Monday, August 8, 2011

The New Tets

In early 1968, the Vietnamese communists launched a surprise offensive against the American and South Vietnamese forces, which aimed at seizing control of various strategically important areas, as well as triggering an uprising against a politically dubious South Vietnamese government.  The offensive, from a military standpoint, was a failure, being soundly defeated by the American and South Vietnamese militaries and badly weakening the North Vietnamese/Vietcong forces for a period of time.  However, from a political standpoint, it was a rousing success, for the perception in America was that, in spite of the power of the American military, and demonstrating success in terms of controlling the battlefield, the communist forces were resilient enough to withstand everything that had been thrown against them and continue the fight, despite predictions from government representatives that the war was being won.  Ultimately, the view began to shift that victory in the war was not possible.

Like the Tet Offensive, two events happened toward the end of last week which have the power to permanently alter the public perception of the American empire and cost it the lifeblood which sustains it -- the confidence of the American people.

The first is the death 30 Americans (and 8 Afghans), in a "rocket attack" on a CH-47 transport helicopter during a raid in a Taliban-controlled area in Afghanistan.  In many ways, this attack is a symbolic throwback to the Tet Offensive in 1968.  While only involving one chopper and a small number of deaths, it very much echoes the events in Vietnam where the public had been confident about the strategy of the American military and there was a perception that the communist forces had suffered so many defeats that it was only a matter of time before they were rendered useless as a military force.  Likewise, with Afghanistan, the American public has been told for years that the Taliban was effectively defeated as a functioning military force, that the death of bin Laden was a major turning point, and it's only a matter of time before things are wrapped up and the troops could come home. 

The loss of these lives is another reminder that the war is far from over, that the Taliban can still continue to fight.  In both Vietnam, and in Afghanistan, the nature of the wars themselves is that victory is almost impossible to achieve -- it would come only when there was no one willing to pick up a rifle and go fight the Americans.  And, like McNamara after Tet, Leon Panetta has come under pressure to explain the "credibility gap" between what the public has been told and the reality of the war.

The other earthshaking event for the American empire is the downgrading of the credit rating of the United States, or how confident people can be they'll get their money back if they lend it to America.  Like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the struggle to turn the recession/depression around and get back to something like the boom years of the late 90s, or at least contain the damage, has been an ongoing effort, one in which the American public was told that we have turned the corner, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  However, all the economic reports and anecdotes have been pointing in the other direction and Moody's has finally just said what everyone who has been paying attention already knew -- that the staggering American debt was beginning to endanger the economy to the point where investment in the nation was beginning to become risky.

The United States has had a AAA rating for almost a hundred years, since 1917.  Now, it is AA+ and will likely drop to AA once it is seen that the government is still unable to make singificant progress on tackling the debt and deficit problem.  Likewise, the Chinese bond rating agency has re-rated America from A+ to A.  The response to these has ranged from the tepid (Greenspan saying "we can print more money") to the profound (China saying "the dollar is finished).  Nowhere in this is anything which can even begin to be calming to the average person in America who is now wondering if they will have anything of worth at all in the bank when they retire, or even when they go to the grocery next week. 

Nations are allowed a catastrophe or two from time to time, as the citizens have a shared common culture and outlook, but empires like American aren't afforded these luxuries.  People support an empire only as long as it is "winning," and look to desert it when it isn't.  The Soviet Empire appeared to begin down the path of disintegration in earnest when its military might was questioned after not being able to win Afghanistan, and the incompetence of the Soviet management of domestic affairs took another shot after Chernobyl.  A few years later, the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist as a political entity.  Have the "New Tets" created the momentum to push America down the same path?


  1. LEIBOWITZ - It's a good thing you're doing that means you're probably on somebody's web hit list (as in " we REALLY wan't people reading this stuff?").

    A word to the wise: At least move this blog onto a self-hosted platform before big brother "G" decides to "accidentally" delete it and then give a shrug of the shoulders when your readers are left wanting.

    You have ZERO control on this platform. You are at the mercy of... of... well, who really knows?

    What IS known is that many, many, many blogspot blogs have disappeared. Don't let yours be a victim. Hosting is cheap. Get some!

  2. yeah, i too appreciate your blog...have been following for a year. found you through clusterfuck.

    from Scotland

  3. Thanks to both of you. I wish I'd started this idea five or six years ago. Anymore, it feels like I'm trying to gather everything in while keeping an eye on the approaching storm. On the other hand, five or six years ago, guys like James Kunstler were considered batty by the mainstream. Now, I think there's just two positions left for the public -- terrified, but aware, or just plain terrified. I think the ship has sailed on trying to contain public opinion about the economic crisis. Now, maybe, I think we're going to get to sit and watch as the political parties try to duke it out over 2012, while ignoring that they're caught in quicksand.


  4. Terrific, insightful, and thought provoking. Please keep up the great work!

  5. I've checked in on you before. Now I'm going to make you a regular. Thanks for your insight!

  6. Thanks to both of you for the good words. More and more, I'm finding that this blog is hitting a note with a lot of people. The media (new, old, hardcopy, digital, etc) has overwhelmingly become just a way for people to push opinion instead of analysis. In other words, the search for meaning has been replaced by a search for support, something that, in the end, works against what people are trying to do.