November 20, 2005
Iraq, Fear Shouldn't Be Our Guide
War casualties -- up. The president’s poll numbers -- down.
To an all-time low, in fact. Protestors march in front of the
White House. Elections loom. And how does the president respond?
By convening a bipartisan group of elder statesman to guide him.
Their advice: The war can’t be won. The United States should
cut and run.
was Lyndon Johnson, and the time was March 1968. A few days after
receiving this advice, Johnson announced he wasn’t running
assembled his group of “wise men” in 1965. Democrats
and Republicans, they included the coldest of the cold warriors,
such as Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Matthew Ridgway, Averell
Harriman, John McCloy, Robert Lovett, Omar Bradley and James Gavin.
In 1967, they told the president to stay the course, stressing
that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.” After
the massive North Vietnamese offensive during the Tet holiday
in 1968, that changed.
House wise men assembled at the State Department on March 25,
1968 for a series of briefings. Among them was a feisty, brilliant
and iconoclastic Vietnam combat veteran, Gen. William E. DePuy.
And DePuy had a lot to say.
Tet, he explained,
was a disastrous defeat for the North Vietnamese. The insurgent
infrastructure in South Vietnam had been crushed and likely would
never recover. The regular North Vietnamese had suffered terrible
losses and the Americans now had breathing space to train-up and
equip the South Vietnamese army so that they could take over responsibility
for defending the country.
men didn’t buy it. Like many Americans, they were demoralized
by Tet. “They seized upon those parts of the briefing which
supported their view,” DePuy later recalled, “and
paid little attention to the other parts.”
took counsel of their fears -- and quit.
Osama bin Laden, however, read history wrong. Tet didn’t
break the will of the American people. American troops remained
in Vietnam for five more years, and a new senior commander, Creighton
Abrams, instituted a Vietnamization strategy that prepared the
country to defend itself. It worked. If Congress hadn’t
cut off support for South Vietnam after Nixon’s impeachment,
the country today would probably still be an independent nation.
As the difficult
days of occupying Iraq have stretched into years, wise men --
Republican and Democrat -- are again speaking. Fear counseling
is a growth industry in Washington.
should be cold comfort for the terrorists. Americans always publicly
agonize over their decision to go to war and whether they should
stay the course. They never take casualties lightly. Every American
war is controversial -- before, during and after it ends. That
is how democracies do battle. But just because we debate doesn’t
mean we won’t fight.
polls don’t wage wars. Nations wage wars, and when their
leaders lead, when they’re plain spoken and determined and
have a reasonable plan to secure the nation’s vital national
interests, democracies fight well.
news for the terrorists: This president is no Lyndon Johnson.
He won’t quit.
a place for wise men in Washington. The president needs advice
on how to perform the critical tasks that remain -- advancing
the political process in Iraq, mitigating the chance of civil
war, speeding the fielding of Iraqi police and security forces,
increasing the pace of economic development, rebuilding infrastructure
and pressuring Iraq’s neighbors to help in the fight against
transnational terrorism. What he doesn’t need is fear counseling.
Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland
security at The Heritage Foundation.
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