Friday, December 01, 2006

We Americans Need to Make Some Hard Decisions

I think Americans have to make some hard decisions about our survival as a free and prosperous nation. There will always be a small minority of ‘peace-niks’ who can never understand that wars are an inevitable consequence of human activity, and that we must be strong both to prevent them when possible and win them when necessary. We can live with a few ‘peace-niks’, but it may be that we cannot continue to live with some of our traditional definitions and rights – at least for now. The problem we have faced since the end of World War II that may well bring us down is the combination of our current definition of a ‘free press’, the growth of ‘hate-America’ sentiment among a large and growing portion of our nation and the instant and ubiquitous nature of television.

Whether or not it was the ‘right’ thing to do to go into Vietnam, Somalia or Iraq, it has been disastrous for us to apply insufficient force and then to quit before attaining our objectives. Over and over again, Vietnam, Somalia and our inaction in the face of terrorism in the 1990’s have been cited by our Islamic enemies as their rationale for increasing and continuing their murderous attacks against us. They are absolutely certain that we will once again ‘cut and run’. In both Vietnam and Somalia, and now in Iraq, lies, distortions, misperceptions and instant analysis that later proves wrong are sapping our will and will eventually impoverish and/or kill my grandchildren if the terrorists win and go on to control the oil fields and impose the Sharia on the western world.

The situation in Iraq is bleak, but not hopeless. The situations at Guadalcanal, Midway, North Africa and the Ardennes were bleak, but turned out to be major turning points in our favor, LARGELY BECAUSE PRESS REPORTS WERE CENSORED, AND THE AMERICAN PUBLIC WASN’T MISLED INTO SCREAMING FOR A WITHDRAWAL.
In the past two years the New York Times has revealed the existence of our data mining, bank transaction tracking, rough questioning and other classified and invaluable security measures taken against Al Qaeda. On the O'Reilly Factor this week Oliver North said that one of our problems in Iraq is that our intelligence from foreign sources has dried up due to the leaks of intelligence matters by the New York Times and others. The mainstream press also confronts us every morning with the grim statistics in the Sunni Triangle, but never tells us about the 90% of the country making progress in peace and security.

The article below, “The Wars of Perception” clearly portrays past deceptions carried out by the mainstream media. It is time to bring back wartime rules and wartime censorship of the press. It is better to find out later about mistakes, blunders and catastrophes than to quit and lose a war we are winning – not when the stakes have gotten this high. As Churchill said, "War is mainly a catalogue of blunders".

November 28, 2006
Op-Ed Contributors
New York Times
The Wars of Perception

IN January 1968, Americans turned on their televisions to find scenes of chaos and carnage as Vietnamese communists unleashed their surprise Tet offensive. It would go down in history as the greatest American battlefield defeat of the cold war.

Twenty-five years later, in December 1992, the United States began a humanitarian intervention in Somalia that would be viewed as the most striking failure of the post-cold-war era. Then, in March 2003, American tanks charged across the dunes into Iraq, beginning, in the eyes of many Americans, the worst foreign policy debacle of the post-9/11 world. Tet, Somalia and Iraq: the three great post-World War II American defeats.

Except that, remarkably, Tet and Somalia were not defeats. They were successes perceived as failures. Such stark divergence between perception and reality is common in wartime, when people’s beliefs about which side wins and which loses are often driven by psychological factors that have nothing to do with events on the battlefield. Tet and Somalia may, therefore, hold important lessons for Iraq.

The Tet offensive was an unmitigated disaster for the communists. Despite the advantages of surprise, the South Vietnamese insurgents, the Vietcong, failed to hold on to a single target in South Vietnam and suffered staggering losses. Of the 80,000 attackers, as many as half were killed in the first month alone, and the Vietcong never recovered. The United States had clearly won this round of the war.
Yet most Americans saw the Tet offensive as a failure for the United States.

Approval of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s handling of the war slipped to a low of 26 percent. Before Tet, 58 percent of Americans described themselves as “hawks” who wanted to step up American military involvement in the war, while 26 percent described themselves as “doves” seeking to reduce it. Two months after Tet, doves narrowly outnumbered hawks.

How did perceptions become so detached from reality? A key factor was overblown expectations. In the months before Tet, Johnson had begun a “progress campaign” to convince Americans that victory in Vietnam was just around the corner. Reams of statistics showed that infiltration rates were down and enemy casualties were up. And it worked. Public confidence ticked upwards. But after Johnson’s bullish rhetoric, Tet looked like a disaster. The scale and surprise of the offensive sent a shock wave through the American psyche. As Johnson’s former aide, Robert Koner, later recalled, “Boom, 40 towns get attacked, and they didn’t believe us anymore.”

The illusion of defeat was heightened by two powerful symbolic events. First, the communists attacked the American Embassy in Saigon. It was one of the smallest-scale actions of the Tet offensive, but it captured America’s attention. The attackers had breached the pre-eminent symbol of the United States presence in South Vietnam: if the embassy wasn’t safe, nowhere was. News outlets reported that the embassy had been captured when in reality all of the attackers were soon lying dead in the courtyard.

Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of the American forces in Vietnam, held a press conference at the embassy to announce that Tet was an American victory. But behind the general, dead Vietcong were still being dragged away from the blood-spattered lawn. Reporters could scarcely believe what they were hearing. Said one: “Westmoreland was standing in the ruins and saying everything was great.”

Second, Eddie Adams’s photograph of South Vietnam’s police chief executing a Vietcong captive in the street caused a sensation. After he fired the shot, the police chief told nearby reporters: “They killed many Americans and many of my men. Buddha will understand. Do you?” Back home in the United States, the image spoke powerfully of a brutal and unjust war. For some Americans, this image was the Tet offensive.

Finally, the American news media painted a picture of disaster in Vietnam. Even though communist forces incurred enormous losses, reporters often lauded their performance. As the Times war correspondent Peter Braestrup put it, “To have portrayed such a setback for one side as a defeat for the other — in a major crisis abroad — cannot be counted as a triumph for American journalism.”

A similar story later unfolded in Somalia. From 1992 to 1994, the American humanitarian intervention in Somalia saved the lives of more than 100,000 Somalis and cut the number of refugees in half, for the loss of 43 Americans. Back in the United States, however, this noble mission was widely viewed as the greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. By October 1993, approval for President Bill Clinton’s handling of Somalia fell to 30 percent. Only 25 percent of Americans viewed the intervention as a success, and 66 percent saw it as a failure.

Like Tet, the mission in Somalia suffered from overblown expectations. Intervening in an anarchical, war-ridden country was bound to be difficult. But early efforts to provide food and security in Somalia went so well that the project looked deceptively easy. The American public and news media lost interest — until early October 1993, when American soldiers were killed in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu.

With echoes of Saigon in 1968, powerful images of the Mogadishu battle pushed Americans towards a perception of defeat. Press coverage was dominated by pictures of the captured pilot, Michael Durant, and mutilated American corpses, often with the tagline of America’s “humiliation.” Journalists tended to ignore the bigger picture, in this case large pro-American demonstrations in Somalia and successful efforts to save lives and restore order outside of the capital.

Memories of Vietnam, and fears of getting bogged down in another messy quagmire, also promoted perceptions of failure. In October 1993, 62 percent of Americans thought that the intervention in Somalia “could turn into another Vietnam,” even after Mr. Clinton announced that America was pulling soldiers out of Somalia, and at a time when American casualties were a thousand times lower than in Vietnam.

What does this mean for Iraq? At the least, Tet and Somalia suggest we should be very careful before concluding that Iraq is a defeat. There is real evidence of failure, especially the escalating sectarian violence. But our perceptions are nevertheless easily manipulated. Iraq looks like a defeat in part because the Bush administration fell into the same trap as President Johnson: raising expectations of imminent victory by declaring “mission accomplished” before the real work had even begun. And as with Somalia, fighting shadowy insurgents in Iraq while propping up a weak government engenders negative memories of Vietnam.

Perceptions of success and failure can change the course of history. Reeling from the supposed disaster at Tet, the United States began to withdraw. Memories of “failure” in Somalia were a major reason — perhaps the major reason — that the United States did nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. If Iraq is perceived as a failure, it is only a matter of time before America pulls out, leaving who-knows-what behind. With the stakes so high, Americans must be certain that their perception of failure in Iraq is not a mirage.

Dominic Johnson, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, and Dominic Tierney, an assistant professor of political science at Swarthmore, are the authors of “Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics.”


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At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American People are tired of hearing "stay the course", because the Liberal elite media in this country have taken these words out of context, and painted them in a derogatory way that only they know how to do. They are like a bunch of little kids in the back seat of the family car, whining and complaining about how long the trip is taking on a vacation with their folks. "Are we there yet?" "Well, how long is it going to take?" "I'm tired!" "Can we stop for a while?" "I want to go home!" They want us to lose this war because of the hate that they have for this president. If the Middle East becomes engulfed with these murderous Islamist nuts, our lifestyles are going to change in this country, dramatically. As usual, the Loony Left in this country never think about the consequences of their foolish actions, and history has proven this, over and over again. One particular hack in Congress, keeps asking to bring back the draft, and there are some, like Ret. Col. David Hunt who will agree, but the New York congressman has an altogether different motive for wanting the draft, than Col. Hunt. If a draft was ever implemented, who would make the decision of what kind of functions the draftees would perform, that would benefit this country? Of course, the "hack" has ulterior motives for bringing back the draft. He's thinking; "I'd love to turn this Iraq thing into a Vietnam debacle, where everyone is protesting in peace marches." "If I could only get the President to shoot himself in the foot, it would make my day!" Even Liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean aren't going along with Charley Rangles, and it just isn't going to happen, but if Congress pulls our troops out of Iraq, I believe that the situation will become so intense and worse than it is now, that this country will have no other alternative than to bring back the draft. Time will tell on this one.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Ronald Barbour said...

Time to suspend Writ of Habeas Corpus?


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