On January 30, 1968, in the midst of the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers launched a coordinated attack on 100 cities across South Vietnam against the forces of the United States, South Vietnam and their allies.
Though the operation was a military disaster for the communist forces, which suffered massive casualties, it had a devastating political effect on the American-led side. Coming as it did after years of rosy Johnson administration reports of military successes and predictions of imminent victory, the broad scope of the offensive stunned Congress and most Americans and negatively impacted support for the war effort.
There is a discomfiting parallel between the Tet Offensive and Iran’s successful manipulation of the current summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. Iran seems to be in the process of demonstrating that the Obama administration’s plan to force it to put a lid on its nuclear ambitions through isolation and economic sanctions is in shambles. This despite Mr. Obama’s Johnson-like claims of success.
The obvious question, though, is why Iran would want this when the consequence could well be a decision by the U.S. to turn to military action against Iranian nuclear facilities?
The nonaligned movement is a vestige of the Cold War and derives its name from the desire of developing countries to play the West against the East and enjoy a role on the international scene. Today it has 120 members and 17 observers and is of little import as a group in global affairs. However, this week it is holding its 16th summit conference. Iran has the three-year rotating chairmanship and the summit is being held in Tehran. And the Iranians are maximizing their advantage with some unfortunate assistance.
Despite the UN-endorsed sanctions directed at Iran and the continuing call by Iran’s leaders – in a flagrant violation of international law – for the destruction of Israel, a UN member-state, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is attending the summit despite urgent importuning from the U.S. and Israel. And so are most NAM members. Of the 120 countries, 80 are participating at the level of minister or higher and 50 have sent their heads of state.
Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Ahmad Vahidi said Sunday that the summit “demonstrates the Islamic Iran’s thriving power [despite] all the propaganda launched [by the West] about Iran’s isolation on the international scene.”
An Israeli government official quoted by the Jerusalem Post lamented that the summit gives the Iranian regime a chance to “showcase that it is not isolated, to say there is no diplomatic pressure, and to give the regime a chance to show its own people it has friends and allies.”
To be sure, even before the summit issue arose there were signs the Obama sanctions approach wasn’t working. Seeking ever-increasing sanctions against Iran rather than going for a knockout measure seems eerily reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson’s failed policy of gradually increasing the pain on the enemy in Vietnam. And the political process of securing additional sanctions has been tortuous, given the lack of support of major powers like Russia and China, and now seems to have totally collapsed.
Nor have the sanctions that are in place been strictly enforced: Iran’s 20 major oil trading partners have received exemptions from the sanctions regime. And of course by all reports Iran’s march toward nuclear capacity has continued unabated.
One would have thought Iran would try to stay out of U.S. crosshairs even if it were not prepared to give up its nuclear dream. Yet it continues to threaten Israel with obliteration and proclaims to the world that the U.S. alternative to military action is a joke. It would seem the Iranian leadership feels President Obama has no intention of following through on a military option and that it can pursue nuclear weaponry without fear.
Bombing another country is obviously a tough call. But if our president has indeed reconciled himself to a nuclear Iran, it is one more thing to keep in mind come November.