“The American establishment, led by the media and politicians, is in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq. And the results would be catastrophic,” writes Roll Call executive editor Mort Kondracke today on RealClearPolitics.

I was going to skip Iraq this morning in favor of some happier thoughts with which to head into the weekend. But Kondracke’s piece changed my mind.

It lays out why we can’t afford to lose, why we aren’t losing (except in the hearts and minds of the media and others to whom such a loss appears advantageous), and what’s behind the constant cry that all is, in fact, lost.

You should read Kondracke’s whole column, but I can’t resist quoting in some length. The media has long pushed the Vietnam analogy, and in an ironic way, there’s one point in its favor:

“In 1968 — by no accident, a U.S. presidential election year — the Viet Cong launched a massive countrywide offensive in South Vietnam, invading the U.S. Embassy complex in the process,” writes Kondracke.
“By every military measure, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces devastated the Communist forces. (It’s all recorded in the late Peter Braestrup’s masterful book ’Big Story.’) Yet the U.S. media reported the episode as a U.S. defeat, helping convince the American establishment that the war was unwinnable.”

With an Abu Ghraib picture on the front page of the Washington Post this morning, you might also want to ponder what Kondracke says about this scandal in comparison with the beheading of Nick Berg:

“The decapitation of Nicholas Berg — which, it merits reminding, required several cuts of the knife to stop his screaming — was a front-page story for just one day. Only one newspaper that I know of, the Dallas Morning News, plus the Weekly Standard magazine, made the point that Berg’s murder is ’why we fight.’

“By now, Abu Ghraib has been a lead story for weeks. And Congress has gone so far as to pull top U.S. commanders back from the battle zone to grill them about it — just as America’s enemies are launching what they hope will be the Iraqi equivalent of the 1968 Tet offensive, hoping to undermine the June 30 handover of power to Iraqis.”

Like Kondracke, I’ve been thinking of this year as a rerun of 1968.

I predict that, if Bush wins, we’ll move on to the 1970s and intense investigations of the administration that call to mind Watergate (with the old familiar face of Sy Hersh back in the game, no less).

Don’t get me wrong — Nixon broke the law. I’m not defending his actions in Watergate. I’m simply saying that the media will pull out all the stops to try to do it again.

Watergate and Vietnam are the two touchstones of a media still dominated by Baby Boomers (though this won’t last forever!).