Therapy For Nation Builders

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By Henry Allen
Saturday, January 13, 2007

Here's an idea to play with:

Give it to him, give the president everything he wants for the war in Iraq. Money, troops, the support of Congress, all of it.

Give everything that's requested by everybody in the military-industrial-political-intellectual-media complex, or at least the ones who got us into this war and still think they can get us out of it with a win.

For one thing, there's always a chance, however slight, that they will. That would be nice indeed.

After all, our vision for Iraq is way nicer than our enemies' alternatives. South Vietnam would be better off, too, if we'd won. It's nice to think that if we'd achieved our goals in Cuba, instead of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, or in Somalia instead of the "Black Hawk Down" embarrassment, or Lebanon instead of the barracks-bombing catastrophe, they'd be better off, too.

A loss in Korea would have been far worse than the stalemate we settled for.

Right now, a nice outcome seems unlikely in Iraq.

But then, the proposal on the table here, a sort of thought experiment, addresses a problem that is a lot bigger than Iraq.

The problem, if we lose in Iraq, is that America is apt to keep on doing what it's been doing for decades when it loses, which is to say learn nothing and have years of hissy fits about who's to blame. And set itself up for another fiasco someplace else.

We have had successes: the liberation of Kuwait and our intervention in the Balkans. And, most important of all, we won the Cold War without ever having to match armies and nuclear arsenals with the Soviet Union.

But our combat fiascos are coming to define America both to the world and to itself. They are also demonstrating that we are incapable of winning ground wars against some of the poorest people on Earth, if those wars last more than a week.

After Vietnam, one hoped that we could salvage pride in the courage with which our soldiers fought, and in the knowledge that we had learned our lesson well enough that we would never again send them to die in such a doomed cause.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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