Not very long ago, as you all recall, it was taken for granted that the Iraq war would be the central issue in the 2008 election, as it was in the midterm election two years ago. However, it’s virtually disappeared off the radar screen, which has solicited some puzzlement among the punditry.
Actually, the reason is not very obscure. It was cogently explained forty years ago, when the US invasion of South Vietnam was in its fourth year and the surge of that day was about to add another 100,000 troops to the 175,000 already there, while South Vietnam was being bombed to shreds at triple the level of the bombing of the north and the war was expanding to the rest of Indochina. However, the war was not going very well, so the former hawks were shifting towards doubts, among them the distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger, maybe the most distinguished historian of his generation, a Kennedy adviser, who—when he and Kennedy, other Kennedy liberals were beginning to—reluctantly beginning to shift from a dedication to victory to a more dovish position.
And Schlesinger explained the reasons. He explained that—I’ll quote him now—“Of course, we all pray that the hawks are right in thinking that the surge of that day will work. And if it does, we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a victory in a land that we have turned,” he said, “to wreck and ruin. But the surge probably won’t work, at an acceptable cost to us, so perhaps strategy should be rethought.”
Well, the reasoning and the underlying attitudes carry over with almost no change to the critical commentary on the US invasion of Iraq today. And it is a land of wreck and ruin.