- The Washington Times - Monday, April 12, 2004

On the worst day in a string of exceptionally bloody days for U.S. troops, Senator Ted Kennedy, serving as John Kerry’s designated rhetorical bombthrower, said precisely what our enemies wanted to hear.

He shouted: “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam, and this country needs a new president.”

Now, I’m not saying he’s a traitor or anything like that. I am saying he made an outrageous and shameful charge that puts politics above the safety of our troops, success in Iraq and our national security.

First, let’s be clear. Kennedy wasn’t offering sober military analysis. He didn’t attempt to provide an explanation about how Iraq and Vietnam were comparable strategically or tactically.

After all, Vietnam is a jungle nation where America fought for nine years and lost 58,000 troops. We’ve been in Iraq about a year and have lost about 650. The North Vietnamese received support from two communist superpowers. Iraq has the support of scattered Jihadists and terrorist groups. Ted Kennedy’s brother escalated the war in Vietnam to fight communism. George W. Bush launched the war in Iraq for, well, reasons that are up for debate, but none of them have anything to do with fighting the Soviets.

In fact, I shouldn’t have to go on about the inanity of the Iraq-Vietnam comparison because it’s so silly. What’s not silly are the consequences of Kennedy’s remarks — and Kerry’s refusal to disavow them.

Think of it this way. Remember why Vito Corleone was gunned-down in “The Godfather”? It was because Sonny let it slip that the Corleone family was divided — just a tiny bit — on a minor issue. This was all the incentive that opportunistic enemies needed to pounce.

It’s not the best analogy in the world, but it does capture an important element of how our enemies think. Whether they are Baathists, Shiite fanatics or al-Qaida, they all deal in the currency of perception — i.e. the appearance of power. Osama bin Laden famously argued that people instinctively prefer the strong horse to the weak horse, and, he believed, ever since Vietnam, America had proven itself to be the weak horse.

Recall how al-Qaida’s No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahiri, warned America in the aftermath of 9/11: “O, American people, your government is leading you to a new losing war. O, U.S. people, your government was defeated in Vietnam and fled scared from Lebanon. It fled from Somalia.”

Bin Laden made it clear on numerous occasions that he believes America has a glass jaw, that we cannot stomach casualties. Our military might means nothing, he has argued, if we do not have the political resolve to use it. That lack of resolve is known around the world, fairly or not, as the “Vietnam syndrome.”

And, in the wake of the first World Trade Center attack, the “Black Hawk Down” battle, the USS Cole attack, the African embassy bombings, our refusal to go “all the way” in the first Gulf War and so on, bin Laden & Co. have had some good examples to back up their diagnosis.

So when you declare “Iraq is George Bush’s Vietnam and we need a new president” that undoubtedly strikes a chord with our enemies and those susceptible to their message. Indeed, the day after Kennedy’s speech, Muqtada al-Sadr — the fascistic militia leader who’s fomenting rebellion against America and calling himself an ally of various terrorist groups — declared, “Iraq will be another Vietnam for America and the occupiers.”

It’s not hard to imagine that Sadr got this talking point after seeing a clip of Kennedy on the BBC, Al-Jazeera or CNN.

The Arab street doesn’t know that Kennedy’s a partisan hatchet man. All they know is what they are told — which in this case is that one of America’s most revered senators and the brother of JFK has declared that Iraq is the equivalent of Vietnam and that the violence in Iraq means Bush should go. If that’s not a signal to our enemies that America is losing its resolve and that continued violence is worthwhile, I’m not sure what is.

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure,” wrote George Orwell, “and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.”

As apt as this quote might sound about Senator Kennedy, I bring it up because it describes the dynamics and dangers of our efforts in Iraq. Things may be falling apart there —though I think it’s premature to judge that. But the best way to guarantee Iraq turns out to be a failure is to act like it’s a failure.

The North Vietnamese “won” the Tet Offensive and ultimately Vietnam because they forced America to lose its nerve. That’s what al-Sadr and bin Laden have been counting on from the beginning as they try to persuade Muslims to kill Americans. And I’ll bet they think Ted Kennedy’s whistling their tune.

Jonah Goldberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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