Saturday, December 09, 2006

Matt Lauer’s “Cronkite Moment”

We are now engaged in a national debate over Iraq. Is it an insurgency or even sectarian violence as the administration wants to call it or is it civil war as their opponents say? NBC’s Matt Lauer made a “Cronkite Moment” when he announced on the Today show that NBC News would henceforth refer to what is going on in Iraq as a “civil war.” NBC is not the first to say the fighting in Iraq is a civil war, but they are the first major U.S. network to make a big deal out of using the term.

The BBC had an post in April 2006 asking the same question and giving their definition of a civil war, so the question has been bandied around for some time.

If you go to the Wikipedia link for Cronkite, you can look around at the definition of civil war and insurgency to see what the classical definition and what you think is going on in Iraq.

To be a true “Cronkite Moment”, all sort of other things have to happen and to understand the full meaning of the term, I’m going to ask Mr. Peabody’s boy Sherman to turn the Wayback Machineto the time when the moment occurred, the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. We need to flesh out Walter's Wikipedia post.

The Johnson administration had been saying using the phase “light at the end of the tunnel” to describe our long involvement in Vietnam and that the end was near. North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap plan was a general uprising in which the North Vietnamese forces – but mainly the Vietcong insurgency in the South – would seize power by taking key strategic points and using captured material to re-supply. The uprising was scheduled to occur during the Tet celebration of 1968.

While the Vietcong did take over key points and threaten military bases including the American Embassy, the take over was a military failure. The Americans hunkered down, counter attacked, and tracked the Vietcong back to their staging areas and strong holds and wiped them out. After Tet, the Vietcong was never a major force threatening the South or the Americans. Proof of this is when the fall finally did come some seven years later, it came in an invasion from the north. There was no uprising in the south.

However, standing in the ruins of the Tet Offensive, Walter Cronkite, dramatically reporting from the scene, wondered if our involvement in Vietnam would ever end. He saw no light at the end of the tunnel.


Most of our modern press sees that as a "Cronkite Moment." something to be desired and envied as the Holy Grail of journalism, the scoop. Here we have a journalist standing up to the administration and describing what is really happending, the truth, the news, no matter what the administration's spin. What journalist in their narcissitic, self-serving attitude fail to recognize is there is more to the moment than just standing up to one very powerful president. For one, Walter Cronkite was wrong is so many ways.

When LBJ saw Cronkite have his moment on the CBS Evening News, he said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the rest of America.” He sued for peace, reinforcing it with the statement he would not run for another term as president. We didn’t know then what we know now: North Vietnam had shot its wad, we had beaten them, and they needed peace as much as we thought we did. Will Lauer’s “Cronkite Moment” include this kind of ending in Iraq?

Also, even as we were abandoning Vietnam from the rooftop of the American embassy, many where becoming aware that Communism as a form of government was a failure. Many could not help but notice that planned economies do not perform as well as free markets. Even as Vietnam fell, free markets were wining the Cold War.

Does Lauer’s “Cronkite Moment” include the beginning of the end of radical Islam’s reign of terror?


Don't get me wrong, we should never have gone into Vietnam just as we should never have gone into Iraq -- but once we are there we need to win. Of course, that takes a realistic strategy; something in which Bush's Neocon wonks are sorely lacking. If we had stayed in South Vietnam, it would be the economic success South Korea is, and Iraq could be, but I don't think we are going to win in Iraq anymore than we won in Vietnam.
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