Claiming, a month after the November elections, that "now is the time to speak up," Republican Senator Gordon Smith of
"And I felt I had to speak out because if we're going to be there, let's win; if we're not, let's -- let's at least fight the war on terror in a way that makes sense."As if "winning" is a “choice.”
In such statements, we're already beginning to see the opening rounds of the political wars and recriminations that will rage in the wake of the
"...one must recognize that the
pulled out of U.S. because of a lack of will, not a lack of ability to win, and that the consequences of retreat were horrific for the people of Vietnam Southeast Asia. The lesson to be learned is that we must NEVER retreat, but on every front fight on until we are victorious... The defenders of Western Civilisation - , the America , U.K. et. al. are the GOOD GUYS. Keep the big picture in mind, and never lose the will to win!" [Note the writer’s assumption that a continued war, lasting for many more years, would’ve somehow been less “horrific” for the people of Southeast Asia, while producing a better result.] Australia
Four decades before the
This "back-stabbing" slander, which has since been refined and extended, has many advantages for its proponents, including:
- It attributes a nation’s defeat to failures by one’s political enemies—usually incompetent and possibly treasonous politicians—rather than a lack of military prowess. In one variation on this motif, blame can also be extended to a civilian population that is allegedly indifferent to the conflict or unwilling to sufficiently “sacrifice” to support it.
- It perpetuates the notion of one’s ultimate moral and military superiority over the nation’s enemy in the face of a humiliating and possibly emasculating defeat.
- It tries to deter and isolate antiwar critics by suggesting that they embolden the enemy and undermine morale. George W. Bush, for example, has stated: “These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning
's will... As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them.” America
Lack of will, to the Greeks, was akrasia— the inability to conform behavior to the principles or values one professes. “Will” is often presented as an abstraction, usually as one aspect of strength of character. But the verb “to will” is transient: it’s directed towards something. It can’t be separated from the motivation and values that generally animate our conduct. These values, depending on their importance to the warmaking elites and ordinary citizens, determine the level of “will” or motivation that a nation brings to a conflict.
The motivation to wage war is highest, of course, when a nation is directly attacked. The Japanese attack on
The perception that
The assumption behind the back-stabbing hypothesis is that military success is a function of the quantum of “will” that each opponent brings to a conflict. “Will” is seen as evidence of the strength of character necessary to persevere in the face of the inevitable hardships inflicted by a protracted military conflict.
By this standard, did a "weak" Lyndon Johnson and Democratic leadership “choose” defeat in
It’s an old axiom of guerilla warfare that the insurgents only need to survive—they don’t need to win. An even longer war of attrition in
Can George Bush choose victory in
With or without the proposed "surge" of U.S. troops, there can be no military solution to the war in
Behind the provocative rhetoric of people like Senator Smith, there are just two likely results for the war in
The rest is wilfull fantasy.
*One critical difference: in Vietnam, the U.S. had no trouble identifying its negotiating partners, despite early disputes about the shape of the table for the Paris peace talks.
**On November 3, 1969, Nixon addressed the nation and asked for support from "the great silent majority of my fellow Americans" for his Vietnam strategy. He said: "...the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris...North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that."
UPDATE: As noted in an excellent analysis ("Surging to Disaster") in the American Prospect, Fred Kagan's trendy proposal for a "surge" in U.S. troop is called "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq."
GRAPHIC: Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, 1815 (Engraving by H. B. Hall after W. Momberger.)