Post-traumatic Iraq syndrome
The war is lost. Americans should begin to deal with what that means.
LOSING HURTS MORE than winning feels good. This simple maxim applies with equal power to virtually all areas of human interaction: sports, finance, love. And war.At 61 I am not only old enough to remember the Vietnam debacle but actually served in the Army during the conflict. I am aware that many my age are still unable to admit the war was a mistake and could never have been won. The wounds will not be healed and the animosity will not fade until the people who were alive at that time are all dead. The same will be true for Iraq.
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. The Afghanistan debacle was an underrated contributor to Soviet malaise in the 1980s and a factor in perestroika, glasnost and eventually the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Defeats can have unintended, 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, in outline if not detail, 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.
Many who supported the war now realize it's lost but blame the incompetent mismanagement by Rumsfled and the Bush administration but Mr Fettweis reminds us that it's not that simple.
The battle for interpretation has already begun, with fingers of blame pointed in all directions in hastily written memoirs. The war's supporters have staked out their position quite clearly: 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.And what's next?
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 international political 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.
Hopefully at some point during the recriminations to come, the American people will seize the opportunity to ask themselves a series of 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? Are we really safer now that Iraq burns? Might we not be better off just leaving the region alone?But Mr Fettweis misses something - the reason for the invasion and occupation. Like Vietnam in was sold as a war against an external enemy. That was never the real reason. That of course was oil.
Perhaps at some point we will come to recognize that the United States can afford to be much more restrained in its foreign policy adventures. 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.
Sully seems to agree