Friday, June 08, 2007


Killing Fields

The New York Times published an Op Ed yesterday, written by Peter Rodman and William Shawcross, with the evocative title Defeat’s Killing Fields.

Rodman and Shawcross make a cause and effect comparison between Vietnam and Iraq and warn that Defeat in Iraq, as it did in Vietnam, will have disastrous consequences:
SOME opponents of the Iraq war are toying with the idea of American defeat. A number of them are simply predicting it, while others advocate measures that would make it more likely. Lending intellectual respectability to all this is an argument that takes a strange comfort from the outcome of the Vietnam War. The defeat of the American enterprise in Indochina, it is said, turned out not to be as bad as expected. The United States recovered, and no lasting price was paid.

We beg to differ. Many years ago, the two of us clashed sharply over the wisdom and morality of American policy in Indochina, especially in Cambodia. One of us (Mr. Shawcross) published a book, “Sideshow,” that bitterly criticized Nixon administration policy. The other (Mr. Rodman), a longtime associate of Henry Kissinger, issued a rebuttal in The American Spectator, defending American policy. Decades later, we have not changed our views. But we agreed even then that the outcome in Indochina was indeed disastrous, both in human and geopolitical terms, for the United States and the region. Today we agree equally strongly that the consequences of defeat in Iraq would be even more serious and lasting.
For such as need the lesson in latter half 20th century American History – and many rhetorical opponents of our efforts in Iraq surely need one – Rodman and Shawcross patiently explain exactly the catastrophe our abandonment made of Vietnam.

Rodman and Shawcross assess the current situation in Iraq with similar clarity, and strongly urge the US to remain committed to the struggle:
The new strategy of the coalition and the Iraqis, ably directed by Gen. David Petraeus, offers the best prospect of reversing the direction of events — provided that we show staying power. Osama bin Laden said, a few months after 9/11, that “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” The United States, in his mind, is the weak horse. American defeat in Iraq would embolden the extremists in the Muslim world, demoralize and perhaps destabilize many moderate friendly governments, and accelerate the radicalization of every conflict in the Middle East.

Our conduct in Iraq is a crucial test of our credibility, especially with regard to the looming threat from revolutionary Iran. Our Arab and Israeli friends view Iraq in that wider context. They worry about our domestic debate, which had such a devastating impact on the outcome of the Vietnam War, and they want reassurance.

When government officials argued that American credibility was at stake in Indochina, critics ridiculed the notion. But when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he and his colleagues invoked Vietnam as a reason not to take American warnings seriously. The United States cannot be strong against Iran — or anywhere — if we accept defeat in Iraq.
That is the fatal flaw in the argument of those who would presume to support the national interest of the US, and the interests of the Iraqi people as well, while at the same time saying we must “end this war.” Our enemies are watching us, and they are careful students of American History, even if US war opponents and majority partisans are not.

I would not have grasped the full significance of these particular two writers making their argument without an encyclopedic recollection by John Podhoretz writing at The Corner:
Twenty-eight years ago, in the pages of the American Spectator, Rodman wrote one of the most authoritative takedowns I (or anybody else) has ever read or written. The subject? William Shawcross's Sideshow — a book that blamed the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia on the United States and on Henry Kissinger. Shawcross, then perhaps England's foremost leftist journalist, has undertaken a singular journey over the past two decades to the view that the United States is the key positive force for good in the world. Today's op-ed completes that journey, and it represents a degree of grace in transformation that is very, very rare.
I very much admire that description, “it represents a degree of grace in transformation that is very, very rare.”

Eventually, we may well hope that opponents of our efforts in Iraq will someday achieve that transformation. Perhaps then, they will see clearly, without the funhouse mirror distortions of their hatred for George Bush and everything they see him stand for. Whether they show any “grace in transformation” will remain to be seen.

(Excerpts posted at MILBLOGS.)


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