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The war is lost; time to blame the liberals


There is an old saying: success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. But the saying is slightly off: if the screw-up is sufficiently costly, blame must be placed, and the baby will likely end up on a completely inappropriate doorstep.


We all make mistakes, but it takes a specific kind of defect to make truly epic blunders – the kind that come not from the original wrong turn, but from a refusal to admit the mistake and a dogged insistence on rejecting opportunities to recover. The congenital inability to admit mistakes compounds them, and leads to illogical, implausible histrionics in order to blame anyone but the fools who created the problem in the first place. Remember Dubya’s classic deer-in-the headlights turn when asked at a press conference to name a single mistake he had made? Expect many re-enactments over the coming months, because the Quagmire Formerly Known as Iraq is about to be put up for adoption.

The good news is that it is finally dawning on a number of the neocons and the neoconned that Iraq is a snafu of epic proportions, which is rapidly bringing us to the end of a road I feared would take another decade to traverse. President Pangloss continues to insist that “failure is not an option,” but fewer and fewer rubes line up to drink his carny’s elixir. In fact, this time he is right – but only because calling failure an “option” implies that there are other possible outcomes. A certainty is not an option, and a bad outcome in Iraq is fast approaching as high a level of certainty as can be found in the reality-based community. (Pre-emptive note to the dense: applauding the acknowledgement of the failure is not the same thing as cheering the failure itself. I didn’t tell your favorite emperor to promenade in his birthday suit.)

The bad news is that all the delusional energy that these ostrich hawks had devoted to holding their heads beneath the sand is now going to be dedicated to a new, equally dysfunctional task – blaming the military, blaming the CIA, but first and foremost – blaming the liberals. As Vietnam repeats with eerie precision, and our military might is again worn down by an enemy our generals don’t understand and our foot soldiers can’t distinguish from the people we are supposedly protecting, the baffled will again seek their favorite scapegoats – those who committed the capital offense of being right from the beginning.

The canard that we would have “won” in Vietnam if America had not been shackled by the bleeding hearts at home has been a right wing touchstone for thirty years. In 1969, Richard Nixon delivered his “Vietnamization” speech, in which he said: “let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.” In the circles that are again wreaking global havoc, this view remains a virtual shibboleth. The idea that there might be unwinnable wars, and wars not worth fighting, is simply incomprehensible to them. (Incredibly, Tom Delay has claimed that, had George W. Bush been President back then, we would have won the Vietnam war (yes, the very one his foot soldiers are convinced John Kerry lost). Even if you wish to argue that a more hawkish approach could have changed the outcome in our first quagmire – especially if you believe that – such a claim about someone who had the opportunity to serve that very cause and moved heaven and earth to avoid it should bring you a wave of nausea.)

That kind of nonsense is coming our way again. Expect increasing numbers of deranged chickenhawks to mobilize vast armies of verbal warriors to lay their orphan at our feet.

The process has already begun. Among the first to put finger to wind and, sensing a rout, begin the scapegoating was Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson is, for reasons that continue to elude me, considered one of the intellectual leaders of the right. (The paucity of competition may have something to do with it—land of the blind and all.) In this, at least, Hanson shows that he is indeed a leader –in a June 30th column, he claimed that the only legitimate parallel between Vietnam and Iraq is that “showing weakness emboldens enemies.” Jane Fonda and Abbie Hoffman lost Vietnam; the facts that we tried to prop up a corrupt, repressive government, faced an enemy indistinguishable from our putative allies, and had no damned idea what we were doing somehow pale by comparison. Hanson merely echoes the senior myope on this subject, Henry Kissinger, who recently asserted that “the tragedy of Vietnam was the divisions that occurred in the United States that made it, in the end, impossible to achieve an outcome that was compatible with the sacrifices that had been made.”

For both if these men, the idea that the very values that we claim distinguish us from our enemies are treasonous weaknesses is an irony utterly lost in translation. Yet the idea that American bloggers somehow embolden desperate Iraqis who go weeks without electricity is elevated to a level of certainty to which reality can only aspire.

Elected wingnuts have joined in as well. Senator Inhofe (R, 15th century) has blamed us for the shortfall in recruiting, as if the 1800-plus dead American soldiers existed in some Tinkerbell dimension, and would still be alive if we would only shut our eyes and believe a little harder – or, of course, if we didn’t insist on making the truth available to the teenagers Inhofe would prefer to mislead into harm’s way.

And, of course, there was this from the power behind the throne: “Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.” If Karl Rove says it, you can take to the bank the certainty that almost every Republican in Washington will be saying it, and saying it soon.

If the laying of blame served no further purpose, I would gladly accept their displaced rage in exchange for an end to the slaughter. But blaming the “hate America first” crowd has a darker purpose. Stigmatizing us will soon become their highest calling because we were right, and they will have to negate us, and the truth we continue to speak, in order to re-consecrate their vision of empire through wars of choice. It will take time, but they will again bury truth under a mudslide of strident fabrication. They will not rest until the lessons of Quagmire II have been erased and America is ready to jingo its way into Quagmire III twenty or thirty years hence. And that is why we must deny paternity of their stillborn dream of empire.

John Steinberg bloviates regularly @

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