Bush Aide Sees a Parallel Between Vietnam and Iraq
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 — President Bush’s chief spokesman drew a parallel today between the latest carnage in Iraq and the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam, declaring that Iraqi terrorists are trying to turn American public opinion as the Communists did in Southeast Asia nearly four decades ago.
Reiterating points the president himself made on Wednesday, the spokesman, Tony Snow said the surge in violence in Iraq is a reminder “that terrorists try to exploit pictures and try to use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States.”
Mr. Snow said the president, who was campaigning for Republicans today in Virginia and Pennsylvania, remains as committed as ever to victory in Iraq.
The spokesman fielded questions at a particularly delicate time: just after a senior American officer in Iraq said that the current approach to stemming the chaos in Baghdad was not working, and as the approaching Congressional elections are stoking fears of a Republican disaster because of the war.
Mr. Snow recalled that while the Tet offensive may have been the tipping point as far as American public opinion was concerned, it was later found to have been extremely costly for the Communists — arguably a “victory” for the United States military. But the American public was so tired of the war by that time that President Lyndon B. Johnson was driven into retirement, and Richard Nixon was elected in part on a pledge to end the conflict.
Asked if he saw a similar portent in Iraq, Mr. Snow replied: “No. The important thing to remember is the president’s determined to win.” The administration will “make adjustments as necessary,” Mr. Snow said, “but the one thing that nobody should have any doubt about is that we’re going to win.”
Mr. Bush reaffirmed his determination today at a fund-raising event for Representative Dan Sherwood of Pennsylvania. “Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging,” Mr. Bush said in La Plume, in northeastern Pennsylvania. “Our goal is victory. What is changing are the tactics we use to pursue that goal and defeat our enemies.”
To withdraw from Iraq, as some Democrats want, would be “fulfilling Osama bin Laden’s highest aspirations,” Mr. Bush said. He was expected to take a similar tack later at a fund-raiser for Senator George Allen of Virginia in Richmond.
Nevertheless, public opinion polls have found Americans deeply uneasy about the war in Iraq. The sentiment has heartened Democrats and discouraged Republicans, who not many weeks ago were hoping to use the president’s “stay the course” stance to their advantage.
Asked about reports that an Iraq study group, one of whose heads is James A Baker 3d, is expected to recommend changes in the administration’s policy, Mr. Snow said, “The president is always interested in differing points of view, especially from smart and well informed people.” Mr. Baker served as secretary of state and as a top adviser to President Bush’s father.
President Bush himself acknowledged the possible parallel between the Tet offensive and the bloodletting in Iraq, as suggested by Thomas L. Friedman in a column in The New York Times.
“He could be right,” Mr. Bush said on Wednesday in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC. “There’s certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.” Mr. Bush went on to say, “They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort.”
The White House has long resisted suggestions that, in embarking on a war in Iraq, the United States may be sliding into a Vietnam-like “quagmire.” Mr. Bush and his commanders have vowed to adjust tactics as needed in the drive to establish an Iraq that is free, stable and able to defend itself.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior military spokesman in Iraq, said today that the approach of concentrating on a limited number of troubled enclaves in Baghdad was not working as well as expected, and that the upsurge in violence in the Baghdad area was “disheartening.”
Mr. Snow, the White House spokesman, emphasized that he accepted the parallel with the Tet offensive only in a “very limited” context: an attempt by an enemy to influence American public opinion just before an election.
“We do not think that there’s been a flip-over point,” he said. “But more importantly, from the standpoint of the government and the standpoint of this administration, we are going to continue pursuing victory aggressively.” To do otherwise, the White House has said repeatedly, would be to allow Iraq to become a spawning ground for terrorists.
The intensity of the political debate over Iraq was demonstrated today by the speedy Democratic response to some of Mr. Snow’s remarks, in particular Mr. Snow’s assertion that the Democrats’ ideas consist mainly in “complaining about the president.”
On the contrary, said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader. He said Democrats have offered “a comprehensive plan for real security,” including a “phased redeployment” of American troops and replacing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.