Iraq’s Tet Offensive?

Hey, I’m delighted to see that George W. Bush has finally figured out that “Iraq” is Arabic for “Vietnam.” And I’m not convinced that what Kevin Drum calls the “military perspective” about the Tet Offensive &#8212 that the VC and the NVA basically got creamed, and that a failure of political will in the U.S. snatched defeat from the jaws of victory &#8212 is wrong. Yes, years of overoptimism from the Pentagon and the White House deprived their optimism about Tet of its credibility, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t finally right, just at the moment when no one believed them anymore.

So I don’t think that the Bush/Cheney line equating the current crisis with Tet embodies a false idea of what happened in Vietnam. But as an account of what’s happening in Iraq, it’s just batshit insane.

If the main problem in Iraq today were the coalition of Ba’athists, Iraqi nationalists, and foreign jihadists who resisted the occupation from the beginning, then the claim that those forces were burning themselves out in a final upsurge of violence &#8212 a “last throe” &#8212 would at least be comprehensible.

But in fact the main problem is that the Iraqi government, even with our help, is incapable of providing basic security to the population and preventing massive inter-communal violence (whether or not you call that condition “civil war” is a matter of terminology, not a dispute about facts). Worse, major elements of the Iraqi security apparatus are themselves engaged in that inter-communal violence. Worse yet, the Iraqi government, dependent for its political survival on the votes of Shi’a extremist politicians whose private armies are also engaged in sectarian terrorist warfare, is incapable of bringing its own police forces under control and preventing them from mounting “death squad” operations, “disappearing” opponents, and engaging in torture and massacre.

In Vietnam, we had an enemy: the VC and the NVA. In Iraq, we face a condition: sectarian violence, and a government without the political capacity, even if it had the operational capacity, to end it.

There’s no way to defeat a condition.

Had it not been for the (largely Sunni) insurgency, perhaps the militias wouldn’t have gotten out of control. But “defeating the insurgency” is no longer the issue. Therefore, the assertion that, in the current offensive, the insurgency is being defeated militarily &#8212 the point of the Tet analogy &#8212 isn’t just wrong, it’s unrelated to reality.

Trying to end the Iraqi conflagration by “defeating the insurgency” is logically equivalent to trying to cure Parkinson’s Disease with an antibiotic. It’s not a question of whether you’re using enough antibiotic, or the right antibiotic; if you’re even thinking about an antibiotic for a non-bacterial condition, you have no idea what disease you’re trying to cure, or alternatively you’re just trying to swindle the patient out of a fee.

So which is it? Are we being ruled by fools, or by charlatans?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

10 thoughts on “Iraq’s Tet Offensive?”

  1. Yeah, I don't really see why we have to choose. We could probably even come up with a few more terms that would work.

  2. They are farmers, planting the seeds of a stabbed-in-the-back myth: We coulda/woulda/shoulda won in Iraq if it handn't been for those meddling Democrats. If the next Congress does anything but rubber-stamp GWB's proposals, you can bet your bottom dollar this line is coming.

  3. I think the old, "Are they stupid, or are they evil?' dichotomy has already died of overwork. What they really are is delusional. This is founded on two things: their upper-class elitism causes their values to be inverted from normal human values, and they have expectations of reality that they have derived from "prophecy". At any rate, whether motivated by stupidity, evil, or religious mania, it must by now be obvious that they are extremely dangerous to democracy.

  4. Cognitive dissonance in its most raw form.
    We saw that before and after 9-11. There was no way, in their minds, that a non-sovereign actor could pose a threat to the USA, nor kill 3000 Americans and defeat 50 years of Cold War air defence planning.
    Therefore there had to be a state actor: hence the 'Axis of Evil'.
    What you have is (at least) 2 incredibly smart men (Cheney and Rumsfeld) who have brought a 1972 paleo-conservative view of the world back into the White House, to shape foreign policy.
    Ironically it was another old man, General Scowcroft, who told them they were wrong, and was ignored for it.

  5. I vote "delusional". The WashPost had a front page article today on upcoming major changes in strategy in the Iraq war. As if the US was in control or could be without a national mobilization (including the draft) — the whole set of discussions about the issue, rulers and all, is delusional.

  6. Let's hear some ideas for solutions. I'll accept that the crew in charge now has made a hash of things (pretty bloody obvious), but how would the people around here fix things and not make them worse? I'd really like to know.

  7. > but how would the people around
    > here fix things and not make them
    > worse? I'd really like to know.
    The very smart and militarily-knowledgeable people at Intel-Dump (ignoring my feeble posts) have hashed this one over three time in the last two weeks under the guidence of Phil Carter, a Reserve lawyer who just returned from a year in Iraq. Very few are willing to say so outright but the general conclusion seems to be that /there is no solution/; Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together.

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