Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Iraq Syndrome, R.I.P.

The New York Times
February 1, 2007

After Vietnam, Americans turned inward. Having lost faith in their leadership class, many Americans grew suspicious of power politics and hesitant about projecting American might around the world.

The Vietnam syndrome was real. It lasted all of five years — the time between the fall of Saigon and the election of Ronald Reagan.

Today, Americans are disillusioned with the war in Iraq, and many around the world predict that an exhausted America will turn inward again. Some see a nation in permanent decline and an end to American hegemony. At Davos, some Europeans apparently envisioned a post-American world.

Forget about it. Americans are having a debate about how to proceed in Iraq, but we are not having a strategic debate about retracting American power and influence. What’s most important about this debate is what doesn’t need to be said. No major American leader doubts that America must remain, as Dean Acheson put it, the locomotive of the world.

Look at the leaders emerging amid this crisis. The two major Republican presidential contenders are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the most aggressive internationalists in a party that used to have an isolationist wing.

The Democrats, meanwhile, campaigned for Congress in 2006 by promising to increase the size of the military. The presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is the leader of the party’s hawkish wing and recently called for a surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan. John Edwards, the most “leftward” major presidential contender, just delivered a bare-knuckled speech in which he castigated the Bush administration for not being tough enough with Iran. “To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table,” Edwards warned.

This is not a country looking to avoid entangling alliances. This is not a country renouncing the threat of force. This is not a country looking to come home again. The Iraq syndrome is over before it even had a chance to begin.

The U.S. has no material need to reconsider its dominant role in the world. The U.S. military still has no serious rivals, even after the strains of Iraq. The economy is humming along nicely.

The U.S. has no cultural need to retrench. Vietnam sparked a broad cultural revolution, a shift in values and a loss of confidence. Iraq has not had the same effect. Many Americans have lost faith in the Bush administration and in this particular venture, but there has been no generalized loss of faith in the American system or in American goodness.

There hasn’t even been a broad political shift in favor of the doves. The most important war critics are military types like Jack Murtha, Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb, who hate this particular war but were superhawks in other circumstances.

Finally, there has been no change in America’s essential nature. As Robert Kagan writes in his masterful book “Dangerous Nation,” America has never really been an isolationist or aloof nation. The United States has always exercised as much power as it could. It has always coupled that power with efforts to spread freedom. And Americans have always fought over how best to fulfill their mission as the vanguard of progress.

What’s happening today is just another chapter in that long expansionist story. Today’s debate in the Senate flows seamlessly from the history Kagan describes. Most senators agree that the tactical question of sending 20,000 more troops is not the central issue. Their core concern, they say, is finding a new grand strategy to stabilize the region.

Most senators want a much more aggressive diplomatic effort to go along with the military one. (If President Bush said his surge was part of an effort to establish a regional diplomatic conference, he’d have majority support tomorrow.) But they don’t question the need for America to play a leading role. They take it for granted that the U.S. is going to be in the Middle East for a long time to come.

When you look further into the future, you see that the next president’s big efforts will not be about retrenchment, but about expansion. They’ll be about expanding the U.S. military, expanding the diplomatic corps, asking for more shared sacrifice, creating new interagency bureaus that will give America more nation-building capacity.

In short, the U.S. has taken its share of blows over the past few years, but the isolationist dog is not barking. The hegemon will change. The hegemon will do more negotiating. But the hegemon will live.

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COMMENT: These days Brooks & superannuated neoconservative imperialist types in particular reveal an ever increasing capacity for self-deception than has generally been the case. Like the Fuehrer in the bunker at the end of his rope expecting non-existent armored divisions to materialize out of nowhere and rescue him, Brooks & his neocon brethren (& sistren) --chickenhawk blatherers to the bitter end -- stubbornly (& foolishly) adhere to the path of most resistance, cheerleading for a self-discredited ideology in full rout, trying by sheer force of wish-fulfillment fantasy to transmute egregious error into unbounded and justified success. Brooks fails to understand that the American People--unlike the cannibalistic Masterclass which he serves--are not by nature expansionist showboaters bent on dominating the planet nor are they vindictive bullies trying to even scores for real and/or imagined slights reaching back to the school-yard and probably the sandbox. As history proves, they are hardly likely to stand behind warmongering profiteers & misadventurers with delusions of hegemony for too long. For that you might have to contrive --through purposeful acts of omission if nothing else--another attack of at least 911 magnitude…



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