So, what's Arabic for "Tet"? You remember, the Tet (Lunar New Year) Offensive staged by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong against American and South Vietnamese installations in 1968?
If you do remember it, it must have been a word that popped into your head when you heard that a suicide bomber struck the heavily guarded Iraqi Parliament Thursday, the same day a truck bomb destroyed a culturally significant bridge over Baghdad's Tigris River.
As military operations, those were but pinpricks. As psychological blows, they loom very large indeed. And they do even more damage to the idea that the U.S. government can do anything to end the violence there or prop up the government we have bet on.
Militarily, the Tet operation was a disaster for the enemies of the United States. Whole divisions of Viet Cong infiltrators -- what we'd now call sleeper cells -- blew their covers and were annihilated. The South Vietnamese populace, thought by Hanoi to be awaiting just that sort of inspiration, did not rise in revolt.
As a propaganda stoke, however, the operation was unexpectedly masterful. By striking the U.S. Embassy, the national radio station, the presidential palace and other key points of power, the North Vietnamese proved that even if they could capture nothing, they could strike everything.
When it was revealed a short time later that U.S. military commanders were seeking an additional 200,000 troops to, they thought, finish the routing of the Viet Cong that began with Tet, it gave the impression that the United States must be losing the war, or else it wouldn't need so many soldiers.
The analogies to the current engagement of American regular forces against a nationalist insurgency remain flawed, but too tempting to be left alone. By getting into the Parliament building, inside the many layers of security that surround the Green Zone where the Iraqi government and its U.S. allies are dug in, the suicide bomber proved that no place in the country is safe, surge or no surge.
By destroying the 60-year-old Sarafiya Bridge, a local icon that united the city economically and culturally, the insurgents demonstrated once again that it is so much easier to destroy than to create.
The violence shows no sign of ending, and Cabinet ministers from the movement of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are quitting or threatening to quit the government, leaving it even more shaky than it was before.
Because he already is a term-limited lame duck, President Bush does not have the option of responding to these events the way President Lyndon B. Johnson answered Tet, by announcing he would not seek re-election.
Bush could, however, let it be known that he understands the futility of his quest for a military victory in a situation that demands a political and diplomatic solution, understands that the recent announcement that 12-month combat tours have become 15-month tours speaks of desperation, and will seek as graceful a way as possible out of this deadly mire he has created.