Dow Jones Company chairman Peter Kann covered the Vietnam war for the Wall Street Journal, and was there for the Tet Offensive in 1968. He challenges the antiwar theme equating Iraq with Vietnam in a column for the Journal this morning: “A bad analogy.” The column is good, especially in its discussion of what we won through our efforts in Vietnam. Here is Kann on the press misreporting of Vietnam that I tried to take up in “The media quagmire” last month:
[I]n the case of Vietnam, the war was lost less on the battlefield than on the home front. North Vietnamese leaders themselves have frequently credited “the peace movement of the heroic American people” as important to the communist victory. Few military authorities would any longer dispute that the vaunted Tet Offensive of 1968 was a significant military defeat for the North Vietnamese, or that well into the early ’70s the military balance on the ground had shifted in favor of the Americans and South Vietnamese.
Covering the Tet Offensive, I, too, was stunned into initially seeing it as a communist triumph. Traveling the Vietnamese countryside in the years that followed, I came to see the military progress we were making. But even as the balance of power on the ground shifted in one direction, the balance of politics at home was shifting in the other.
And so, by the early ’70s, with antiwar protests mounting in the streets and antiwar sentiment seething in Washington, we accelerated our military withdrawals, Congress cut off military aid to a South Vietnamese government we had committed to support, and the U.S. was left to negotiate a fig-leaf surrender. We then stood by to watch the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam under a massive North Vietnamese assault. One need not argue that Vietnam was ever a fully winnable war to suggest that political rather than military realities led most directly to that grim outcome. And, as today’s senators complain about casualties, begin to seek certain dates for troops withdrawals, and argue that the price of persistence is too high, the similarities to the Vietnam era are all too recognizable.
Kann’s column, good as it is, twice mistakenly asserts that we have been at war in Iraq less than two years. The war in Iraq, however, was commenced in March 2003; we have now been at war for two-and-a-half years. How Kann and his editors could make this basic mistake on a point that he emphasizes in his column is difficult to understand.
Perhaps Kann means something different than I read him to mean by reference to our “fighting a collection of terrorists” for less than two years. However, American forces undertook “Operation Desert Scorpion” against organized Iraqi resistance in June 2003 and General Abizaid expressed recognition of the “guerilla-type campaign” waged by the terrorists in July 2003. See this useful timeline of events in Iraq from 2002-present. In any event, at the end of the column, Kann deplores our possible retreat from Iraq “after less than two years…”
By far the best column on the theme I tried to explore in my Standard piece is Victor Davis Hanson’s in the Washington Post this past Sunday: “Why we must stay in Iraq.”