The Lessons of the Tet Offensive for Iraq and Afghanistan

News Abroad

James S. Robbins is the author of "This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive" and senior editorial writer for foreign affairs at the Washington Times.

The 1968 Tet Offensive is remembered as a critical turning point in the Vietnam War, the watershed in which major U.S. military victories on the ground were negated by hostile press coverage and ineffective leadership in Washington.  Since then Tet has been an inspiration to America’s unconventional enemies seeking to replicate the offensive’s strategic effects.  Since they have no hope of defeating the United States on the battlefield they are forced to attempt to prevail in the information and political domains.

The primary military lesson of the Tet Offensive for Iraq and Afghanistan is a warning to insurgents to stick to guerilla warfare and not attempt conventional assaults.  During Tet the Viet Cong abandoned asymmetric warfare in a doomed mission to mount a stand-up fight.  They sacrificed their primary advantage as guerillas, mobility, to confront the U.S. advantage in firepower.  For the Americans and South Vietnamese this solved the most vexing tactical problem they faced, locating the enemy.  Once the communists revealed themselves and were pinned down in South Vietnamese cities they were quickly defeated.

Insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan cannot mount an attack on the scale of Tet, which involved over 80,000 enemy troops, around half of which were North Vietnamese regulars.  There is no good counterpart to these forces in America’s current unconventional wars, barring the sudden large-scale ground intervention of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.  Thus today’s enemies are unable to present a conventional challenge of the sort the North Vietnamese did at Khe Sanh or Hue.

The few times that insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan have massed for attacks on Coalition strong-points they have been soundly whipped.  In April 2005 al Qaeda frontally attacked the Abu Ghraib prison complex with rockets, mortars, car bombs and small arms.  In a two-hour battle the terrorists suffered around 25 percent killed in action with many more wounded, but no Americans were killed and no prisoners freed.  The attack was a failure, and naturally was compared to Tet.

While the Tet Offensive was a communist military disaster, its political impact was decisive.  In this respect Tet remains a standing invitation to insurgents, terrorists and other unconventional foes who seek to create conditions that will generate the kind of press coverage that turned a communist rout into a political victory.

Terrorists and insurgents understand that they must leverage the press in order to have any hope of achieving success.  Osama bin Laden once wrote, “It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods; in fact, its share may reach 90 percent of the total preparation for battles.”  Tet is especially useful to insurgents because it is a well-known and popular analogy that reporters can use to package stories using preexistent themes in order to give instant (and often erroneous) context to events.  They desire coverage that exaggerates the impact and significance of their actions in the same way the media blew the Tet attacks out of proportion.

The best example of the impact of the press on perceptions of the Tet Offensive was coverage of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Saigon on January 31, 1968.  Nineteen Viet Cong sappers were ordered to seize the embassy grounds and await reinforcements.  The embassy was a minor objective in the overall communist battle-plan; the VC who assaulted it were not specialists and had not even been told what their mission was until hours before the attack.  Most of the attacking force was wiped out within minutes of blowing a hole in the embassy wall, and the rest were gradually picked in a matter of hours.  In military terms the attack was a complete failure.  But press reports dwelled on the “symbolic” nature of an assault on a center of U.S. power in the heart of Saigon.  That the enemy had been defeated was not seen as significant; the fact that they could attack at all was deemed paramount.

Iraqi insurgents seemed to have learned this lesson when they planned an assault on the International or “Green” Zone in March 2006 by over 400 fighters posing as guards.  They planned to storm the U.S. and British embassies, take hostages and generally wreak havoc.  The plot was uncovered at the last minute by Iraqi security.  Iraq’s Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said the insurgents had been “one bureaucrat’s signature away” from implementing the plan.

The attackers would have had no chance of holding the Green Zone.  Insurgent reinforcements would not be coming, and the Coalition response would have been swift and overwhelming.  Nevertheless the attack would engage the media’s Tet reflex, and the most important phases of the battle would be fought on the airwaves, the Internet, and in newspapers and magazines.  The irresistible story-line would have been “Tet Offensive: The Sequel” with reports and analyses thick with the sense of quagmire and defeat.

