"The Most Trusted Man in America," according to frequently quoted surveys, was for several decades Walter Cronkite, the now 89-year-old former anchor of "CBS Evening News." Dropping in to Vietnam during the 1968 Tet offensive, he produced what he still describes as his proudest moment. He pronounced the Vietnam War unwinnable and declared the United States should "get out now."
"Uncle Walter" has done it again. Iraq is unwinnable, said the man who gave up the CBS anchor's job 25 years ago, and the United States should "get out now."
As Peter Breastrup, a former Washington Post correspondent, documented in two massive volumes on how the media covered Tet - titled "Big Story" - the nationwide Vietcong offensive turned out to be an "unmitigated disaster" for the communist side. But the media consensus was just the opposite - an "unmitigated defeat" for the United States.
Cronkite, along with several hundred reporters from two dozen countries, focused on how the Vietcong guerrillas managed to blast their way into the U.S. Embassy compound (but didn't make it past the Marines in the lobby). War correspondents were also impressed by the view from the cocktail bar atop the Caravelle Hotel: C-47s, equipped with three Gatling guns on one side, were strafing Vietcong pockets in Cholon, the capital's twin city 2½ miles away.
Yet the Vietcong didn't reach a single one of their objectives and lost most of their 45,000-strong force in their attacks against 21 cities. It was also a defeat that convinced North Vietnam's leaders to send their regular army - the NVA - south of the 17th parallel to pick up where the Vietcong left off.
Cronkite's verdict is what persuaded President Johnson to throw in the towel. Six weeks later, LBJ announced he would not run for a second term. "If I've lost Cronkite," LBJ told one of his aides, "I've lost Middle America." In fact, he had already lost most of America. Perception had become reality.
The last American soldier left Vietnam in March 1973 and Saigon finally fell to the North Vietnamese Army in April 1975. Meanwhile, the South Vietnamese army held its own against the NVA with U.S. air support, defeating the Communist "Easter Offensive" of 1972. But morale collapsed after the U.S. Congress decided to withhold further military assistance to the South Vietnamese government.
Surprised by this congressional decision, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the Communist supremo, said in his memoirs, he had to improvise a general offensive against Saigon whose capture he reckoned would not be possible for another two years.
Is history repeating itself in Iraq? While failure is not an option, failure has become a real possibility with Vietnam war hero Congressman John Murtha, D-Pa., and Cronkite conceding defeat not only to the insurgents but also to al-Qaida-in-Mesopotamia - and to the mullahcracy in Iran that sees its influence growing in Shiite Iraq (60 percent of the population). As Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's No. 2, seems to believe in his latest video, the insurgency has the United States running for the Iraqi exit.
Alarmingly reminiscent of the buzz on the home front after the Tet offensive, wild exaggerations are now the norm among the anti-war scribes. Much quoted around the world is the cost of Iraq as calculated by Harvard University budget expert Linda Bilmes and Columbia's Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Nothing less than $1 trillion or $2 trillion, or five to 10 times higher than the $200 billion estimated by former presidential economic adviser Larry Lindsey, who was fired because his estimate was three times higher than the $70 billion figure the White House was using at the time.
Widely read by the business, academic and media communities all over the world, the Financial Times' Martin Wolf gave global resonance to the Stiglitz-Bilmes analysis, and concluded the economic cost comes out at a minimum of $839 billion (excluding interest). "This, alas," Wolf writes, "does not end the story. In one area, at least, further costs are evident: the jump in the price of oil."
Eric Margolis in the Toronto Sun, under the headline "Fin Du Regime?" wrote, "China's Taoist philosophers warned that you become what you hate. We see this paradox in Washington, where the current administration increasingly reminds one of the old Soviet Union." The USSR, he explained, "went bankrupt after spending 40 percent of national income on the military." These preposterous lucubrations are now coin of the liberal realm.
The cover of the Jan. 30 issue of The Nation magazine says, "The Impeachment of George W. Bush." The author is Elizabeth Holtzman, a prominent left-winger who made her mark as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon Impeachment Proceedings (1973-74). "Finally, it has started," she writes, "people have begun to speak of impeaching President Bush - not in hushed whispers but openly, in newspapers, on the Internet, in ordinary conversations and even in Congress." She could have added the blogosphere, which is now deluged with the "I" word.
When a questioner asked Murtha and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., at a town hall meeting on C-SPAN recently why impeachment proceedings hadn't started in Congress, the audience rose spontaneously and went on clapping for two minutes.
Former Vice President Al Gore fed the impeachment mill on Martin Luther King Jr.'s national holiday by accusing President Bush of "repeatedly and insistently" breaking the law by eavesdropping on American citizens without court approval.
Brent Scowcroft, former President Bush's national security adviser, tried to bring sanity back to the Iraqi debate by suggesting how the "success" option could be made "more acceptable and more likely by reducing its cost and risk." Scowcroft recommended that the United Nations be brought back to Iraq and asked to provide "a more ecumenical political umbrella and expertise in building and coordinating institutions, programs and structures."
This "success" ticket would also require "a dedicated security force" to replace the U.S. presence. The U.N. umbrella, Scowcroft added, would then provide a basis for asking Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Morocco and Egypt, and possibly India, whose population includes 150 million Muslims, to provide enough countrywide security and training capabilities "to accelerate the development of a stable, progressive Iraqi state."
This would take the best part of a year to achieve. And our elections are in November.
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