Administration OK With Iraq-Tet Offensive Comparisons

On the campaign trail in Pennsylvania Thursday, President Bush insisted pulling out of Iraq now would be a victory for terrorists like Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.

"For the sake of the security of the United States of America, we must defeat the enemy in Iraq. So America will stay, we will fight and we will win in Iraq," Bush told supporters of embattled incumbent Rep. Don Sherwood.

But the president's comments in an interview with ABC Wednesday garnered most of the news coverage. In the interview with This Week's George Stephanopolous, Bush was asked about writer Thomas Friedman's column in The New York Times in which Friedman wrote that the recent spike in violence in Iraq might be the Iraqi equivalent to the 1968 Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War.

"What we're seeing there seems like the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive," Friedman wrote, adding that jihadist Web sites frequently state how it is critical that the media war parallel the armed effort.

Asked whether he agreed with Friedman's summary, Bush said, "He could be right. ... There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

Bush said he thinks terrorists in Iraq think if they inflict enough damage then U.S. forces would leave.

"They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort," Bush said.

The 1968 Tet Offensive is seen by most historians as a critical juncture in the Vietnam War. The attack did serious damage to public support for the war and for President Lyndon Johnson even though it was a major routing of the enemy's troops.

Partisans suggest it may not be the comparison Bush wants to make.

"I don't think the president is well-served when he compares something in Iraq going on to the Tet Offensive because we all remember the Tet Offensive was a turning point when we recognized, when the American people recognized that we weren't going to win the war in Vietnam," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted Thursday that in responding to Friedman's analogy, the president was simply reiterating the fact that the enemy in Iraq is trying to influence American public opinion.

"Tom's the guy who introduced Tet. What we have said -- and it's very limited -- is the attempt to use images is a way of influencing public opinion. We do not think that there's been a flip over point," Snow said. "But more importantly, from the standpoint of the government and the standpoint of this administration, we are going to continue pursuing victory aggressively."

Don Oberdorfer, a journalist and author of the book "Tet", says what most people forget about the offensive, and what has not been mentioned in news stories on the president's interview, is that Tet was a huge military loss for the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.

"In military terms, there is no doubt about it. It was a loss of a tremendous amount of troops and they were not able to hold anything that they attacked more than a few hours, except for the city of Hue, that they held for 25 days but then had to leave," Oberdorfer told FOX News.

The Tet offensive lasted two months. By most estimates, the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong lost more than 58,000 fighters, all killed in February and March 1968.

While enemy death tolls are tough to calculate in Iraq, Al Qaeda's new leader in Iraq recently said more than 4,000 foreign fighters have been killed by the United States since the Iraq war began.

In the Tet Offensive, almost 4,000 U.S. forces were killed during that two-month period. Over the past two months in Iraq, 120 service personnel have died.

"The numbers here are very, very small compared to Vietnam. Nothing that dramatic in nature has happened so far, at least in Iraq," Oberdorfer said.

Military experts say the comparison to Tet does hold in that the enemy has learned how to affect American public opinion.

"Images of dead Americans or images of chaos in Baghdad is an instrument the enemy uses to shape American will," said retired U.S. Army Gen. Bob Scales, a FOX News contributor. In Iraq, the "intent is to get Americans out of (the) country as quickly as possible, and that was exactly the same intent that Ho Chi Min had back in 1968.

"War is a test of will and the way that's expressed is through the media," Scales added.

Friedman noted that the communist troops were "badly mauled" during the Tet Offensive, and acknowledged that the violence in Iraq is not centrally coordinated, but he said the upsurge in violence represents an effort "to sow so much havoc that Bush supporters will be defeated in the midterms and the president will face a revolt from his own party as well as from Democrats if he does not begin a pullout from Iraq."

While U.S. commanders in Iraq acknowledge that a significant spike in violence in Baghdad lately, they also add that a significant number of terrorists and enemy fighters are being killed and captured every day. They add that the spike in violence is not a turning point in the Iraq war.

"The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration. However, the coalition will not be deterred from establishing an Iraq that can provide for its own security and govern itself," said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq.

FOX News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.