WASHINGTON -- With the sudden eruption of violence in Iraq at the vestibule of Ramadan, it is now apparent that at least someone reads American history -- Saddam's brutes and perhaps the terrorists from Al Qaeda. American schoolchildren know very little American history, lost as they are in courses on gender genius and conflict resolution. Yet our enemies in the Middle East remember the Vietnam War, the Tet Offensive and how while our Army triumphed in Vietnam our politicians rendered the war unwinnable at home.
Ahead of the curve once again, the New York Sun editorialized early this week that the parallels being drawn between the Ramadan violence and the 1968 Tet Offensive do not reflect all that well on today's war critics. In 1968, the Tet Offensive was a dreadful defeat for the communists, costing them 43,000 dead while our losses were relatively light. Yet in 1968, America's growing chorus of antiwar voices drew just the wrong conclusion. The New York Times, one of the early proponents of the Vietnam War, actually referred to the Tet Offensive at the time as "the spectacularly successful Communist Tet offensive." Thus began the antiwar critics' campaign for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam. They eventually got their settlement promising "peace and freedom" in Vietnam. What they got was a communist dictatorship and the peace of "re-education camps". The dictatorship still exists.
Who would Dr. Howard Dean, Sen. John Pierre Kerry and Gen. Wesley Clark have us negotiate with today? Oh, let us cooperate with the United Nations, they say, ignoring the fact that we tried, and there was not much cooperation. Moreover, the United Nations has no policy for pacifying Iraq or even anyone to negotiate with, though maybe Secretary-General Kofi Annan will find an Iraqi version of Yasser Arafat to negotiate with.
What we are seeing in Iraq is the politicization of a war. One of the reasons Americans used to abide by the principle that foreign policy stops at the water's edge was to prevent politicizing a policy that would always leave our government outnumbered in negotiations. There would be the American government on one side of the table and our adversary on the other, seated alongside the American government's domestic critics. Both our adversary and Washington's domestic critics could cooperate in weakening our government's position.
That is the prospect Washington faces today in the Middle East unless the Democrats show restraint, the kind of restraint responsible Republicans showed in the 1940s when the Roosevelt and Truman administrations developed the tough policies against Moscow that eventually led to a peaceful end to the Cold War and to world communism.