Monday, March 14, 2011


even though i agree with ross douthat's ultimate conclusion about libya, his discussion of the "iraq syndrome" seems totally off base:
Five years ago, in the darkest days of insurgent violence and Sunni-Shia strife, it seemed as if the Iraq war would shadow American foreign policy for decades, frightening a generation’s worth of statesmen away from using military force. Where there had once been a “Vietnam syndrome,” now there would be an “Iraq syndrome,” inspiring harrowing flashbacks to Baghdad and Falluja in any American politician contemplating an intervention overseas.
why is that a syndrome? doesn't a reasonable country learn from its mistakes? personally, if the next generation of leaders were frightened away from using military force unless they really had no other choice, wouldn't that be a good thing?

for that matter, there never really was a "vietnam syndrome". at least the loss of vietnam in the mid-70s didn't stop the u.s. from invading grenada in the 80s even though there was no rational argument that the u.s. had no choice but to use force (grenada! can you imagine a less threatening place to a superpower?)1

the "vietnam syndrome" is just one of those things that people wonked about back when i first started paying attention to politics during the reagan administration. but it really was nothing more than political propaganda that labeled anyone who disagreed with hawkish positions as diseased. at the end of the gulf war george HW bush famously said; "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!" expressing relief that the u.s. could now lower the threshold for when it used the u.s. military to kill people in other countries. if there is a pathology there, it's not on the part of the people citing the cautionary tale of vietnam or iraq.

1- i guess you could argue that if the u.s. hadn't lost the vietnam war, it would have more directly intervened in iran, maybe sent u.s. troops to fight along side saddam hussein in his invasion of iran? if so, then the "vietnam syndrome" probably just saved this country from another foreign policy disaster.