President Bush says he sees a possible parallel in the increase in violence in Iraq and the 1968 Tet offensive that prompted Americans to lose support for the Vietnam War.
But the White House on Thursday said the president had not been making the analogy that Iraq had reached a similar turning point. Instead, he was saying that insurgents were possibly increasing violence to try to influence coming U.S. elections.
Bush was asked in an ABC News interview on Wednesday whether he agreed with an opinion by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that the current violence in Iraq was “the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive.”
Bush responded: “He could be right. There’s certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.”
Bush and other top U.S. officials have long resisted comparisons to the Vietnam War when critics have suggested that Iraq has turned into a quagmire.
They also have stepped back from adamant declarations of progress as sectarian violence ratchets up, with more than 2,750 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Bush has taken a more flexible tone on Iraq, saying he is open to adjusting policy, as the November 7 elections approach with his Republican Party facing the possibility of losing control of the U.S. Congress over an unpopular war.
Communist forces lost the Tet offensive, but it was a major propaganda victory and is widely considered a turning point of the war in Vietnam, prompting support for the conflict to deteriorate. President Lyndon Johnson’s popularity fell and he withdrew as a candidate for re-election in March 1968.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president was not trying to say that it was the turning point in Iraq, as the Tet offensive has come to symbolize for Vietnam.
“That is not an analogy we’re trying to make,” Snow said. “We do not think that there’s been a flip-over point, but more importantly from the standpoint of the government and the standpoint of this administration, we’re going to continue pursuing victory aggressively.”
Bush has maintained that Iraq is not embroiled in civil war and continues to insist that U.S. troops will not leave until Iraqis can take over security for their country.
Bush told ABC that not every American soldier would be out of Iraq before he leaves office in about two years. There are about 144,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.
“Look, here’s how I view it,” Bush said. “First of all, al Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. They are dangerous. They are lethal. They are trying to not only kill American troops, but they’re trying to foment sectarian violence.
“They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause government to withdraw,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland)
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