Friday, March 2, 2007
By Ira Chernus
"The Iraq syndrome is headed America's way. Perhaps it's already here.
A clear and growing majority of Americans now tell pollsters that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake, that it's a bad idea to "surge" more troops into Baghdad, that the US needs a definite timeline for removing all its troops.
The nation seems to be remembering a lesson of the Vietnam War: the US can't get security by sending military power abroad. Every time the US tries to control another country by force of arms, it only ends up more troubled and less secure.
But the Iraq syndrome is a two-edged sword, and there is no telling which way it will cut in the end.
Remember the "Vietnam syndrome", which made its appearance soon after the actual war ended in defeat. It did restrain the US appetite for military interventions overseas - but only briefly. By the late 1970s, it had already begun to boomerang. Conservatives denounced the syndrome as evidence of a paralyzing, Vietnam-induced surrender to national weakness. Their cries of alarm stimulated broad public support for an endless military buildup and, of course, yet more imperial interventions.
The very idea of such a "syndrome" implied that what the Vietnam War had devastated was not so much the Vietnamese or their ruined land as the traumatized American psyche. As a concept, it served to mask, if not obliterate, many of the realities of the actual war. It also suggested that there was something pathological in a postwar fear of taking US arms and aims abroad, that the US had indeed become (in the late president Richard Nixon's famous phrase) a "pitiful, helpless giant", a basket case.
Ronald Reagan played all these notes skillfully enough to become president of the US. The desire to "cure" the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the life of the United States.
Iraq - both the war and the "syndrome" to come - could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach the US. The thought that Americans are simply a collective neurotic head-case when it comes to the use of force could help sow similar seeds of insecurity that might - after a pause - again push US politics and culture back to a glorification of military power and imperial intervention as instruments of choice for seeking "security".......
Put the history of the Vietnam syndrome together with the enduring appeal of America's victory culture, and it's easy to see how the Iraq syndrome could boomerang too. Boomerangs can easily catch you unaware and give you quite a smack. When one might be coming up behind you, it pays to stay very alert."