THE LESSONS OF...

THE LESSONS OF WARS. You often hear of Vietnam Syndrome, that odd affliction wherein liberals who noticed America's last occupation attempt didn't go that well made the crazed extrapolation that this one wouldn't either. Loons! But Spencer Ackerman notices that the right has their own dysfunction left over from the war or, at least, its aftermath:

Disillusionment with a war usually follows a predictable pattern, particularly among elites: support or acquiescence for the enterprise; a tortured recognition of the war's poor fortunes; and, finally, denunciation. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative founding father, followed exactly the opposite course with Vietnam. In 1971, as editor of Commentary, Podhoretz wrote despondently about the war, "I now find myself ... unhappily moving to the side of those who would prefer ... an American defeat to a 'Vietnamization' of the war which calls for the indefinite and unlimited bombardment by American pilots in American planes of every country in that already devastated region." By 1982, however, Podhoretz had relocated the true fault for the Vietnam debacle--not among the war's architects, but among its critics. In Why We Were in Vietnam, he accused the antiwar movement of bearing "a certain measure of responsibility for the horrors that have overtaken the people of Vietnam." Over the intervening decade, Podhoretz had somehow grown illusioned with the war and disillusioned only with its opponents. [...]

This would prove a potent template. When Nixon prosecuted an even more savage war with no appreciable change in its fortunes, an emboldened Congress, led by Democrats, voted to cut off funding in 1974. This had an unintended and profound consequence. Suddenly, the right, which had spent the previous five years and the entire Johnson administration recognizing that the war was bleak, if not totally futile, had a new scapegoat: the forces that had ended the war before giving their preferred strategy time to work. Those forces were twofold: first, the representatives and senators who had betrayed the troops in the field; second, the antiwar movement that had pressured them to do so.

When the Iraq War inevitably grinds to its ugly end, and the mess we've created remains a mess once we've left, and the memories of our efforts fade and the reality of the region's misery festers, this will be the right's comforting refrain: We could have won, if only those cowardly liberals hadn't sapped our will and stayed our hand. It won't be true, but it will allow the right to wriggle out of responsibility for a mistake, and recapture the aura of toughness and grit without having to absorb any of the painful, wrenching lessons their last adventure should have taught.

--Ezra Klein

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