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Nov 8, 2006 2:42 pm

The restaurant law of history

I know I should be talking about the election. That's what readers are interested in today. But I can't help talking about Iraq after reading Tom Friedman's column today in the NYT. And anyway Iraq is what the election was about.

Friedman says that Iraq was"always a struggle of hope against history." He's right. That's why I opposed the war from the start and am shocked that anybody after 9/11 supported it. What 9/11 should have taught us is that we have to take a cold-eyed look at things and accept them as they are and not as we would wish them to be.

In the only editorial HNN has ever published, we said this after 9/11:

For the past decade we have grown complacent, thinking that peace and prosperity are our special American birthright. No enemy seemed able to harm us. We almost convinced ourselves we had no enemies. In a word, we were naive. We neglected to establish needed security measures in our airports though studies repeatedly showed that people easily could circumvent them. We neglected to gather human intelligence on our enemies because that requires us to deal with unsavory people; instead, we trusted technology to do the job, spending 30 billion dollars annually on the effort (less because we were alert to the dangers around us than because the machinery was already in place as a result of the Cold War). Both of our great parties --the Democrats in 1992, the Republicans in 2000 -- nominated for president candidates who totally lacked experience in international relations, convinced that such experience was not needed.

Naivety is an old American tradition. Because we believe in freedom we think everybody around the world does--and that they agree with our definition of freedom. We do not understand that other people sometimes mean to do us harm. (We think: We are sincere therefore we aren’t a threat to anybody. They think: America is powerful and a threat to everybody: The Great Satan!)

We always think of ourselves as innocents. Like virginity, you can lose your innocence only once. But we seem to lose ours over and over again: after World War I, after World War II, after the Kennedy Assasination, after Vietnam. We forget our own history. The history that afflicts the rest of the world--war, depression, ugly violence--doesn't happen here, we believe. History doesn't happen here. We are beyond history.

Yet here we are, five years later, and some are still talking as if we can afford to place hope over history.

We may or may not face outright defeat in Iraq. We certainly will not enjoy victory as most Americans would understand that word.

Which brings me to my restaurant law of history. Anytime we lose a war you can be sure of one thing. You will suddenly see a lot of new restaurants pop up around the country (and especially in Washington DC). Who will be running them? The losers in our wars.

Americans have grown accustomed to eating Vietnamese food. Soon, I'd bet, we'll be eating food from Mesopotamia.

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