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.
Most of us at the time would probably not have believed that we could have gone this long without another and perhaps more catastrophic terrorist attack on the United States. Do you remember how every symbolic occasion -- the World Series, Christmas, New Year's Eve, the Super Bowl -- brought widespread fears that this could be when the terrorists would strike us again?
Yet our respite from terrorist attack has seldom brought even a grudging acknowledgement that perhaps the government's anti-terrorism policies and activities might deserve some credit, instead of the constant barrage of media and political criticism and carping.
Make no mistake, a new and more terrible terrorist attack could happen here at any time -- especially now that Spain has shown how easy it is to panic politicians. But the fact that our enemies see our politics as the weakest link in the chain of American national security means that we need to recognize that as well.
John F. Kennedy said it all: "We dare not tempt them with weakness." He went to the brink of nuclear war with that philosophy during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 -- and the public supported him.
That is why the Soviets backed down. Had we been bickering among ourselves, the outcome could have been very different.
Today as well, weakness is our greatest danger -- whether that weakness takes the form of wishful thinking about the United Nations or other soft options. Politicians who are too irresponsible to recognize that our deadly enemies -- whether in Iraq or North Korea -- are listening to their every word cannot be trusted with the power to shape the future of this nation.
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