Military historian John Keegan, writing in the Telegraph reacts to the (incorrect) media reports of Bush supposedly comparing Iraq to Vietnam. Even though he is reacting to a misinterpretation, his detailed explanation of why Iraq is not Vietnam is still worth reading.
The recent upsurge of violence in Iraq in no way resembles the Tet offensive. At Tet, the Vietnamese new year, the North Vietnamese People's Army simultaneously attacked 40 cities and towns in South Vietnam, using 84,000 troops. Of those, the communists lost 45,000 killed. No such losses have been recorded in Iraq at any place or any time. The Tet offensive proved to be a military disaster for the Vietnamese communists. It left them scarcely able to keep up their long-running, low-level war against the South Vietnamese government and the American army.
Indeed, insofar as Tet was a defeat for the United States and for the South Vietnamese government, it was because the American media decided to represent it as such. It has become a cliché to say that Vietnam was a media war, but so it was. Much of the world media were hostile to American involvement from the start, particularly in France, which had fought and lost its own Vietnam war in 1946-54. The defeat of Dien Bien Phu rankled with the French and there were few who wanted to see the Americans win where they had failed.
It was, however, the American rather than the foreign media who decided on the verdict. The American media had begun by supporting the war. As it dragged on, however, without any end in sight and with the promised military victory constantly postponed, American newspapers and — critically — the evening television programmes began to treat war news as a bad story.
The media were extremely influential, particularly at such places as university campuses and the firesides of American families whose sons had been conscripted for service. When casualties of 150 a week began to be reported, the war began to be increasingly unpopular. President Johnson, who was temperamentally oversensitive to criticism, believed that one particular broadcast by Walter Cronkite in February 1968, just after Tet, lost him Middle America. "If I've lost Kronkite," he said to his staff, "I have lost the war."
President Bush must now expect that America's television anchormen will be looking for a similar opportunity to damage him. If they find it, the blame will be the President's alone.
I do not want to see the same mistakes repeated. The majority of the media is operating in a completely irresponsible fashion these days in a desperate attempt to cause the war to fail. They are routinely publishing anything they can that will damage the administration with no thought whatsoever about what damage they are doing to this nation and the world itself. The question that must be answered by all those who oppose the war in Iraq is this: Are you, personally, willing to bear the responsibility for the bloodshed that will follow a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq? Because there will be bloodshed.
And the media will be complicit.