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Enter Stage Gabbing

Is this Iraq's Walter Cronkite moment?

By Steven Martinovich

The Professor(November 21, 2005) On February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite famously declared that America was in trouble in Vietnam. "To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. ... [I]t is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."

His comments came after the Tet Offensive that had began in late January. As the figures -- which admittedly may be inflated -- show, the opposite was true. U.S. and allied forces inflicted massive causalities, estimated at 45,000 killed versus less than 5,000 U.S., Korean, Australian and South Vietnamese soldiers lost. Despite the offensive and losses, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong had little to point to as tangible advances.

Nonetheless, Cronkite's analysis proved to be the turning point for popular support of the Vietnam War. Support steadily dropped and calls mounted for Lyndon Johnson to pull American soldiers out. Faced with this reality, Johnson and Richard Nixon refused to prosecute the war, whatever its merits, fully and completely.

November 17, 2005 may have marked the Cronkite Moment for Iraq. Rep. John Murtha, (D-PA) announced that he believed American forces should be withdrawn immediately from Iraq. His comments carry weight as both Republicans and Democrats look to him for advice on defense issues. Since a combat veteran -- of Vietnam coincidently enough -- and respected member of Congress has called for withdrawal, I can only expect that support for America's efforts in Iraq to erode more quickly than we've already seen. It also seems likely that the media will play up his comments out of proportion to their relative worth.

I don't intend on lecturing Americans on their foreign policy, nor do I question Murtha's commitment to his country. As a Canadian whose nation refused to join George W. Bush's "Coalition of the Willing," my opinion is likely held in low regard in some quarters, particularly the White House. It's not my blood or treasure being spilt in Iraq.

That said Murtha is wrong about withdrawing American soldiers from Iraq, at least in the short-term. The day that the U.S. is unable to sustain an operation that has been relatively casualty free as Iraq has been -- remember that you suffered 6, 821 dead and 19, 217 wounded simply to take one island in 2 1/2 months of combat during WWII -- is the day that hope for your leadership against terrorism and tyranny disappears.

Iraq is turning around. The increased activity by insurgents shows them not gaining strength, but illustrates their weakness. They have little support among Iraqis and Shiites, traditionally where the insurgents draw support from, are beginning to turn their backs on the terrorists. While some may have been radicalized due to the coalition presence, the majority of Iraqis want to rebuild their nation and take their place among the leaders of the world. There remain significant problems to overcome but the corner is slowly being turned.

A withdrawal now would, in Winston Churchill's words, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It would validate those who believe that the people of democratic nations haven't the stomach for a long fight. Once again evil would win simply because someone decided that the path of least resistance is the best alternative. Men like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would be proved right that America can be forced from the battlefield despite winning every single battle.

John Murtha may be right about many things but when it comes to the issue of Iraq he has become Walter Cronkite to today's North Vietnamese, namely al-Qaida. Whether Vietnam should have been fought and whether the war was winnable after January 1968 are questions for historians and arm chair generals. Now that the coalition is in Iraq, it must do what Johnson and Nixon were unwilling or unable to do. Let's not let history repeat itself.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich


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