November 08, 2006

When The War Is Over

The arguments over Vietnam and Iran-Contra were never fully resolved in the US public's consciousness, nor in the courtrooms, nor in the corridors of power. Many still think the USA could have "won" in Vietnam if only they had "stayed the course". And of course, many people still think Ollie North is a "hero in error" (to use Chalabi's words). Rummy and Cheney worked for Nixon, but escaped the Church Commission... plus ca change!

On this back-to-the-future subject, I recommend this excellent piece from Immanuel Wallerstein:
The primary problem of the leadership of the Democratic Party is that it believes, at least as much as the Republicans, that the United States is the center of the world, the font of wisdom, the great defender of world freedom -- in short, a deeply virtuous nation in a dangerous world.

Worst of all, they seem to believe that, merely by purging the element of exaggerated unilateralism practiced by the current regime, they will be able to restore the United States to a position of centrality in the world system, and regain the support of their erstwhile allies and supporters, first of all in Western Europe and then everywhere else in the world. They seem to believe that it's a matter of form, not substance, and that the fault of the Bush regime is that it wasn't good enough at diplomacy.
So what will happen over the next two years?
It is probably, not certainly, the case that the United States will be forced to withdraw from Iraq before the presidential election in 2008. It is also almost certainly the case that the Republicans will blame the Democrats for "losing" the war, and the Democrats will say it isn't so. But beyond the usual political claptrap, the withdrawal will come as a deep shock to the American people, even if a majority will see no alternative.

One has to put such a withdrawal in the context of wars the United States has fought since 1945. The Korean War and the first Gulf War ended at the starting line. Neither side really won. The most important war for the United States -- in terms of its geopolitical impact, its economic cost and the emotional involvement of the American people -- was Vietnam. And that war, the United States lost. The result has been a deep cleavage in the American people -- about "who" lost the war, and whether the war could have been "won," had other policies prevailed.

The so-called Vietnam syndrome has never been healed. With the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was a patriotic upsurge among the American people, and the country seemed temporarily reunified. But Bush has squandered all that, and no Democratic president can resurrect it. Withdrawal from Iraq, I predict, will be even more traumatic than the flight from Saigon in 1975. Two defeats will be devastating and also persuasive of the real limits of U.S. power.

There are really only two possibilities at that point. One is that a profound soul-searching occurs that would lead the United States to re-evaluate its self-image, its sense of what is possible in the world system now and in the future, and what kind of values it really believes in. If that happens, maybe forces within the Democratic Party will come forward to incarnate this re-evaluation. Or maybe the whole political framework of the United States and its parties will change to reflect such a re-evaluation.

But, of course, there is a second possibility: that the nation is overcome with deep anger about the "loss" of its primacy, will seek scapegoats (and find them) and eventually move in the direction of gutting the U.S. Constitution and the liberties it presumes to defend. Something like that happened in Weimar Germany.


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