Posted on October 5, 2009
Starting on January 31, 1968, combined forces of the North Vietnamese Communist Army and the Viet Cong launched surprise attacks, with more than 80,000 communist troops striking more than 100 towns and cities, including 36 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the national capital. While the American forces easily repulsed most of the attacks and inflicted far more damage on the Communists than they did on the Americans, the public relations damage was devastating for supporters of the war back in the United States. In the aftermath of the attack Walter Cronkite memorably said, “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds" and added that, "we are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory."
Some may try to call the Taliban attacks on American forces over the weekend to be the modern version of Tet. After all, 10 Americans were killed in the biggest loss of life in Afghanistan in over a year, just as the debate is raging over whether we should put more troops in theater or pull back our presence. Public support is also starting to flag for our continued involvement in this war, which President Obama called during the campaign the war of necessity. And worse, the President himself is starting to waver, seemingly beguiled by the bad advice of his Vice President, who excels at giving bad advice on how to win or lose wars.
But these attacks over the weekend are no replay of Tet. In anything, the attacks prove why we need more troops in Afghanistan. Our guys were outnumbered in a remote outpost, put there to try to stop the flow of Taliban fighters flowing in from Pakistan. It is hard to see how taking more of our warfighters out of the region will help make the situation more stable.
Unlike in Viet Nam, where the chances of Vietnamese attacks on our soil were remote, the war on terror has already seen one successful attack on our homeland, and several foiled plots that could have been devastating. Some of those foiled plots were broken up only in the last couple of weeks. To allow Afghanistan to be overrun by the Taliban will have a direct impact on our own national security.
Allowing Islamic extremists to win in Afghanistan will have other security implications for the United States. Undoubtedly, heroin production will shoot up, as the Taliban will reverse its previous antipathy to the drug, to flood the American market with the dangerous drug. Allowing the Taliban to win in Afghanistan will embolden extremists in Pakistan, making it harder for our allies there to control their nuclear arsenal. It will give the Iranians more confidence that they can stand up to the Americans. And it will give extremists in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia a tremendous public relations boost.
The President’s prestige is also on the line. His image is still largely unformed. Many international leaders think he is weak, unsophisticated, inexperienced and naïve. They like him personally, but they also think they can push him around. If he gets weak in the knees on this decision, there is no telling what the international ramifications might be.
But the attacks this weekend, while tragic, did not make up another Tet Offensive. The President shouldn’t back off on this war. He should take the advice of his generals and keep the pressure on.