Al Qaeda Remains Trapped in a Vietnam Fantasy
is desperately trying to produce an "Iraqi Tet" -- a Middle Eastern
repetition of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong 1968 offensive
in South Vietnam.
2 and again on April 4, the terror gang led by Al Qaeda's Iraq
commander, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, launched "military-style attacks"
on the Abu Ghraib prison complex in Baghdad. In the April 4 assault,
U.S. forces took 44 casualties (most of them minor wounds). The
terrorist gang, however, took 50 casualties, out of a force estimated
at 60 gunmen.
11, the gang attacked a Marine compound at Husaybah near the Syrian
border. As I write, terrorist casualties are unconfirmed, but
the assault flopped.
attacks on unarmed Iraqi civilians continue (particularly against
Shiites), public opinion now matters in Iraq, and the thugs' public
slaughters have killed too many Iraqi innocents. January's election
dramatically lifted public morale and changed the media focus
-- suddenly, democracy looks possible, and an Arab Muslim democracy
is Al Qaeda's worst nightmare.
"Tet gamble." Bombs haven't cowed the Iraqi people -- but perhaps
the American people will lose heart and buckle if Al Qaeda concocts
a military surprise.
however, are "hard targets" -- unlike civilians standing in line
to vote, US troops shoot back. Since 9-11, Al Qaeda has never
won a military engagement at the platoon level (30 men) or higher.
Coalition forward operating bases are heavily fortified.
But the Tet
fantasy is so compelling. Though Tet was by most measures a disaster
for the communists, as a media and hence political event, Tet
snuffed "the light at the end of the tunnel." The Johnson administration
had told the American public Vietnam had reached a turning point
-- "the light" -- but Tet demonstrated that North Vietnamese Army
(NVA) regulars and Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas were still capable
of potent action.
Vo Nguyen Giap planned for maximum psychological and political
impact. Communist forces simultaneously hit cities and military
bases throughout the south. Though they took huge casualties,
Giap's real target was President Johnson. Communist attackers
managed to break into the US embassy compound in Saigon. The assault
was repelled, but the moral damage -- and dramatic photos -- energized
Sen Eugene McCarthy's "peace candidacy." Political support for
LBJ and the Vietnam War withered.
is no Vietnam. The Vietnam War was strategic defense, a bitter
Cold War "battle of containment." The War on Terror is a strategic
political and military offensive directed at the dictators and
theocrats who rule by death squad and export terror -- and it's
a war we are winning.
democratic political process gearing up, Zarqawi has decided the
risk of facing US troops is worth the reward in headlines. Hitting
the Husaybah Marine compound is supposed to generate media echoes
of Lebanon 1983 and the US Marine barracks terror bombing that
led to American withdrawal.
US Navy Capt.
Hal Pittman, CENTCOM's senior spokesman, told me Tuesday that
the terrorists seek media coverage of these attacks "to empower
their cause, break the momentum of representational government
(in Iraq) and dissuade the coalition to continue its support."
gang "used a fire truck at Husaybah as a car bomb. That's theatrics
if you've ever seen theatrics," Pittman said. "They're trying
to create a spectacular event, overrun a patrol or border outpost
somewhere, an event with huge media value that would promote their
cause and make them seem more powerful than they are."
At Abu Ghraib
and Husaybah, Zarqawi failed militarily. He didn't get his scare
headlines, either. Short of detonating a nuclear weapon in Baghdad,
a ground attack on the Green Zone that succeeds in cracking the
US embassy and taking hostages is the only "Tet" card Zarqawi
has. The Green Zone, however, is Iraq's hardest target.
2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
This Article to a Friend