The New Republic has posted a symposium on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. It’s one-stop-shopping for a range of views decrying the war — some from initial supporters of the war, some from longtime opponents — and it’s too long and varied for a comprehensive blog-post response. There is, however, one statement I’d like to highlight. James Rubin writes this:
But generals and historians are not the only ones who learn lessons from the last war. Politicians do too. And in the political realm, one huge unintended consequence of the war is the damage done to America’s confidence, to its willingness to lead. In much the same way that the British people and their leaders turned isolationist after the horrors of World War I, for too many Americans the Iraq war has become a rationale to turn inward, a reason to leave Afghanistan to its fate, to let the Europeans handle Libya and Mali, and to watch Syria burn.
I suspect he’s correct in his conclusion, but his comparison to World War I helps demonstrate how unjustified and shameful our lost resolve is. We act weak in the aftermath of the Iraq War not because we’ve been defeated or rendered weak by vast casualties — like those of the Western Front in World War I — but because we choose to be weak.
When we look back in scorn at the appeasement policy of the late 1930s, we often forget how understandable it was. We can’t even comprehend the casualties sustained by France and Britain in World War I — more significant levels of casualties than the United States has suffered in any war in its entire history. Politicians were desperate to avoid more slaughter, but in their desperation opened the door to the worst massacres in human history.
Here we’ve fought two counterinsurgency campaigns with an all-volunteer military that is tiny relative to the size of our population or our mobilization levels in past wars. Moreover, we’ve enjoyed considerable (though hard-fought) military successes — routing two despotic regimes, defeating a follow-on insurgency in Iraq, killing the mastermind of 9/11, and successfully defending a new regime in Afghanistan — all while sustaining an eleven-year-old conflict without resort to the draft.
And that’s going to make us weak and insular?
The people of the Middle East tend to respect strength and despise those who appear weak — viewing them not with pity but with contempt and loathing. It’s simply sad that our enemies can lose a war and yet feel victorious because those Americans who largely did not fight are “war-weary.”