As it stands the press is hardwired to draw the Tet analogy like a gun whenever weak, unconventional enemies lash out under limited and exceptional circumstances and briefly capture the media’s attention.  The battle is a handy framework for revisiting familiar themes such as intelligence failure, war crimes, terrorism, troop surges, leadership breakdown, and media bias, among others.  Sometimes the comparisons are serious stretches, such as when Time magazine declared the Wikileaks document dump of classified Afghan War documents a “Tet Offensive.”  Journalists will go out of their way to invoke Tet no matter how absurd the comparison.

Thus the lesson of Tet for America’s enemies is that their standard for victory in the information domain is much lower than it is on the battlefield.  They do not need to prevail on the field, but only try to.  They do not have to seize and hold ground, but only threaten to.  Violence in this framework becomes mere theater.  It need not conform to the principles of war but only be dramatic enough to engage the media’s propensity to use the Tet analogy, and the desire of every journalist to be another Walter Cronkite.

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james joseph butler - 11/22/2010

Maarja, Pres. Nixon knew the war in Vietnam was a lost cause before the 72 election. He said so in conversation with Kissinger. Yet he and Kissinger kept up the fiction that America would defeat communism for political purposes knowing that a negotiated settlement was the only realistic outcome, and the inevitable Vietcong victory. But they're capitalists now. Hoorah!

The Robbins' of this world are parochial defenders of the faith; America can't lose wars. Yes we can if the wars are stupid.

Livingstone and The Big Sort, is there anything new and different in this phenomenon?

Maarja Krusten - 11/19/2010

I looked in at my local Barnes and Noble but didn’t see Dr. Robbins’s book. I’m interested in whether he looked at public opinion mail at the Johnson presidential library, if not at Nixon’s. I’ll have to look for some reviews and for interviews with the author at sites other than the National Review. I just don’t know from this essay here whether the book is meant for someone such as I, who disdains National Review’s The Corner as projecting a weak and fragile version of conservatism whose approach damages rather than enhances our ability to face great challenges, not as partisans but as Americans.

How would this subject have played 15 years ago? I don’t know. It is Dr. Robbins’s misfortune, and that of the Vietnam vets whom he may be trying to help, that his book appears in the age of The Big Sort, where people increasingly have retreated into their own little enclaves. (Who puts country first anymore among ordinary voters and the partisan and ideological pundits who speak to them? Very few.) Worse yet, too often the models for engagement seem to be Beavis and Butthead. Who knows what the longterm effect of our internal Strategic Hamlets program will be. One of our biggest national challenges is, can we ever come together again in the face of catastrophes or crises or attacks? If those facing catastrophe live in blue or purple states, will red staters shrug and say, “so what?” And vice versa. If what we see on the Internet represents the real America (which I doubt), that would seem to be the case.

That web balkanization is captured in a statement that a poster named Dave Livingston posted on HNN on September 21, 2003. He happened to be a Vietnam vet. (Among the group of vets that commented on HNN back then, there was considerable diversity of opinion here on HNN back then.) Livingston wrote of his hometown newspaper out west, “Our paper masde the point that if D.C. & all its parasites were wiped out in a single blow, so what? The states independently governed could simply call a Constitutional convention to re-establih the federal gov't. Not so?

Of course, the paper didn't say if D.C. were wiped out the result just as probably would be a birth of several nations in lieu of the U.S. of A., especially us Westerners not too fond of the urban near city-states on the two coasts.”

I’ve mentioned Livingston’s comment in a number of forums that include conservatives. None reacted. I suspect that may reflect an extreme application of Ronald Reagan’s so-called 11th Commandment more so than agreement. As for me, I was in Washington on 9/11. (I stayed at my desk, working, I didn’t flee.) I have friends who were working in the Pentagon, where heroic civilian and military workers saved more colleagues than the first responders. (Time was a critical factor.) I recommend the OSD History Office’s account, Pentagon 9/11. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=47355 . (One of my former bosses once worked as an historian at OSD/HO so I know the scholarly ethos.) The OSD/HO book, meticulously researched, balanced, and non-ideological, is unlikely to match the sales of screeds by the Coulters and Moores that are aimed at dividing people and turning them against each other. It serves to explain and enlighten, not to provide comfort food. One of the authors said one purpose was “to gain some insight into the mindset of military people and what happens to them in a crisis.”

But who is willing to take on a more daunting task of looking at the civilians, to explain the many complexities of governance and the nuances of public opinion, during Vietnam and later? Academic presidential history isn’t in vogue these days. It doesn’t sell as well as the popular history version. Moreover, we live in an age where many people walk into bookstores and pick up books with titles suggesting the contents will comfort and validate them by demonizing the party for which they don’t vote.

