Friday, June 15, 2007

Coming loss in Iraq will long plague us

. Friday, June 15, 2007

Here is a great op-ed piece in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.

Losing hurts more than winning feels good. This maxim applies to virtually all areas of human interaction: sports, finance, love. And war.

Defeat in war damages societies quite out of proportion to what a rational calculation of cost would predict. The United States absorbed the loss in Vietnam quite easily on paper, for example, but the societal effects of defeat linger to this day. Defeats can have seemingly inexplicable consequences.

And as any sports fan can tell you, the only thing that feels worse than a loss is an upset. An upset demands explanation and requires that responsible parties be punished.

The endgame in Iraq is now clear, and it appears that the heavily favored United States will be upset. Once support for a war is lost, it is gone for good; there is no example of a modern democracy having changed its mind once it turned against a war. So we ought to start coming to grips with the meaning of losing in Iraq.

The consequences are likely to be profound, throwing American politics into a downward spiral of bitter recriminations the likes of which it has not seen in a generation. It will be a wedge that politicians will exploit for their benefit. The Vietnam syndrome divided this country for decades; the Iraq syndrome will be no different.

The battle for interpretation already has begun, with fingers of blame pointed in all directions. The war's supporters have staked out their position: Attacking Iraq was strategically sound but operationally flawed. Key decisions on troop levels, de-Baathification, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the like doomed what otherwise would have been a glorious war.

The American people seem to understand, however -- and historians will certainly agree -- that the war itself was a catastrophic mistake. It was a faulty grand strategy, not poor implementation. The Bush administration was operating under an illusion, one that is further discredited with every car bombing of a crowded Baghdad marketplace and every Iraqi doctor who packs up his family and flees his country.

At some point during the recriminations to come, let us hope the American people will seize the opportunity to ask themselves fundamental questions about the role and purpose of U.S. power in the world. How much influence can the United States have in the Middle East? Is its oil worth American blood and treasure? Might we not be better off just leaving the region alone?

Were our founding fathers here, they would surely look on Iraq with horror and judge that the nation they created had fundamentally lost its way. If the war in Iraq leads the United States to return to its traditional, restrained grand strategy, then perhaps the whole experience will not have been in vain.

Either way, the Iraq syndrome is coming. We need to be prepared for the divisiveness, vitriol, self-doubt and recrimination that will be its symptoms. They will be the defining legacy of the Bush administration and neoconservatism's parting gift to America.

Christopher J. Fettweis, an assistant professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.


Anonymous said...

The best part of that op-ed is the last 5 words: "neoconservatism's parting gift to America."

Good riddance to bad rubbish as my conservative (not neo-loon) grandpa used to say.

~newt (hi boo!)