Vietnam was the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But once we had committed our forces there, we should have fought to win, regardless of the amount of force required for victory. Why? Because our ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam changed the national psyche -- especially coming as it did within a generation of the stalemate in Korea. As a result of Vietnam, we went from believing that we could win any war we set our minds to win to believing that there wasn't a war worth fighting.
Our (incomplete) victory in the Gulf War of 1991 came so quickly and at so little cost that it didn't really reinvigorate America's military self-confidence. Our 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo succeeded only in showing our willingness to win a quick victory (if it was that) in a situation that posed little or no threat to American forces.
On the other hand, the new, defeatist American psyche -- which most of the mainstream press has been striving for 30 years to perpetuate -- manifested itself in our abrupt withdrawals from Lebanon (1983) and Somalia (1993) after the public saw "too many" body bags. Then there was our legalistic response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and our tepid military response to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The sum total of American actions in 1983, 1993, and 1998 -- coupled with the obvious ascendancy of American defeatism -- surely led Osama bin Laden to believe that he could accomplish his aims through a few spectacular terrorist attacks within the U.S., and the threat of more such attacks.
Thus, although we may be having a hard time in Iraq -- and the hard time may continue for a while -- we cannot back down. We must redouble our efforts to quell the insurgency and to build a stable Iraq. To do otherwise would be to admit that the American psyche remains defeatist. It would invite our enemies and potential enemies to take bold actions -- if not directly against us, then against our interests around the world. We would find it harder and harder to fight back, diplomatically and militarily, against increasingly emboldened enemies and rivals -- even if we had the will to fight back. Vital resources would become exorbitantly expensive to us, if we did not lose access to them altogether. America's economic and military might would descend together, in a death spiral, and with them -- very likely -- the remnants of domestic civility.
And that is how bin Laden will destroy America, if he can. And that is why we must persevere in Iraq.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Harry Truman showed the world that America had lost its will to win. And so, we have gone from Korea, to Vietnam, to Lebanon, to Gulf War I, to Somalia, and -- now, it seems -- to Iraq. I must quote myself: