Blogs > HNN > America doesn't want to lose

Nov 14, 2006 2:41 pm

America doesn't want to lose

It's official. The American people do not necessarily insist on winning the Iraq War but they sure as hell don't want to lose it.

I read this in the New York Times today. It must be true.

Here's the context:

Senator John McCain is accustomed to staking out a lonely piece of ground, but on Iraq he is virtually an army of one. Nearly alone among major political figures in calling for an increase in American forces in Iraq, Mr. McCain is either taking a principled stand or a huge political gamble. Or both.

A majority of Americans now say they think invading Iraq was a mistake and would like to see the withdrawal of at least some of the nearly 150,000 troops there, polls say. Only one in seven Americans agrees with Mr. McCain that the United States should send more soldiers and marines. Even President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who assert that victory is the only acceptable outcome of the war, have not dared publicly to advocate additional deployments....

Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr. McCain had painted such a dire picture of the consequences of defeat that he almost had to advocate a more forceful effort to win. If Mr. McCain were to join the chorus of those agitating for a fast or slow withdrawal, he could alienate a large swath of voters he needs to win the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Gelb added.

“He’s making the bet — and it’s not a crazy bet — that the country doesn’t want to lose,” he said. “The public realizes we can’t afford to win and probably can’t win, but it doesn’t want to lose. And the Republicans probably won’t nominate anyone who’s prepared to accept that now.”

Other analysts said Mr. McCain was risking his reputation as a realist and someone who knows when to fold a losing hand by sticking obstinately to his current position.

“He would just repeat the mistake of Vietnam,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, the liberal-leaning research group in Washington. “If McCain refuses to acknowledge that some wars can become simply unwinnable, he may be exposing a weakness in his thinking that ultimately deprives him of the presidency.”

This is an event worth noting.

40 years ago President Lyndon Johnson stuck it out in Vietnam because he was convinced the American people would insist on winning. Now we are ready simply not to lose.

That's a measure of the effect of Vietnam on American mythology. Losing is still unthinkable but"not winning" is no longer essential.

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More Comments:

HNN - 11/17/2006

Hi Jeff,

Doesn't McCain's rhetoric seem out of touch with the times? It seems to me from what I have been reading that very few Americans seem to care whether we win. In the 1970s they seemed to care a lot. That's my main point.

As a country we have accepted the fact that we lost a war (vietnam). So the record has been broken.

Now we would be happy to settle simply for "not losing."

We don't have to WIN!

Jeffrey P. Kimball - 11/16/2006

Rick, The NYT with this story and M. Gordon's story of yesterday seem to be lobbying for continued war and/or assisting the Bushites and McCainites by disparaging the various plans calling for phased withdrawals coupled with diplomacy. Plus, between the lines, the push for more troops and "winning" is no doubt an effort to saddle the Dems with supposedly losing the war (remember the stab in the back theory: that's what the Right tried to do with Vietnam). We're historians remember and should know this history. The war in Iraq (aka occupation in Iraq) is already lost, and every honest, knowledgeable observer knows it. The majority of the American people may not want to "lose," but what the hey does that mean? For that matter, what does winning mean. Bush has never defined it except with rhetoric and platitudes. I thought the midterm elections had driven these points home. True, this story--as opposed to Gordon's--gives "both sides" but it gives McCain the benefit of the doubt; i.e., it takes him at his word as being honest about believing "we" can win. McCain always gets a pass on his flip floppin' political motives.