Thomas Sowell

 Attacks on American and other troops and civilians in Iraq are not based on any illusion that terrorist acts and guerrilla warfare can defeat our military forces there. But the strength of a chain is that of its weakest link -- and the weakest link in American security is in the United States itself. It is the political link.

 For those old enough to remember the Vietnam war, this is another version of the Communist "Tet offensive" that marked the turning point in that war. During the holiday period known in Vietnam as Tet, the Communists launched spectacular attacks within South Vietnam, catching American and South Vietnamese forces by surprise -- and shocking American public opinion.
 President Lyndon Johnson's administration had for years painted such an optimistic picture of the war that many Americans were shocked that the Communists still had enough strength left to launch such widespread and coordinated attacks. The Tet offensive was such a blow to the administration's credibility during an election year that President Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election.

 Support for the war eroded and demands that we get out reached a crescendo. The irony in all this is that the Communist insurgents were beaten decisively during the Tet offensive. But what they lost in battle in Vietnam the Communists won in the American media and in public opinion shaped by the media.

 In later years, after the Communists were firmly in power in Vietnam, they admitted that the Tet offensive was a military disaster for them. In a 1995 interview in the Wall Street Journal, a Communist official stated frankly that the key to their victory was the American home front, and that they were encouraged to fight on by all the anti-war demonstrations in the United States.

 For much of the American media, their role in turning public opinion against the Vietnam war was among their proudest achievements. For our enemies, Vietnam provided a formula for defeating Americans politically at home when they could not be defeated militarily on the battlefield. Iraqi terrorists are already saying that they will create another Vietnam.

 Fortunately, not all of the media today is in Vietnam nostalgia mode. Nor have our leaders repeated all the mistakes of Vietnam.

 First and foremost, the Bush administration has never tried to tell us that the war on terrorism would be either quick or easy. On the contrary, the President announced back in 2001 that the war on terrorism was going to be a long and hard war.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate