Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Prescription for Vietnam Syndrome

"Good for what ails ya."

Max Borders writing at Tech Central Station has an excellent post about the distortions in media reporting in Iraq that have again led to widespread outbreaks of the Vietnam Syndrome, even among "former supporters of the war."

For the uninformed -- or any of you Rip Van Winkles -- the Vietnam Syndrome can mean that an enemy can lose overwhelmingly on the battlefield, yet defeat us by waiting for our own impatience, lack of information, or manipulation by enemy "newsmakers" to bring on the onset of the syndrome. Borders presents this thesis:
American foreign policy still suffers from what some have called the "Vietnam Syndrome." First, US "public opinion" can be myopic, especially if an Administration panders to it. Second, when public opinion (or concerns about public opinion) has guided our military efforts, they have either petered out or failed. Third, it is critical that our long-term strategic objectives are protected against the fickleness of popular opinion -- especially when such works against our national interests.

My worry is that the objectives of Iraq -- as well as our strategy for the larger Middle East -- may not fall within a time horizon that can outlast the inflammation of public outcry due to Vietnam Syndrome. Tremendous political pressures reinforced by negative perceptions are building against the Administration. We should wonder whether these are the symptoms of a US public that receives a steady diet of colored information and news of dead soldiers; but gets less information about military and political gains. For example, the fruits of democratization are routinely downplayed. Good news is attenuated, or buried on page 15.
Not to worry, America. There's a cure for the Vietnam Syndrome. That's the good news.

The bad news is, according to Borders, there are three groups of people that are essential to battling the illness. I will present his prescription for each, then explain what steps are to be taken:
First, the Administration needs constantly to remind Americans of the vision, not just the discreet goals. The war is no longer just about quelling the insurgency, if it ever was. The war has always been about transforming Iraq into an example of peace, prosperity and successful liberal institutions in a dangerous part of the world. No one believes Iraq can be an oasis. It is enough that the Iraqi people have a hand in their own destiny and that they are prepared to accept the transformative power of the rule of law. Such transformations may have short-term costs. But in the longer term, Iraq can be a catalyst for change that makes us all more secure.
This starts with the President. He needs to keep stating the vision and objectives of our War against terror. More speeches like his Second Inaugural, reminding us of the stakes. Forget the Press Conferences unless he has something important to press. And then he needs to be supported 100% by the Secretaries of Defense and State and the departments they manage. They need to back up what the President says with policy and execution. If the can’t, won’t, or are more interested in fighting turf battles via anonymous press leaks, fire them, kick their butts back to the think tanks or corporate board rooms or party offices. Somewhere where their disloyalty and skullduggery won’t get the rest of us killed due to their inattention. We are at war, and our cabinet departments of the Executive need to start acting like it, even if we can’t get a large number of our congressmen and women to do so.
Second, we the people need to think longer term. Our obsession with quick victories and homeward-bound troops should be tempered by the knowledge of what is at stake. Our all-volunteer forces are professional fighters who understand that they have been called to serve in real conflict. If we accept the neoconservative vision of the United States' role in the world, we should be prepared for the possibility of other, future engagements as we project our power globally for the sake of a comprehensive liberal order. Minimally, we are in a strategic position in the Middle East. With troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is geographically poised to deal with Iran as an emerging nuclear threat. For that reason alone, we should not be so eager to pull out.
Okay folks, this one’s for us. The little people, the Silent Majority, Mom and Dad and Sis and Bud back home. We need to find some resolve, and some patience. We can’t let small setbacks and dedicated enemy propaganda – parroted by major news outlets or not – dictate how long we will stay resolved to fight the evils we confront. Our enemies are not likely to surrender, they will keep killing, finding softer and softer civilian targets in a desperate attempt to cause us to lose heart. So unless we somehow can kill every single nut case who thinks this is the way to immortality. We will suffer more violence at their hands. But the more we press the fight to them, the less they are able to plot and plan and build international networks of nut cases to come after us at home.

I recommend the following entertainments: John Wayne, anything World War Two, Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, Civil War, a dash of Frank Capra for Idealism. Books, again anything World War Two, the Holocaust, Soviet Union and the horrific brutality of the Gulags, Founders, Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln. Stay away from the jaded elite. It’s not a time to rediscover anything from the sixties or seventies, drugs, hippiedom, sensitivity to foreign cultures (who want to kill Americans), etc. That’s a start.
Finally, the media will have to understand that, while they can never be "objective," they have a responsibility fairly to address many facets of an event. Criticism, debate and even dissent are healthy elements of a free society. But the media should be aware of its responsibility to provide the broadest range of relevant facts and perspectives so readers can shape more informed opinions. That means, when it comes to Iraq we need the bad news and the good. Instead of journalistic integrity we get a competition among spin doctors who selectively include or omit at will. We get Cindy Sheehan ad nauseum. We get Abu Ghraib and daily death tolls. And we get those who use their editorial powers to further their own agendas. To treat Vietnam Syndrome, this will have to change.
Members of the Fourth Estate, listen up. You have a responsibility to the societies in which you make your living, earn your keep, enjoy your press and personal freedoms, and pursue life, liberty, and happiness (or grouchiness, that’s your choice). You are not citizens of the world. If you were, you would probably run afoul of the World Police, and need government controlled press credentials, and your works would be screened for suitability, and many of you would be in jail, dead, or in flight.

You cannot retreat to some Ivory Bunker, and wait for all the shooting to stop and then come up for air. When the terrorists go nuclear, which they almost certainly will, many many many of your fellow reporters and editors will be incinerated in an instant. The rest will be in shock. No small number will immediately write angry editorials about that da**ed George W. Bush, about how he made the whole world hate us.

But they’ll be wrong, because this is where these madmen, these psychopaths have always wanted to go. If we are all willing to surrender to the Global Caliphate, well fine, but I don’t think we’d like their version of “multiculturalism.” (Monoculturalism for them, we become their slaves or guest workers, but we have no rights, we are Kafir.)

We are at war. It isn’t going to go away. Our enemies believe they can get us to quit by making it too hard for us, because we are soft. We are weak. We lack moral fiber. I few give in to them, if we turn away, they will be right.

Pacifism isn’t a viable option, it’s surrender, and it won’t be pretty. We can negotiate, but pretty much only about the details and fittings we’ll be allowed to keep in captivity.

Links: Mudville Gazette, Outside the Beltway, Blogotional, NYGirl

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