It is all so familiar. "The leaking of a trove of U.S. documents has put the Obama administration on the defensive about its Afghanistan policy and may deepen doubts in Congress about prospects for turning around the faltering war effort." So reported the Los Angeles Times this morning.
This week's release by WikiLeaks of documents about the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan follows a well-tread path. When the Left wants the U.S. to abandon a military campaign, and it almost always does, the liberal media takes the lead in building political opposition to it, often on mendacious grounds.
Take for example Walter Cronkite's famous monologue at the conclusion of the CBS Evening News on February 14, 1968. Cronkite had just returned from a trip to Vietnam, where he had hosted a documentary on the Tet offensive, launched by the North Vietnamese regular army and Viet Cong troops on January 31, 1968. We now know that the Tet offensive was a desperate attempt by North Vietnam to sway American public opinion against the war, and it worked. The United States public was shocked by the large scale offensive against cities throughout South Vietnam, including Viet Cong attacks in the capital of Saigon.
However, in strictly military terms, the offensive was a disaster for the attackers. Despite perpetrating horrendous massacres of civilians in the areas they overran, including the slaughter of between 2800 and 6000 civilians and prisoners of war in the city of Hue, the North Vietnames army and the Viet Cong failed to hold a single military objective, and were shattered by the tremendous losses they suffered. Yet, thanks to the American media, led by Cronkite, the campaign achieved its main political objective.
Don't take my word for this--here is what General No Nguyen Giap, the Supreme Commander of the Viet Minh (NVA) forces had to say about the Tet offensive, in a 1989 interview with CBS’s Morley Safer:
“We paid a high price, but so did you…not only in lives and material…After Tet the Americans had to back down and come to the negotiating table, because the war was not only moving into…dozens of cities and towns in South Vietnam, but also to the living rooms of Americans back home for some time. The most important result of the Tet offensive was it made you de-escalate the bombing, and it brought you to the negotiation table. It was, therefore, a victory…The war was fought on many fronts. At that time the most important one was American public opinion.” (The Vietnam War: An Encyclopedia of Quotations, Howard Langer, 2005)
Walter Cronkite did the heavy lifting for the American media. Here are some of his remarks from the February 14 editorial:
Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw.
It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.
But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could. (Emphases added)
It may be argued in Cronkite's defense that he was probably unaware of the effect the heavy losses of the Tet campaign had on the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong. Still, there were miliatary analysts then who correctly opined that the Tet offensive had been a desperate effort by the Communist forces, a disaster for them and a military victory for the United States and South Vietnam. However, those analysts did not have the sway on public opinion of "America's most trusted man." It is said that when President Lyndon Johnson learned of Cronkite's remarks, he said “That’s it. If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”[American Thinker is the source of much of the above material.]
After the Cronkite speech, and President Johnson's decision a short time later to not seek re-election, came the Pentagon Papers, a top secret Department of Defense report leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times.
In due course, after Nixon Administration negotiated a ceasefire with North Vietnam, after Watergate, and after the departure of most U.S. troops from Vietnam and Cambodia, the North Vietnamese flagrantly violated the ceasefire agreement with a massive invasion of the South. Congress refused to raise a hand to stop the Communist takeover, and the abandoned South Vietnamese army and government collapsed.
What were the results of America's abandonment of Southeast Asia? As Bret Stephens reminds us in today's Wall Street Journal:
"All in all, America's withdrawal from Southeast Asia resulted in the killing of an estimated 165,000 South Vietnamese in so-called re-education camps; the mass exodus of one million boat people, a quarter of whom died at sea; the mass murder, estimated at 100,000, of Laos's Hmong people; and the killing of somewhere between one million and two million Cambodians."
And all that, despite the fact that Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, assured America that "it is difficult to imagine how [Cambodian] lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." Mr. Schanberg added that "it would be tendentious to forecast [genocide] as a national policy under a Communist government once the war is over."
Now the Left is using the Wikileaks publication of Afghan battlefield reports to build opposition to the war in a crescendo of doubt and criticism. Superficially, it is hard to understand how the leaked reports lend themselves to a condemnation of the current Afghan war effort. They almost entirely relate to a period from 2004-2009, prior to the current Allied counter-insurgency effort.
It would be as if in 1943 the American press had published reports about the disastrous defeat of U.S. troops by Rommel's Afrika Korps at the Battle of Kasserine in February 1942, and pacifists called for the U.S. to withdraw from the war. (That did not happen largely because of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, followed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th of that year. Until Hitler attacked Stalinist Russia, the American Left, orchestrated by the Communist Party U.S.A., opposed entering the war on the side of Britain and France.) Despite the terrible setback at Kasserine Pass in this first encounter of American troops against the German Army (in which American and British forces suffered 10,000 casualties--a third of their forces--against only 2000 Axis losses), by May 1943 the German and Italian armies in North Africa were compelled to surrender to the British and American forces.
So we will have to see how the American press spins the WikiLeaks reports to build anti-war sentiment. One thing is certain, however--never underestimate the initiative of leftwing media when it comes to opposing a war. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks (photo above left), has already alluded to "war crimes" allegedly disclosed by the reports.