Don't Bother Me with the Facts; I've Made Up My Mind: The Tet Offensive in the Context of Intelligence and U.S. Strategy1
In recent years, much of the debate over the origins and impact of the Tet Offensive has focused on whether or not Tet caught American strategists by "surprise" due to a so-called failure of intelligence. This debate is often placed in a revisionist framework: if American evaluation of the intelligence data available before Tet had been more effective, the damage done to the allied war effort could have been obviated or better contained.
Both this debate and its revisionist implications are, however, scarcely relevant to the subject. American strategic thinking in Vietnam was so flawed as to prevent any effective evaluation of the enemy's strategic intentions. These flaws not only blinded American strategists to the intelligence data before them, but also helped produce a strategic posture that invited the enemy to launch a general offensive under circumstances that would be as devastating to the American and Republic of Vietnam's war effort as it was unexpected in its size and scope. In sum, flawed American strategic evaluation of the ways, means, and ends of American and Vietnamese political intentions and military operations in Vietnam precluded effective intelligence exploitation and made the debacle that was Tet Mau Than inevitable.2
The concept of historical inevitability, though unfounded and unjustifiable, nonetheless has a compelling reality when applied to the dynamics of policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation as a result of several phenomena. Among them are a shared intellectual heritage on the part of decision makers and senior-level implementors; the power of institutional imperatives, including those arising from the domestic political culture; and a pervasive unwillingness to accept intelligence that runs counter to personal predilections, prejudices, and beliefs such as to constitute a variant