March 22, 2004

Just a few brief comments to the Foreign Minister and then I'm really done

I'll concede the Foreign Minister a few points in his last posting, although there are an equal number of conclusions I strongly disagree with. I laughed aloud at the link to 'POTA,' and we are in agreement that it's a complete waste. (admittedly, I wasted a lot more than 1 hour and 59 minutes on that project).

Returning to the debate, I think the general misperceptions about Vietnam are interesting. Vietnam is an important debate point because everyone wants to compare that war with the situation in Iraq, one way or the other. I know that Tet was a huge military defeat for the Vietcong and a complete failure as measured by their own objectives. However, your assertion that the media took the event and turned public opinion against the war is a myth perpetuated by both the military and the media itself. Immediately following Tet, people did not turn against the war: an larger percentage of the public actually favored escalating the war rather than withdrawing from Vietnam. A shift in public opinion did occur, however, but it wasn't about policy: the shift was against the administration, which had recently made claims that 65% of the country was pacified -- claims that Tet proved false. The problem wasn't just that the Vietcong penetrated the American embassy, but that the government spokesmen had previously claimed that the embassy was impenetrable. In fact, media coverage of the war after Tet continued to parallel public opinion: some editorials called with withdrawal, some for escalation, others for staying the course. What did increase was media coverage skeptical of the administration: images like the South Vietnamese police chief executing the Vietcong prisoner in the street and the military spokesman saying "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" solidified the idea that Johnson was saying one thing to the American public when in fact there was a completely different war being fought in Vietnam. If you study the statistics, media coverage of any given event typically shifts in response to and as a reflection of public opinion, not the other way around. "Blame the media" is a favorite game of the political Right but it's out of touch with the facts.

Incidentally, name-calling is equally attributable to both the Left and the Right. And if you really want to see the Foreign Minister rant like a lunatic, get him started on Gun Control.

It's a lot to suggest in the internet age, but for reading on Vietnam I would offer "The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked," byt Leslie H. Gelb and Richard K. Betts, "An American Ordeal: The Anitwar Movement of the Vietnam Era," by Charles DeBenedetti, and "The Debate Over Vietnam," by David W. Levy. I also have a book around here somewhere that deals specifically with perceptions about the media, but I can't find it amongst the war library (perhaps it's misfiled; I'll keep looking because I want to send it to the Foreign Minister for Christmas).

The issue of dishonest government was also a major factor in the Spanish election. The government blamed ETA, even when evidence was in hand suggesting an al Qaeda link, because there was a concerted effort already underway to paint the Socialists as soft on domestic terrorists. Those efforts backfired. Well before the Madrid attacks, a large majority of the Spanish opposed the Iraq War. Separate from that issue, the Spanish tossed their government for lying about it. I hope we do the same.

On the same point, I obviously wasn't clear when I complained about the general tone of discussion on the blog concerning the Spanish election. I think all of the 1938 comparisons amount to reactionary sensationalism, but it was specifically the Minister of Agriculture who called the Spanish 'nimrods,' which I found grossly inappropriate. Leave the hyperbole aside: its' ridiculous to equate a shift of parliamentary control in the Spanish government (some 150 seats for the Socialists vs. some 140 seats for the conservatives, neither party with a controlling majority) to the appeasement of Hitler. If the U.S. suffers another major attack before November, should all good patriots (of which I consider myself one) fall in behind Bush because it's important we not give the perception of changing course? Absurd.

While it might be amusing blog fun to rail against the French, the Spanish, the U.N., and the global community in general, I hope Maximum Leader's cabinet recognizes the necessity of actually engaging the world in matters that are going to affect the world. Have it both ways, if you will: that's certainly how Bush wants to play it.

In general, I think my debate with the Foreign Minister reflects a fundamental difference of opinion on Iraq. If one thinks the war was a good thing, one is going to accept certain sacrifices in that pursuit and generally forgive the process that led us to war in the first place. If one feels, as I do, that the war is not only a dangerous distraction from the war on terror but will actually make the world less safe in 10 years, than even a single American casuality is one too many. The danger of al Qaeda sending people to Iraq isn't that they're going to engage our military on the ground, akin to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. The danger to America is that al Qaeda is in Iraq RECRUITING. There's certainly a lot of anti-Americanism to exploit -- I'd say it's equally likely that the next big al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil (or more likely, the one after that) will be carried out by Iraqi nationals rather than Saudi nationals. By the time those consequences come to light, it may be too late.


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