And even when good, decent people resist the pull of polarizing figures, the neediness that Ta-Nehisi Coates (“You are good people. It’s not your fault”) and Matt Miller describe (“Ohhh, America, you’re so strong!”) make it tough to get the ordinary reader to focus on tough issues. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/17/AR2010111703216.html?referrer=emailarticle Including, I increasingly believe, our history. Perhaps we’ll be able to grapple better with Vietnam in a more robust and confident age when people don't feel the pull of demonization of each other so strongly. While I give credit to authors who try, the present time just feels too fragile and lacking in confidence to make many advances. And that’s too bad, not just for aging vets, but for the nation as a whole.

Maarja Krusten - 11/16/2010

There a typo in my last sentence, that should be beat back, not best back: "To examine the challenges presidents face requires not just access to records (I reject the notion that that is a “liberal” issue which conservatives must oppose and *beat* back "by any means" (to use a Nixonian phrase) because liberals support it), but also a willingness to step out of the schoolyard, up into the Oval Office, and to face courageously the disparate elements with which presidents of both parties grapple.”

This is the first time I have seen anyone associated with The Washington Times post an essay here, hence my use of the opportunity to point to the baggage that newspaper trails. In discussing these issues here, I waver between wondering why some conservatives have had a kneejerk reaction of punishing those who don’t march in lockstep with them, as we at NARA found in handling the Nixon records issues, while remembering my own free-thinking, confident association with conservatives in Nixon’s and Reagan’s day. The side of me which now says to conservatives, “c’mon guys, you can do better on records access and archival issues” often prevails, given my knowledge of what is at stake. I don’t want to see archivists punished, but I also have a strong desire to push back against tactics I don’t support.

I mentioned The Washington Times’ support in 1994 for a National Archives’ official it then described as supporting “limited access” to presidential records. He was involved in an internal dispute with the Acting Archivist of the United States. A NARA Inspector General report stated that the interpretation of the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries was "clearly contrary to the plain language and stated congressional intent of the Act, and would have prevented timely public access to public information in the Presidential Records at the Reagan and subsequent libraries." (NARA OIG Report 94-05, 9/2/94) The Washington Times never mentioned this report in its coverage or on its editorial page.

Had The Washington Times been able to examine the records issues in depth and without taking sides in 1994, it would have provided readers a solid foundation for understanding the context for then ongoing and later records access lawsuits from Judicial Watch (for Clinton’s records) and Public Citizen (Nixon’s records, Bush administration records.) I did manage to get a letter to the editor which mentioned the OIG report published in The Washington Times on November 16, 2007, but much had changed by then in how people looked at the presidency.

In 2007, I concluded my published letter by saying, “That Mr. Nixon fought us [on public access] doesn't keep me from understanding the fear he might have felt at the revelations the law required. Unless you take into account human nature and the psychology of disclosure, you cannot understand what current laws ask of the nation's recordkeeper.” While I appreciate the fact that The Washington Times finally published a letter from me in 2007, it was 13 years too late. We now live in an era where what seems to me as the self-congratulatory, dishearteningly low risk, tough issue-dodging (what I call Frat House style) Cornerites set the tone, not, as once was the case, Bill Buckley and Firing Line.

Maarja Krusten - 11/16/2010

A note for future historians who may want to examine Nixon's presidency and how he dealt with the Vietnam issue at home.

As his predecessors and successors have also, Nixon faced difficult structural challenges while in office. The policy side of being president requires acting in a grown up world while politics often takes people back to the schoolyard. John Yoo addressed this in a later context in a Q&A at the Washington Post site in 2006.

Anonymous poster’s online question: “Modern-day Presidents come into office with their public images colored by bitter electoral contests that often reflect an ethos of win at any cost. Can they easily shed that coloration once in office? Or does it become a drag on their ability to govern and convince the public of their trustworthiness?

The campaign ethos often reflects expediency and even a disregard for truth. If becoming President depends on one’s supporters handing out leaflets that imply that not voting for George Bush will lead the Bible to be banned in Arkansas, so be it. Or calling all critics unpatriotic. Or implying that John McCain has an illegitimate child, as happened during the primaries in 2000. Or, to use an example that may have harmed George W. Bush in the contest with Al Gore, leaking news of a candidate’s drunken driving arrest at the end of the campaign in 2000.

