updated 10/19/2006 6:26:53 PM ET 2006-10-19T22:26:53

Given the U.S. military’s troubled history in Vietnam, generals and their foot soldiers in Iraq may have shuddered after they heard President Bush acknowledge a comparison with today’s Iraq and the Viet Cong’s 1968 Tet Offensive.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, the president said a New York Times column by Thomas Friedman might be correct in drawing that analogy.

“He could be right,” the president said. “There’s certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.”

Tet, which began in early 1968 and is seen by many as a turning point in the Vietnam war, did serious damage to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s public support. Two months after the offensive began, he announced he would not seek a full, second term in the White House.

Bush links violence to elections
The military and the Bush administration, even before the president’s comments Wednesday on ABC, had blamed the recent increase in attacks on U.S. soldiers in Baghdad and elsewhere on the insurgents’ savvy — a gamble that they could affect the vote in coming U.S. elections.

“In regards to this spike in violence ... it’s no coincidence that the surge in attacks against coalition forces and the subsequent increase in U.S. casualties coincides with our increased presence on the streets of Baghdad and the run-up to the American midterm elections,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Thursday.

“The enemy knows that killing innocent people and Americans will garner headlines and create a sense of frustration,” he said.

As Caldwell spoke, the White House sought to clarify Bush’s remarks, to put them back into the context of ties between increased American deaths and the coming U.S. vote.

“The president was making a point that he’s made before, which is that terrorists try to exploit pictures and try to use the media as conduits for influencing public opinion in the United States,” spokesman Tony Snow said.

Deadly month continues
Attacks in Baghdad rose 22 percent in the first three weeks of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, Caldwell said, when compared to the previous three weeks. The month of fasting and prayers began in late September and is in its final days.

So far this month 73 U.S. troops have been killed, putting October on course to be the deadliest for American forces in Iraq since November 2004, when U.S. was in the midst of a drive to oust insurgents from their stronghold of Fallujah in Anbar province.

Caldwell dodged when questioned about Bush’s comparison of Iraq with the Tet Offensive.

“I think we’re getting far beyond my realm to start making analogies back to Vietnam War, but I would tell you that we’re obviously very concerned about what we’re seeing in the city.”

Disagreement over war strategy
As happened in Vietnam, the United States and its host government are growing increasingly at odds over specifics in how the war is being conducted.

Among other things, Washington and Baghdad may differ over an amnesty plan for insurgents — a bid to draw fighters into the political process. There were reports the White House was pressuring Iraqi authorities to give amnesty to Sunni insurgents, although that would be a surprising change for the Bush administration, which has resisted amnesty because it could potentially include those who have killed American troops.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office under a 24-point national unity program, which included an amnesty, but the plan soon collapsed after disputes with the United States over which insurgents could be included.

Beyond that, the country’s Shiite-dominated parliament — with no objection from fellow Shiite al-Maliki — adopted a measure last week that would allow Iraq’s 18 provinces to band together according to religious or ethnic population into autonomous or federal regions. Some fear such a move would effectively lead to the dismemberment of Iraq, but not before far more bloodshed.

The White House on Thursday came out strongly against such a plan, which reportedly shared some elements with expected recommendations of a commission exploring U.S. options in Iraq.

Snow said a division of Iraq was a “nonstarter,” suggesting a yet a fresh point of friction in the growing list of issues over which the al-Maliki government and the Bush administration appear to be at odds.

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