Iraq Violence, 'No Child' Occupy Bush
Thursday, October 19, 2006
GREENSBORO, N.C., Oct. 18 -- President Bush said Wednesday that the current surge of violence in Iraq "could be" comparable to the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, a succession of battles that became a milestone because it helped turn the American public against the conflict and its political leadership.
Bush has strongly resisted comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, but with U.S. casualties continuing to mount, he agreed to an interviewer's analogy and said he detected a spike in attacks timed to the congressional elections in three weeks with the goal of forcing the United States to lose its will.
"My gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we'd leave," Bush said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. "And the leaders of al-Qaeda have made that very clear. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause [the] government to withdraw."
Stephanopoulos asked Bush whether he agreed with New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who wrote that the real "October surprise" of this campaign season is what "seems like the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive." Bush nodded. "He could be right," the president replied. "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."
The Tet Offensive was a rolling series of operations by the Viet Cong against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces beginning at the Vietnamese new year in January 1968. Historians consider Tet a military defeat for the Viet Cong because it lost so many men and captured no significant objectives. But it was also a powerful propaganda victory for the Viet Cong, because it brought the bloody war home to many Americans watching television. With support for the war eroding, President Lyndon B. Johnson abandoned his reelection campaign two months later.
Bush's interview with ABC came as he visited North Carolina to highlight his education program. The president visited a fast-improving elementary school to make a pitch for expansion of the No Child Left Behind law when it comes before Congress for reauthorization next year.
Bush said the law should include vouchers for low-income students to attend private or parochial schools while offering salary incentives for teachers whose students show sharp improvement on standardized tests or who work in tough schools. He also wants the law's requirements for annual standardized testing, which currently apply to most elementary and middle school students, extended to high schools.
"The reauthorization of this important bill is going to be a top priority of mine," Bush said. "And it's not only just the reauthorization, it's the strengthening of the bill and not the weakening of the bill."
The changes sought by Bush are certain to face stiff opposition in Congress, where many Democrats contend that Bush has not provided enough funding to implement the measure. When the law was enacted in 2001, he was forced to drop his call for vouchers in the face of Democratic opposition.
In a speech at Waldo C. Falkener Elementary School, Bush said the law is spurring educational improvements here and elsewhere. The percentage of third-graders reading at grade level at Falkener has increased to 76 percent from 46 percent three years ago.
Bush said the law's requirement for annual testing of students in grades three through eight and its provisions for publicly funded tutoring for struggling students are helping to close the achievement gap separating many white and Asian students from many blacks and Hispanics.
"The gap is closing, and that's incredibly important for the United States of America to see that achievement gap close," Bush said. "How do we know? Because we're measuring."
After his speech, Bush visited the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with life-threatening illnesses. NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, founded the camp in memory of their son Adam. The day ended with a dinner at the Greensboro home of businessman Louis DeJoy, chairman of New Breed Logistics Inc. The event was expected to raise $900,000 for the Republican National Committee.
Baker reported from Washington.