Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Tet Redux?

I am obviously surprised, depressed, and concerned over the upsurge in violence. Ironically, just days before the Fallouja attacks, I noticed that the number of soldiers killed over the last two months had dropped significantly and thought that perhaps we had turned a corner. Well, so much for that. I have no knowledge beyond what I read in the papers, so I have no idea of the severity of the situation. Let's hope that the violence is limited to Sadr and his followers and this isn't or doesn't develop into a general revolt by the majority of Sunnis. If that is the case, this may be a good thing in the long run since it will eliminate an extremist element in advance of the transition to Iraqi sovereignty. If this isn't the case, then it's hard to see how things won't spiral out of control.

Regarding the domestic impact of all of this, I can't help but to draw comparisons to the Tet Offensive of 1968. By mounting numerous and well-coordinated attacks throughout South Vietnam, the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies put the lie to the Johnson administration claims that we were winning the war. Yes, I know that we eventually prevailed, that Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for the communists, and that these attacks are very small in comparison, but Tet destroyed what remained of the Johnson administration's credibility and turned U.S. public opinion against the war.

I'd guess that these attacks will likely have a similar impact. They will clearly cause a big hit to Bush's already low approval ratings, especially on his handling of the Iraq situation. We will also see sizeable drops in the percentage of people who think invading Iraq was the right thing and a corresponding increase in those who would like us to withdraw our troops as soon as possible.

In this situation, a hasty retreat from Iraq would be a disaster. After we pulled out of Somalia, bin Laden and other terrorists were emboldened by their belief that the U.S. lacked the will to fight after only a few casualties. Furthermore, if we were to leave Iraq too soon, the country would obviously slip into the worst sort of chaos and become a breeding ground for terrorist organizations.

In the short run, we need more troops in Iraq. It's been clear since the invasion that we've had too few troops on the ground. Yes, we won a quick and clear victory, but the margin of error was much too small. Even more importantly, trying to control 25 million people in a country the size of California with only 130,000 troops is an obviously impossible task. With so few troops we had limited ability to stop the looting immediately after the war and limited ability to crush the Baathist die-hards before that grew into a full-fledged insurgency. Donald Rumsfeld seems to have resisted the extra troops just to prove a point about how he could transform the military and thus, more than anyone else in the administration, he's responsible for the current mess. It's time for him to go.

In the long run, we need to stick things out. We've made a commitment to build a stable and democratic Iraq, and we should do that. Failing in that mission means that we'll just have to fight that battle again and at greater cost.

My fear is that if elected, Kerry and the Democrats will look for exits as quickly as possible, arguing that Bush, in Kerry's words, has f*cked things up so badly that they had no other option. I'd be interested to hear what Democrats like Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Carl Levin have to say about what should be done.

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