Iraq, check out Andrew Bacevich in The American Conservative, who says the events of last month are actually more decisive than what's happening now.