October 31, 2006
Now that President Bush has backed away from "stay the course" as a rallying cry, several questions emerge. Was this change appropriate? (Yes.) Was it timely? (No.) Will it help the Republicans hold on to Congress? (No.) Daniel Drezner agrees with me on that last point: "From a political perspective, however, my hunch is that this shift in rhetoric will be a disaster." Indeed, the change from Bush's prior insistence that we had to persevere now calls into question other aspects of U.S. war policy. He needs to be extremely careful in how he phrases war policy for the next few delicate months, as the transition toward greater Iraqi control over security proceeds. As Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki takes an increasingly assertive stance toward the United States, Bush needs to display extreme tact and statesmanlike poise. We want the Iraqis to stand up for themselves, and Bush needs to tone down the macho war rhetoric so that Americans get used to dealing with the Iraqis as equal partners.
Drezner was also quite right to highlight the "Vietnam analogy" in this situation, but not for the reason you might think. As most reasonably objective people understand, the ongoing slaughter in Iraq is almost certainly part of an orchestrated campaign to undermine the American people's will, just as the the Tet Offensive was in 1968. Many Americans still don't "get" Tet, in which a clear U.S. military victory was transformed into a geopolitical defeat thanks to the eroding credibility of the Johnson administration, especially Bob McNamara's Pentagon. The Viet Cong suffered devastating losses in Tet, after which the North Vietnamese Army became the primary locus of enemy resistance. We lost the Vietnam War in no small part because LBJ was afraid of directly confronting the main suppliers of the communist forces -- Red China. The corresponding external patron of the enemy forces in the Iraq War is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Victory or defeat in Iraq will depend on whether we confront Tehran.