Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2004 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Peter A. Brown

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Al-Qaeda adopts Viet Cong's Tet strategy: Don't' fall for it | It is reasonable to assume that someone in the al-Qaeda hierarchy has been reading books other than the Quran.

The last time I checked, the Muslim holy book didn't have a chapter on the Tet offensive.

Nor does it contain a verse on how suicidal violence can play to TV's obsession with pictures and deliver a political message aimed at influencing voters before an election.

Yet someone pulling strings in al-Qaeda central clearly understands those matters, and how they shaped America's Vietnam experience.

Most important, they understand the lesson of Tet - that a military defeat can be more than worth the cost if its violence produces enough dissatisfaction to damage the enemy's political will.

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That's evident in the recent effort by al-Qaeda and its allies to emulate the tactics of anti-U.S. forces in Vietnam that helped push Lyndon B. Johnson into retirement and the subsequent election of a president who wound down the American presence there.

One can only assume they are trying to do the same thing to George W. Bush.

In Vietnam, the enemy took advantage of the world's first televised war to maximize violence before the Democratic presidential primaries in 1968.

They understood that the casualties inflicted on U.S. troops - even if far fewer than their own - and the pictures it provided to the news media made many millions of Americans question the wisdom of fighting a war thousands of miles from home.

The North Vietnamese were willing to suffer a military defeat in hopes of achieving their desired result - the withdrawal of U.S. troops - by political means.

Their strategy worked.

Tet marked the turning of U.S. public opinion against the Vietnam War that led to the American withdrawal in 1975.

The analogy between Vietnam and today's conflict in Iraq has been overused this election season. To opponents of the American effort, Iraq is another case of U.S. forces becoming entangled in a civil war between various domestic factions. War supporters see the Iraq campaign as an important effort to combat terrorism and create a shining example of democracy in a crucial but unstable part of the globe.

Curiously, little has been made of the al-Qaeda adoption of the Tet strategy. The increased level of violence in Iraq in the past month is a transparent effort to copy the tactics of Tet, aimed at political, rather than military, victory. These attacks are actually often suicide bombings as opposed to the Viet Cong efforts against larger forces in1968.

It is more than coincidental that the recent increase in attacks are occurring during the period when Americans, through the presidential election, are deciding the thrust of their policy toward terrorism and the Middle East.

The "Tet offensive," named for the Buddhist holiday during which it occurred, was launched in early 1968, just before the Democratic presidential primaries. Johnson had been heavily favored for both renomination and election. But the public furor here at home over Vietnam, fed by the Tet attacks and pictures beamed into America's living rooms, led him to withdraw from the race.

The Republicans had been in shambles after their disastrous 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater, and LBJ's landslide re-election. They entered that campaign as underdogs, but they were fueled by an anti-war sentiment that was probably stronger than that view is today.

Richard Nixon, who won that election, promised a "secret plan" to extricate the United States from Vietnam, not a hugely different approach than John Kerry's often contradictory comments about the war and vague plan about how he would do things differently than Bush.

Be clear about this: Al-Qaeda & Co. are campaigning for votes, just as Bush and Kerry are.

Regardless of what the American people decide, the terrorists want to pressure the next president into withdrawing U.S. forces.

They think the best way to do that is by convincing U.S. voters through suicide attacks that the benefits of remaining in Iraq are not worth the price in men and money.

That being the case, it is important to remember that Tet was a clear military victory for U.S. forces and their Vietnamese allies. If a democratic Iraq is worth pursuing, then bloody pictures should not make it any less so.

Consider the long-term ramifications of your vote. Don't just react emotionally to what you are seeing on your television screen.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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