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April 9, 2004
Hostaging: What It Reveals About the Enemy

The world reacted in disgust and anger yesterday when Islamofascist insurgents released video of helpless Japanese civilians kidnapped by the "Mujahideen Brigades" that was broadcast by al-Jazeera, naturally:

Iraqi gunmen took three Japanese civilians captive yesterday and threatened to burn them alive unless Tokyo withdrew its forces, sharply raising the stakes in the uprising that has swept central and southern Iraq.

As coalition troops fought house-to-house to subdue the town of Fallujah, having earlier lost control of several towns, the insurgents opened up a new front with a rash of kidnappings.

First and foremost, the act of kidnapping civilians and holding them hostage should be recognized for what it is: desperation. Yes, the uprising caught Coalition troops by surprise, mostly if not entirely second-line units. However, that's not who the terrorists will be facing now, and they know it. That's why the city elders in Fallujah are trying to negotiate a surrender before the Marines complete their sweep through the city. They've already taken back Kut with little trouble:

U.S. troops fanned out across Kut, southeast of Baghdad, after meeting little resistance in the city, witnesses said, in a major foray by the American military into the south, where U.S. allies have struggled to deal with the uprising by the al-Mahdi Army, led by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The Marines aren't "struggling" at all; they're methodically implementing a sophisticated plan to reduce the resistance in each town. Hostaging is proof of this. The Japanese civilians, and others who have been similarly kidnapped, are insurance policies, bargaining chips for al-Sadr's "army" and a way to try putting pressure on Washington to end the offensive without wiping them out. Note that the kidnappings started when the terrorists found out that hiding in mosques wasn't going to save them from getting killed.

In short, al-Sadr and his gang of thugs are cowards. They started out this fight by attacking peacekeeping units that clearly were not battle-ready, and as soon as the fighting started in earnest with front-line units retreated into mosques for cover. As soon as that strategy failed, they started capturing civilians and threatening to slit their throats or burn them alive. These actions always, always indicate desperation and demoralization, and this situation is no different.

However, you will not find anything resembling a rational response from the mainstream media. Instead, we get hysterical accounts about how al-Sadr represents a "sudden" indication that Iraq is falling apart. There's nothing sudden about it at all. Moqtada al-Sadr has been threatening to do this for months, and when the Coalition took away his recruitment newspaper, it finally came to a head.

Most hilariously, American media outlets almost immediately began analogizing this small eruption with the Tet Offensive in 1968. What most people in the media still don't know was that the Tet Offensive was a catastrophe for the North Vietnamese, which General Giap admits in his memoirs. Their losses were close to 10-1. In fact, if it hadn't been for the American media misunderstanding the situation and portraying it as a giant setback, the Vietnam War may well have ended before we landed on the moon:

After the first few hours of panic, the South Vietnamese troops reacted fiercely. They did the bulk of the fighting and took some 6,000 casualties. Vietcong units not only did not reach a single one of their objectives -- except when they arrived by taxi at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, blew their way through the wall into the compound and guns blazing made it into the lobby before they were wiped out by U.S. Marines -- but they lost some 50,000 killed and at least that many wounded. Giap had thrown some 70,000 troops into a strategic gamble that was also designed to overwhelm 13 of the 16 provincial capitals and trigger a popular uprising. But Tet was an unmitigated military disaster for Hanoi and its Vietcong troops in South Vietnam. Yet that was not the way it was reported in U.S. and other media around the world. It was television's first war. And some 50 million Americans at home saw the carnage of dead bodies in the rubble, and dazed Americans running around.

As the late veteran war reporter Peter Braestrup documented in "Big Story" -- a massive, two-volume study of how Tet was covered by American reporters -- the Vietcong offensive was depicted as a military disaster for the United States. By the time the facts emerged a week or two later from RAND Corp interrogations of prisoners and defectors, the damage had been done. Conventional media wisdom had been set in concrete. Public opinion perceptions in the United States changed accordingly.

And al-Sadr and his "army" hardly represents a force anywhere near equivalent to the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong; they're cowards and terrorists with slightly better luck. The press needs to get some perspective and calm down. We have the best fighting men in the world in Iraq with orders to win this time. Let's let them do their job.

Note: I've cross-posted this at Oh, That Liberal Media as well. And welcome to Instapundit readers!

UPDATE: McQ at QandO has some good insight on modern urban-warfare issues.

UPDATE II: Here's an example of media hysteria ... here's another ... here's one from last September ... here's one from Australia, featuring Joe Biden making the equivalency ... another here, a bit out of the mainstream ... one from October 2003 (remember the vaunted Ramadan Offensive -- a couple of car bombs?) ... here's one from Asia ... Here's one from Editor and Publisher, for crying out loud ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 9, 2004 6:36 AM

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» This ain't your brother's Vietnam, Ted from sisu
The Marines aren't 'struggling' at all; they're methodically implementing a sophisticated plan to reduce the resistance in each town," writes Captain Ed of Captain's Quarters regarding how we're doing on the frontline in Iraq: Hostaging is proof of thi... [Read More]

Tracked on April 9, 2004 7:09 AM

» Tet Offensive? 2004 from The Politburo Diktat
MiniTruth comrades, The Politburo welcomes you this summary of the 1968 Tet Offensive in the Vietnam Wra. Now, as then, your role will be the decisive element. First, let us get a sense of the scale of the fighting that took place on the Lunar New Year... [Read More]

Tracked on April 9, 2004 9:12 AM

» Bizarro War from Cold Fury
The Captain's got it right: The Marines aren't "struggling" at all; they're methodically implementing a sophisticated plan to reduce the resistance in each town. Hostaging is proof of this. The Japanese civilians, and others who have be... [Read More]

Tracked on April 10, 2004 8:54 AM

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