Do a President’s appointees understand the degree to which their efforts in governance are hurt by the earlier use of these tactics during a campaign? And by the continued reliance by many Presidents on political advisors for tactical advice while in office? How can you separate political expediency from governmental expediency, doing anything to win, but then turning around and saying, we will govern ethically and honorably? In other words, as a former government official, how insulated were you? Do you understand the extent to which your ability to stand up and argue “trust us, there is a legal and Constitutional basis for what we’re doing and we would never do anything to hurt Americans” is harmed by the baggage an administration drags behind it politically?

John Yoo: That is a very good question. It may be the case that the political environment created by campaigns makes it more difficult to govern, particularly in the foreign affairs area. This may be true especially when foreign affairs and national security issues are prominent in the campaigns themselves, as they were in 2004.”

Nixon never was able to resolve some of these issues. You can’t go scorched earth on domestic political opponents and then expect them to work with you. People can’t be bullied into cooperation, at least not in a democratic nation. (I probably focus on this more so than many readers here because my parents once were forced to live under Soviet Communist oppression.) How many people react to being yelled at and insulted and being subjected to efforts at intimidation by turning meek and saying, “I’ll do whatever you want.” Most of us don’t react that way. Sending Vice President Agnew out to give feel good red meat speeches (some penned by Pat Buchanan) worked with some of Nixon’s base (I among them at the time) but limited his ability to appeal to the larger public. It wasn’t enough to use a beat ‘em up, cheerleader rhetoric. Nixon also needed spokesmen who respected psychology and challenged voters to stretch.

The question of stewardship and political capital largely has been ignored in assessing the Vietnam era. That academics and political types overlook it is not surprising to me, however. Scholars act as armchair analysts who attempt fact based interpretation. (Some do well, others poorly.) Political advocates are constrained by the need to develop ideologically driven solutions. The corporate world is very different. It depends on assessing business processes and products honestly, figuring out why they aren’t selling better, making fixes. In business, there can be a learning culture. This is hard to establish in a workplace – the Oval Office -- where getting the keys to the office often depends on oppositional framing, blaming the other side, and reductionism. And then fending off the use of similar tactics by the opposition. Ironically, the workplace where there is the most at stake – the presidency – is least conducive to candid engagement with stakeholers outside the Oval Office. Inside, advisors can talk like grown ups about successes and failures. But what is said externally often is geared towards not giving away ground. There’s a sense that voters can’t and don’t want to handle hard examination of issues. Sometimes, as in Nixon’s case, this erodes rather than builds political capital.

Some presidents enter office with a better chance of building on or holding on to political capital than others. An existing war, an existing severe economic crisis, things of that nature obviously affect political capital in ways that their absence does not. Had Nixon won the presidency in 1960, as he almost did, the 1960s might have played out quite differently than they did. (Nixon’s former chief of staff and I once debated whether he would have gone all in on Vietnam or avoided large scale U.S. commitments there, had he rather than JFK taken the oath of office in 1961.) Nixon had to play the hand he was dealt. His records show he thought South Vietnam had little chance of surviving. By 1972, he was saying, “let Thieu paddle his own canoe.” (We at NARA faced challenges from Nixon’s agents when we tried to release that but finally prevailed.)

Just days before Kent State, Vice President Agnew said in a speech, “The real pity is that many of the students of our universities really feel that the theatrical radicals are the architects of a brave, new compassionate world, spiced with ‘rock’ music, ‘acid’ and ‘pot.’ There is a . . . group of students committed to radical change through violent means. Some of these may be irretrievable; all will require very firm handling. this is the criminal left that belongs not in a dormitory, but in a penitentiary.”

There were very serious problems with some of the radicals. Yet Agnew need not have ceded away to the left the core concept of a “compassionate world.” Looking back, although I applauded Agnew’s speeches at the time, as with most red-meat speeches, I think they signalled lack of confidence in American voters’ ability to grapple with tough issues. The metamessage seemed to be “the most I can expect you to understand is a comic book world with good guy, bad guy framing.” Unnecessary, as that was not what most voters faced in their own workplaces.

