WASHINGTON – Opponents of the war in Iraq have been throwing around the label "quagmire" since before combat began in Afghanistan. But this is not the first time that label has been used.
The quagmire metaphor first arose in Vietnam but has seen regular use and misuse throughout the War on Terror (search).
The Pentagon insists that despite lethal terrorists, car bombings and daily civilian carnage, the portrait of Iraq is not one of a quagmire.
"The suggestion of those who say we are losing or that we're in a quagmire seems to be that as long as there's violence in Iraq that the conclusion must be that insurgents are winning. Not so," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday.
Defense officials readily admit terrorist attacks are more lethal now. But they also point to steady political progress and continued recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces.
"Obviously I don't agree with the statement that the United States is losing in Iraq nor that we are getting into a quagmire," said Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq.
"Quagmire" as a military metaphor began with the book "The Making of a Quagmire" — New York Times reporter David Halberstam's highly critical account of President Kennedy's early Vietnam policy.
"Once Halberstam had written that book, the label stuck because the book was such a powerful analysis. If that label is applied to Iraq or Afghanistan, it strengthens the Vietnam analogy and makes people believe the campaign is futile and fruitless," said retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a FOX News military analyst.
Ironically, Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., was among the first politicians to compare his brother's Vietnam quagmire to Iraq. But his office acknowledged Monday that he is one of three senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee who has not yet visited the country.
The record suggests that reporters often don't recognize a quagmire when they see it. For instance, President Bush was first asked whether he could avoid a quagmire in Afghanistan four days after the start of the war there.
The president said he could avoid a quagmire, but less than two weeks later the Los Angeles Times noted hand-wringing at home.
"The experts are warning that both the political and military elements of Operation Enduring Freedom (search) are doomed to slip into a quagmire or fail entirely," read the Oct. 26, 2001, editorial. Two months later, the United States liberated Afghanistan.
The quagmire metaphor also hanged over early coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom (search). Eight days into the war, The New York Times and The Washington Post compared Iraqi fighters to the resilient North Vietnamese. Eighteen days later, the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein.
The president again confronted the Iraq quagmire question more than a year ago. The political context was nearly identical to recent exhortations.
"Some people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire. Polls show that support for your policy is declining and that fewer than half of Americans now support it. What does that say to you, and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison?" asked Associated Press writer Terrence Hunt.
"I think the analogy is false," Bush replied.
As military operations continue in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon see only one persistent quagmire — the media's constant misuse of the term.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.