President Bush says the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq is reminiscent of a tactic used by North Vietnamese guerrilla forces at a crucial point during the Vietnam War.
The White House has resisted drawing comparisons between the fighting in Iraq and the Vietnam War.
But during an interview with the ABC television network, President Bush spoke about one possible parallel. The comments came when he was asked about a newspaper column by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, who compared the recent spike in violence in Iraq to the Vietnam-era Tet offensive.
"He could be right," Mr. Bush said. "There certainly is a stepped-up level of violence, and we are heading into an election."
The Tet offensive is widely considered to be the turning point of the Vietnam War. While Communist forces ultimately lost the Tet offensive, they won a propaganda victory that prompted Americans to lose support for the conflict.
During a briefing for reporters, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president was in no way saying the Iraq conflict has hit its own turning point.
"That comparison was made by Tom Friedman. That was a question about a column that Tom Friedman wrote," he said. "And the president was making a point that he has made before, which is that terrorists try to exploit pictures and use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States."
Snow said Mr. Bush was simply noting that the enemy in Iraq may be increasing violence in order to affect the November 7 election in the United States, much as communist forces did in Vietnam prior to the U.S. election of 1968.
In Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman struck a similar chord. Major General William Caldwell said, while it is difficult to tell exactly what the terrorists are thinking, it is possible that they are trying to use violence right now as a way of influencing elections.
"It is no coincidence that the surge in attacks against coalition forces and subsequent increase in U.S. casualties coincides with our increased presence on the streets in Baghdad and the run up to American mid-term elections," he said. "The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration."
But some foreign policy and defense experts doubt there is a link between the increased violence and the upcoming American election. Among them is Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, a private policy research organization in Washington.
"I don't think it is true, although I would be happy, if it were true, in the sense that that would imply that violence should decline in November, after the elections are over," he said.
O'Hanlon notes there was no marked increase in bloodshed in Iraq in the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election in the United States. He says most of the spikes in violence have followed changes in military tactics, and have not been tied to American political events.