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A Mini Tet
October 29, 2003
By Michael Shannon

That the situation in Iraq has devolved into a living, breathing slice of Hell is beyond question, however comparisons with the war in Vietnam remain a bit of a stretch. There are some similarities but in general they remain wholly unique in most regards.

The main point of difference between the two is that while more than one American President misrepresented reality by stating that great progress was being made over the decade-plus of our involvement, none of them ever went so far as to declare that "major combat operations" had been concluded. In addition, while many a well-intentioned officer/administration official was more than willing to point out the mythical "light at the end of the tunnel," none were so full of themselves to declare Mission Accomplished.

The war in Vietnam was precisely that: a full-scale war. It was waged on the company and division level by both combatants. Weaponry on both sides of the field was high-tech and in great supply. The situation in Iraq (grading wars based on the level of sophistication and size of opposing forces is apropos only to commentators and historians - to those in the line of fire the distinctions are entirely superfluous and irrelevant) is much different in character and complexity.

Here we are seeing a classic example of a "little war." In Iraq a force of tremendous strength and power is being contested by a completely decentralized collection of disparate "deadenders." Or so the standard Bush Administration spin would have us believe.

The validity of their claims as well as the credibility of the Administration's entire position on Iraq has suddenly been laid wide open. And coming as they did after a week of a White House-led PR campaign in which the administration's minions all parroted the "great progress" being made, the events of the past several days have been a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

Over the course of the first thirty-six hours of the Muslim holy period of Ramadan the Bush message of victory in Iraq has been irreparably shattered. It is here that parallels to Vietnam come clearly into play. The Tet offensive, which originated on the Vietnamese holiday celebrating the lunar new year, was not by any means a tactical military victory for the North Vietnamese. What it was was a slap in the face to the contention that the United States was winning. By striking at targets from one end of South Vietnam to the other it became self evident that the will to carry on the fight was very much alive in our foes despite our enormous expenditure of blood and treasure to end it.

The scope of the attacks which marked the onset of the Muslim holy month was nowhere near as extensive or as powerful in a military sense but they may very well prove to be just as damaging from a political prospective.

Reminiscent of the Tet assault on the American Embassy in Saigon, the attack on the El Rashid Hotel was an eyeopener on a number of levels. By all accounts this building is among the most secure in all of Iraq. Surrounded by blast walls fifteen feet high it lies within the heavily guarded and fortified American enclave which takes up a dozen square blocks in central Baghdad. That it could be hit by multiple rockets shows that there is no "secure" place to found in the new Iraq. A lesson that was learned the hard way by Under Secretary of Defense and uber-chickenhawk Paul Wolfowitz as he was rocked out of bed in a manner he never imagined was possible.

This thoroughly audacious attack was followed within hours by five nearly simultaneous suicide bombings wreaking havoc on a extent and level that was unprecedented since the beginning of this phase of the Iraqi war. By the end of this most bloody of days, five American soldiers were dead, over two dozen were wounded and Iraqi casualties were in the hundreds. After a day like this, even Mr. Bush has to realize that this war is far from over. Even the most committed of war supporters has to dread the enemy we have come to know.

For what kind of soulless bastard would pack an ambulance full of explosives, drive it up to the front door of the Red Cross facility and push the detonator? Even by the Satanic standards of the ever-growing legion of suicide bombers this was an act that screamed contempt for civilization and human decency. But removing the moral/ethical dimensions from the equation, what is left after such an abomination is that such a mind-set presents a daunting military challenge.

When you are facing an enemy who will willingly give up their lives in the pursuit of their cause you are left with very few options. An enemy that "refuses to lose" is one that must be killed or otherwise incapacitated beyond repair. To accomplish this may unfortunately take an application of lethal force that will test the will and spirit of the not just the American soldier but America itself, and even then victory cannot be certain.

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