Enough Vietnam analogies

Posted: Sep 10, 2003 12:00 AM

On one level, President Bush's Sunday night speech was unremarkable. It was a simple declarative address on what has been accomplished in the war on terrorism and what remains to be done. But on another level, it was stunning. In framing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as the other actions in the war on terror) as a noble cause and a great success, the speech sounded shockingly unfamiliar, given the wholly different themes regularly projected on television newscasts.

Bush reported how Fedayeen and terrorist scum have ambushed our soldiers. They've killed civilian aid workers at the United Nations; they've bombed the embassy of Jordan, a peaceful Arab country; and they've murdered a Shiite cleric and over 100 Muslims at prayer.

But the actions of our enemies are rarely scorned by our media elite. Instead, they're reported as problems for, or mistakes by, the Bush White House.

The tone of newscasts in the weeks since the last unmissable big success -- killing Uday and Qusay, and even these successes were criticized -- has been largely gloom and doom, Vietnam and quagmire. Two nights before Bush spoke, Dan Rather was pounding Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, saying "rank-and-file Americans are asking 'are we into quicksand? Is this going to be another quagmire?'" Rumsfeld, for once, was far too neutral, saying "time will tell," before noting that we've been in Iraq for less than six months.

Dan Rather's "rank-and-file Americans" are asking these questions only because the media can't stop focusing on them. Rumsfeld should have dismissed the whole Vietnam analogy as ridiculous, because:

1. We lost 58,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. Our casualties in Iraq now aren't on the same planet as the losses in that war.

2. We didn't liberate Vietnam from communist dictatorship and then have trouble reorganizing it along peaceful and democratic lines. If we were in Month Six and still struggling to depose Saddam Hussein -- while losing thousands of lives in the process -- the comparison would be more realistic. In Vietnam, we withdrew in defeat and left with the whole country united under tyranny and concentration camps. In Iraq, we liberated the entire country from tyranny and torture chambers in three weeks.

The anchors are now anxious to make us forget this.

3. In Vietnam, anti-war activists and anchormen could more plausibly argue (though still incorrectly) that the complete consolidation of communism halfway around the world was not a threat to the domestic security of the United States. Since September 11, are these same anti-war activists and anchormen finding it reasonable to assume that America faces no threat, and the proper response to world terrorism and the states that sponsor it is once again withdrawal and negotiated humiliation?

The only Vietnam analogy that works is the comparison in press coverage. As in Vietnam, the press is eager to discredit American military action, to discourage American support at home for military action, to disintegrate the noble cause of the fight, and to bury any victory under a tidal wave of gloom.

Last week, when he wasn't hammering Rumsfeld, Dan Rather was highlighting an interview with American-killing terrorists inside Iraq. They told Rather from scarf-covered faces that they hated Saddam, but now they hated Americans more. It's good and useful to know the enemy. What's so discouraging about Rather's treatment is that our sworn enemies are respectfully taken at their word and granted less cynicism about their motives than our own leaders in America.

Tom Brokaw came out of the Bush speech Sunday night with one primary question: When will Rumsfeld or his deputies resign? He asked Democrat Joe Biden this question from the left: "Obviously there has been a profound failure of intelligence about what would happen once we got to Baghdad. Shouldn't someone in the administration be held accountable for that?" Minutes later, he pitched the same question to retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the man who so badly predicted 3,000 casualties in the battle for Baghdad and now, predictably, is again running Rumsfeld into the ground.

In short, anchors are acting like they are the ones who run this country and could execute this war better than the Bush administration. Instead of covering this new decade of terror threats, these anchormen are better suited to their hot stories of the last decade -- O.J. Simpson, Princess Diana and the McCaughey septuplets.