Iraq’s Total Collapse?
Alex Knapp takes issue with Matthew Yglesias‘ throw-away line about “the near-total collapse of our political and military position in Iraq,” noting that it’s just too early to make that judgment. Jeff Goldstein weighs in with a suggestion for Matt that borders on the ad hominem but sounds like fun.
While I basically agree with Alex on this issue, Matt could turn out right. A commenter on my earlier post on the military and media made the argument that all the talk of our getting “beaten in Fallujah” or that we’re “losing the war” doesn’t comport with what people “on the ground” see happening. That’s quite possibly true, but almost certainly irrelevant.
We must distinguish betwen the strategic and tactical levels. At the tactical level, remember, the U.S. never lost a battle in Vietnam. Even the infamous Tet Offensive was ultimately a huge tactical win. But we lost the war because we lost the media and the public. Since the goal of war is to achieve political objectives, we lost Vietnam even though our soldiers fought well.
There are two ways to defeat an enemy: Break his hostile ability (rendering him too weak to fight back) or break his hostile will (the psychological desire to continue fighting). No forseeable adversary will be able to accomplish the former but the Viet Cong and the Somali warlords accomplished the latter. If things don’t change soon, so will the Iraqi insurgents and their terrorist allies. We’re simply too big, too wealthy, and too skilled to be defeated militarily by anyone on the planet, with the possible exception of a nuclear war with the Russians, but we may be too wealthy, too comfortable, and too short an attention span to sustain popular support for a war that’s taking longer to win than a Lord of the Rings installment.
Already, over half of the country thinks we’re in a lost cause. That can’t sustain itself in a democracy. A whole host of columnists who urged us to fight the war are now calling for some sort of graceful exit or recommending that we lower our sights, settling for a benevolent dictator instead of a democracy for post-occupation Iraq. If President Bush can’t persuade the country that we need to continue to press on, that the goals for which we’re fighting are worth the sacrifices being made (which requires that the goals be perceived as actually achievable, hardly a given) then our hostile will may soon be broken.