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Reading between the lines

When the 1968 Tet offensive began, I was in the ninth-grade at Arnold Junior High School.

I remember seeing news reports, but only began to understand what happened years later. I think about Tet because in hindsight we won the battles but lost the war because of the public’s perception of the results.

With a new Administration in Washington, the outcome of Tet should remind us of the need to judge actions carefully and not trust the first reports of anything.

When the communist attacks began, they expected the people of South Vietnam to join them. This would then result in the communists taking over the country. The South Vietnamese government was far from perfect, but the people of South Vietnam overall remained anti-communist. The result was that the American and South Vietnamese soldiers crushed the Viet Cong.

However, the offensive was perceived as a defeat because the American leadership had been promising success. The attack convinced the American people that the war was lost.

I mention all of this because we now have a new president who must grapple with the challenges of a war against Islamist terrorists and the establishment of lasting, democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also must develop policies to address the continuing conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians.

A great deal of politically inspired rhetoric has argued for new policies governing our actions. I believe that one of former President George W. Bush’s greatest failures was his inability to communicate to the American people and the world the reasons behind some of his decisions. I believe President Barack Obama is a much more skillful communicator, so I think he will be more successful in that regard. I’m not saying all of us will like the message, but I think the messenger will not be the problem.

Besides our own military actions, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires President Obama’s attention. I’m pro-Israel as most anyone reading this column knows.

I fear President Obama may not be. Whether pro-Israel or not, I hope he listens to the experienced military and intelligence staff rather than his politically motivated appointees and the news regarding the outcome of Israel’s recent attack into Gaza. For example, I’ve already read where some people claim Israel lost. I read the same thing after the attack against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

However, I did find it interesting that when rockets were fired into Israel from Lebanon, the Hezbollah leaders very quickly said they didn’t do it. I guess they didn’t want to energize Israel into “losing” another fight in Lebanon.

All of this rambling boils down to the need for all of us to be careful of the stories that motivate us to make a decision. We must be careful because our votes count. Look at the continuing fight over the senatorial race in Minnesota for an example of how close an election can be.

President Obama must be careful because his decisions now will determine who lives and who dies, including those of us sitting at home. First reports are almost always wrong. Every report from a person is subject to their interpretation.