Yes, it is very, very hard for presidents and their surrogates to minimize name calling and demonizing others when others do it to them (and to their daughters, who certainly didn’t deserve the abuse that Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox faced at times from the most cowardly among the anti-war protestors.) Nixon was trapped in a very difficult situation. He needed to find a way to call for support for his policies while also conveying sympathy and understanding of a young person’s unwillingness to risk his life for a nation other than his own, especially a country with as complicated a history as Vietnam. To examine the challenges presidents face requires not just access to records (I reject the notion that that is a “liberal” issue which conservatives must oppose and best back "by any means" (to use a Nixonian phrase) because liberals support it), but also a willingness to step out of the schoolyard, up into the Oval Office, and to face courageously the disparate elements with which presidents of both parties grapple.

Maarja Krusten - 11/15/2010

For historians studying Tet in LBJ's records and its aftermath in Nixon's records, don't overlook the existence in NARA administered presidential libraries of public opinion mail. There is a temptation to look at presidential decision making in somewht of a bubble. But the public was much in the mix, as well, and reactions to LBJ's and Nixon's efforts varied from support to condemnation. There's a surprising degree of nuance in such mail. Both the donor-restricted libraries (LBJ's) and statutorily controlled libraries (Nixon's) contain considerable amounts of mail sent to the presidents by ordinary Americans.

I spent most of my career at NARA working with Nixon's tapes but I screened some textual collections for disclosure. If any historians who read HNN want to get a sense of how ordinary Americans grappled with difficult issues such as the Vietnam war, letters from the public to the president tell the story behind the poll numbers that superficially captured public opinion during the war.

If I see Mr. Robbins's book in a store, I'll take a moment to stand there and look through the source notes to see if he used such resources. I'm assuming he covers reactions to the war and public opinion beyond LJB's administration into Nixon's. I can't tell from his essay here whether that is the case although I assumed when I read it that it was.

Public opinion mail often is overlooked by researchers, but Rick Perlstein made good use of such archival sources in other collections, notably those detailing the 1966 off-year election in Illinois, when he wrote Nixonland. I don't agree with all of Perlstein's take on Nixon but I give him credit for turning to sources many others have ignored in research.

Decades after the senders mailed them to the White House, many Vietnam era letters from the public come across as heartfelt with visceral, painful reactions to events with which they grappled. My own letters (and those of my sister) of support for Mr. Nixon's Vietnam efforts, written while I was an undergraduate, are part of the Nixon library's holdings. It was a tumultuous and complicaed time period which warrants scholarly examination.

Maarja Krusten - 11/14/2010

Mr. Robbins, upon learning that you write for the National Review as well as for The Washington Times, I withdraw the question. I should have remained silent when I read your essay, to pose a question was far too high risk. I thought you were an historian who works for a newspaper I once read. I did not realize your degrees are in political science and that you also are associated with NR, to which I once subscribed but no longer recognize in its current guise at The Corner. The National Archives has suffered in the past from attempts to fire its officials, to attack their reputations, or to delay or suppress the release of information in White House records that is releasable by law. Unfortunately, all such attempts at punishing the nation’s record keeper of which I am aware came from the right, although I don’t rule out the use of such tactics by others, too. I have no desire to trigger more punitive actions towards NARA by anyone on the right who doesn’t like the fact that I posed a tough question to you about your newspaper. Back in the days when I applauded Bill Buckley on Firing Line, I wouldn’t have had such concerns. But much has changed since then.

The important point is that no one on the right rose up to defend NARA in 1994. (David Corn observed in The Nation of NARA that“[it]t also has been besieged by management problems and internal rifts, some boiling over onto the pages of the right-wing Washington Times, which has carried blistering articles on [the] acting archivist. . . .” I was the closest to anyone who had voted GOP standing up for NARA in 1994. (I voted for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan before becoming an Independent in 1989.) NARA and archivists in general remain vulnerable to being caught in the crossfire because they hold the records that show what really happened, not what political spin meisters say occurred. Its nonpartisan mission places political partisans in an ethical quandary which few have resolved well, to date. (Someone may surprise me one day but I’m not holding my breath.) Its well known in archival circles that some on the left may defend the archivists who work with the records of Republican as well as Democratic presidents. But that to date, no one on the right has done so.

The track record is no better in the private sector. I studied The Corner carefully in 2008, to see if anyone spoke up to defend the working level archivists at the University of Illinois (Chicago) who reportedly were the subject of threatening phone calls by Stanley Kurtz’s fans when he was doing some research on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. None did so—a missed, low cost opportunity. A tiny little low-risk essay by a Cornerite saying “leave ‘em alone, every profession has its rules and regulations, respect the archivists” would have helped The Corner’s image in 2008. But it was not to be.

