Sunday, January 14, 2007
you and i'll just use a little patience:
In Lt. General Petraeus's doctoral thesis on Vietnam and the U.S. Army, helpfully excerpted in today's Post, comes this widely-accepted observation:
Vietnam was an extremely painful reminder that when it comes to intervention, time and patience are not American virtues in abundant supply.
Responding to this is a slippery challenge, but it's a statement that needs some stress put on it. Patience is a placeholder concept here. Put more precisely, public support for a war depends on a clear conception of what the mission is and why the mission serves the national interest. Sometimes the mission is unclear, but the intuitive understanding of its relationship to the national interest is overwhelming -- the second world war, for instance. The proposition that the Nazis would be destroyed creates a number of possible and not-obvious choices for the Allies; yet the palpable evidence of a marauding empire generates a consensus about why the empire must be confronted. Alternatively, despite popular wisdom, the objective of the Vietnam war was relatively clear -- prevent the collapse of the South Vietnamese government -- but its relationship to the national interest was proportionately unclear.

This set of conditions obtaining is the crucial issue, and what determines "patience" with a war. The Iraq war is basically the negation of both: not only is the mission unclear, but so is its relationship with the national interest. Similarly, the logic of the war tends to subvert either consideration: it's in the national interest to stop al-Qaeda's advance in Iraq, yet propping up a Shiite government through military occupation bolsters al-Qaeda's entrenchment, for instance. Under such conditions, the rational thing for the American public to do is to reject the war. Discussing our national relationship with the virtue of patience obscures this central strategic concern.

A friend who recently returned from Iraq recently remarked to me how officers in the Sunni Triangle bitterly lament how their predecessors in the Second World War never faced national impertinence over casualties or the pace of the war. The frustration makes sense: the public's dissastisfaction with the war has, ideationally, very little to do with how these officers and their troops accomplish or do not accomplish their given missions. What the public is upset about is a consideration that occurs intellectually prior to the application of military force but temporally has followed it. It's a failing of neither the military on the ground in Iraq, nor of the American public nor of the Iraqi people -- but, again, simply, a failure of the architects and advocates of the war.
--Spencer Ackerman

While I agree that the American people have to buy into the mission to support great national sacrifice (cf. Lebanon and Somalia), I think the frustration with Iraq and Vietnam comes from something else.

Unlike in WWII, Americans don't post maps and put pins, marking front lines, in them. But they do have some sense of things, and when Hamburger Hill gets taken for the fourth time, when Dora is pacified for the third time, there gets to be a sense that this just isn't working. Then, the frustration level gets very high, very fast.
Blogger dell | 2:20 PM