James Carroll, recently writing in the Boston Globe, wondered if America could finally accept defeat in Iraq, and be the better for it, comparing it to Vietnam:
"But what about the moral question? For all of the anguish felt over the loss of American lives, can we acknowledge that there is something proper in the way that hubristic American power has been thwarted? Can we admit that the loss of honor will not come with how the war ends, because we lost our honor when we began it? This time, can we accept defeat?"
To be frank, no. In Mr. Carroll's fantasyland, the United States is deserving of defeat, and through some sort of mental gymnastics, that defeat is honorable, because it smacked of hubris to ever have fought in the first place.
I contend instead that the ultimate dishonor will be to leave hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of Iraqis to violent deaths; and that this is far too large a price to pay for Mr. Carroll to feel better.
In his book The Culture of Defeat, the German scholar Wolfgang Schivelbusch described the stages of defeat through which nations pass upon losing a large war. He examined the South's loss of the Confederacy, the French loss in the Franco-Prussian War, and the German loss in World War I. He saw similar patterns in how their national cultures dealt with defeat: a "dreamland"-like state; then an awakening to the magnitude of the loss; then a call that the winning side used "unsoldierly" techniques or equipment; and next the stage of seeing the nation as being a loser in battle, but a winner in spirit. Schivelbusch expanded upon this last as such:
"To see victory as a curse and defeat as moral purification and salvation is to combine the ancient idea of hubris with the Christian virtue of humility, catharsis with apocalypse. That such a concept should have its greatest resonance among the intelligentsia can be explained in part by the intellectual's classical training but also by his inherently ambivalent stance toward power."
Who knows whether Mr. Carroll has had classical training, but should Schivelbusch meet him today, would he not recognize this idea of defeat as moral purification?
The only problem for those such as Mr. Carroll is that we have not yet lost. It is difficult not to conclude that there is a class of well-intentioned individuals in the United States like him who don't merely feel as they do upon witnessing a defeat, but instead think this way all the time. Like it or not, this mentality of permanent defeat plays a large part in the Democratic Party. It is now up to President Bush and the new Democratic congressional leadership to see that it does not become dominant.
How to do so? A charm offensive is not quite what is necessary. Instead, perhaps a combination of sobering events that will impress upon Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the gravity of our current situation would do the trick. Why not invite both Pelosi and Reid to the White House every morning until the new Congress is sworn in - and ask them to listen with the President to his Presidential Daily Brief, describing what Al Qaeda has cooked up of late? Or, why not invite them along with the President to one of his private sessions with the families of those who have paid the ultimate price overseas? Speaking of those overseas whose lives hang upon American policy, Pelosi and Reid could be participants in the next conference call that Bush has with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.
The point of all of this would be to create a true bipartisan consensus on Iraq that does not leave the Iraqis and US credibility to disaster. The Iraqi blogger "Sooni," who describes himself as a "free man" living in Baghdad, recently was asked what would happen if the US partitioned Iraq. "Just imagine it this way [sic] partitioning Iraq will create a small Iran in the south of Iraq and a small Afghanistan in the middle of it!"
Leaving Iraq will be worse than leaving Vietnam, not necessarily in terms of bloodshed, though that will be no comfort to those who will be slaughtered, but because the jihadist threat today is more dangerous than the Soviet threat then. Despite lacking - so far - in similar capabilities to the Communists, our enemies more than make up for it with an insatiable bloodthirsty ruthlessness. The honor that Mr. Carroll sees in defeat will soon be forgotten should Al Qaeda establish a caliphate in Anbar Province and begin a healthy trade in the export of mayhem throughout the West. The Furies that will visit us from such a redoubt will engender much more than a little longing that we had stayed.
Josh Manchester is a TCSDaily contributing writer. His blog is The Adventures of Chester (www.theadventuresofchester.com).