I left NARA’s employ in 1990. My twin sister, who worked as a senior archivist in NARA records declassification division, died in 2002. So she is beyond hurting by any of your fans who may not like the fact that I posted a question here about kneejerk reactions in the information and political realm. (You well may have worked with some records that she declassified and released to the public during her career at NARA. My twin sis might have read your book (I don’t know if I will), as she was interested in Vietnam and was GOP all her adult life.) Will anyone else come under fire from any of your supporters, because I chose to engage you with the question I posted? Will the fact that I once marched in Washington during the Nixon administration in my student days, wearing a “Tell it to Hanoi” and “Silent Majority” button immunize me? I don’t know. </sigh> The days of the civil rights era, where one could appeal to people to act nobly and to display civic courage, are dim in national memory. Still, even in our small, cramped, self-oriented, and diminished age, I tend to think NARA just might get by. And if it doesn’t, well, it’ll just add to the long, tough-minded narrative that many brave federal archivists have woven in NARA’s employ as keepers of national memory.

Maarja Krusten - 11/13/2010

Sorry for the typo.

Maarja Krusten - 11/13/2010

Mr. Robbins, I see you are a senior editorial writer for The Washington Times. You write of efforts to prevail “in the information and the political domains.” I followed with interest your newspaper’s coverage of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 1994 in just those areas—the information and the political domains. I had been a longtime reader of your newspaper up until then, in part because of the anti-Communist view that had led me to vote GOP until 1989. Although I became an independent in 1989, I still read your newspaper for a while. After 1994, I stopped reading your newspaper.

Your article and presumably your book depend on archival resources held in NARA. Yet your newspaper slammed an honorable NARA official in an April 13, 1994 editorial in which it gave its take on "What's really going on at the Archives" with the Reagan records. The Washington Times’ editorial page then opined, "The ultimate goal? Access to the personal, private papers of recent presidents, access that liberal activists have long sought but until now have been unable to gain." This showed a profound lack of understanding of NARA’s nonpartisan, objective mission.

In reading your essay, it occurred to me that the linking of public access to a GOP president’s records to “liberal activists” was much like the type of kneejerk template that you decry in your article. No need to dig into what really was going on, template fits, jam in in. Yet your newspaper never wrote about an Inspector General report that revealed the policy dispute at NARA in 1994 centered on whether government employees rather than former presidents should have the last word on what is released from their records. Of course, your newspaper never reported on the IG report which upheld the position of the official your editorial page criticized. (Needless to say, a letter to the editor I submitted in 1994 to your newspaper, pointing out that if you supported “limited access” to Reagan’s records, you would have to support the same for Clinton’s after he left office, was not accepted for pubication.)

Your ability to write a nuanced book about the Vietnam war depends, of course, on your access to just the type of records your newspaper sneered that “liberal activists” wanted in 1994. Unfortunately, your newspaper’s actions in 1994 and other subsequent events have created the (I hope unwarranted) impression that conservatives struggle more than do liberals with the issue of public access to the records of presidents they once supported.

Having written a book which examines (or tries to examine – I haven’t read it so I don’t know how well you do) some aspects of the Nixon administration’s Vietnam policy, have you or any of your editorial colleagues at The Washington Times considered going back and apologizing for the harm you did to NARA and to the cause of freedom of information in 1994? And to conservatives, generally, for leaving the impression that the right struggles more than do non-conservatives with the need to look at presidents, warts and all? (People do 360 reviews all the time in business, so its not as if the ability to examine tough issues fairly is some kind of weird concept unrelated to how “real” Americans live and work.)

Maarja Krusten
Former National Archives Nixon tapes archivist (1076-1990)

(With fingers crossed that my bringing this up won’t lead to more attacks on NARA from your newspaper although that well may be the result </sigh>

james joseph butler - 11/12/2010

Does Mr. Robbins believe that "hostile press coverage" cost America the war in Vietnam? Did Walter Cronkite sitting behind a desk at Black Rock single handedly thwart "major U.S. military victories on the ground"? Would Washington's "ineffective leadership" been different if Nixon had been there rather than LBJ?

Who are these "experts" who think America could've won Vietnam? Nonsense. Vietnam is one of numerous indigenous independence movements that America is in part(See Ho Chi Minh and Pentagon Papers) responsible for. James Robbins sees these wars as military conflicts rather than cultural struggles. War and theater are lovers.