03 March, 2007

beware the "Iraq Syndrome"

Hear those BI-PARTISAN calls to get the troops back to Afghanistan & the ‘real war on terra'?

Ira Chernus:

Remember the “Vietnam syndrome”, which made its appearance soon after the actual war ended in defeat. It did restrain the US appetite for military interventions overseas - but only briefly. By the late 1970s, it had already begun to boomerang. Conservatives denounced the syndrome as evidence of a paralyzing, Vietnam-induced surrender to national weakness. Their cries of alarm stimulated broad public support for an endless military buildup and, of course, yet more imperial interventions.


The very idea of such a “syndrome” implied that what the Vietnam War had devastated was not so much the Vietnamese or their ruined land as the traumatized American psyche. As a concept, it served to mask, if not obliterate, many of the realities of the actual war. It also suggested that there was something pathological in a postwar fear of taking US arms and aims abroad, that the US had indeed become (in the late president Richard Nixon’s famous phrase) a “pitiful, helpless giant”, a basket case.


Ronald Reagan played all these notes skillfully enough to become president of the US. The desire to “cure” the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the life of the United States.


Iraq - both the war and the “syndrome” to come - could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach the US. The thought that Americans are simply a collective neurotic head-case when it comes to the use of force could help sow similar seeds of insecurity that might - after a pause - again push US politics and culture back to a glorification of military power and imperial intervention as instruments of choice for seeking “security”.

Now a micro-historical examle of how that dynamic plays out, by Jeffrey St. Clair (from “Al Gore, the Origins of a Hypocrite”):

Soon after his arrival in Congress, Gore formed the Vietnam Veterans Caucus with John Murtaugh, Jim Jones and Les Aspin. For Gore the caucus opened up a useful avenue into hawkish Democratic circles, where men like Aspin and Sam Nunn were doing the Pentagon’s work, proclaiming that “Vietnam Syndrome” was sabotaging the nation’s vital sinews. Gore picked up the lingo quickly enough: “I think it is important to realize that we do have interests in the world that are important enough to defend, to stand up for. And we should not be so burned by the tragedy of Vietnam that we fail to recognize an interest that requires the assertion of force.”


With such language, Gore established himself early on as “safe” from the point of view of the Pentagon and the national security complex. Safety meant never straying off the reservation on such issues as America’s right to intervene anywhere it chooses. Gore backed Reagan’s disastrous deployment of the US Marines in Lebanon in 1983. He supported the invasion of that puissant Caribbean threat to the United States (population 240 million) by Grenada (population 80,000). He later chided his 1988 Democratic opponents for their failure to embrace this noble enterprise. At a time when many Democrats wanted to restrict the CIA’s ability to undertake covert actions, Gore said he wouldn’t “hesitate to overthrow a government with covert actions”, a posture he ratified with his approval of the CIA’s secret war in Afghanistan. This, the largest covert operation in the Agency’s history . . .


[update 04 March]

Just to belabor the point, from Jim Lobe on Condi's appointment of Eliot A. Cohen, author of Supreme Command and a "prominent neo-conservative hawk and leading champion of the Iraq war," to be her State Department Counselor:
. . . while admitting in a Vanity Fair interview late last year that U.S. choices in Iraq range between "bad and awful," Cohen has called for perseverance and played a key role in selling AEI-hatched plan to add some 30,000 troops to the 140,000 soldiers in Iraq to Bush with whom he met personally as part of a small group of "surge"-boosters at the White House in mid-December.

If the surge should fail, however, Cohen's preferred and "most plausible" option, which he laid out in an October 2006 Journal column titled 'Plan B', would be a coup d'etat ("which we quietly endorse") that would bring to power a "junta of military modernizers", a development which, as he noted himself, would call into question the administration's and Rice's avowed goal of democratisation.

In any event, he argued in the same column, "American prestige has taken a hard knock (in Iraq); it will probably take a harder knock, and in ways that will not be restored without a considerable and successful use of American military power down the road."

"The tides of Sunni salafism and Iran's distinct combination of messianism and power politics have not crested, and will not crest without much greater violence in which we too will be engaged," he asserted.

In a Vanity Fair interview last fall, Cohen said, "I'm pretty grim. I think we're heading for a very dark world, because the long-term consequences of this are very large, not just for Iraq, not just for the region, but globally -- for our reputation, for what the Iranians do, all kinds of stuff."

If Rice's intent was to reassure Cheney and the neo-conservatives that she is not a captive of the ISG and the "Washington establishment", that passage alone should do the trick.

Rest assured, there will be a proliferation of bi-partisan variations on this theme.

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