Thursday, January 25, 2007

Smells Like Teen Dispirit

[posted by Callimachus]

Courtesy of Neo I find this Daniel Henninger WSJ op-ed on the new spirit of defeatism.

We needn't squabble (but probably will) over whether this is a simple case of acknowledging reality vs. clinging to pollyanna visions. Accept that our plight is as dire as the most virulent Huffington Post commenter claims it is (when he's not making up new insulting names for people who disagree, or firing off the next "chickenhawk" taunt). You still have a choice of how to react to that.

Give up? Embrace the defeat? That just boggles me. As the most American movie ever made puts it:

Now remember, things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is.

Do I have to go find examples? Or do most of us know what I'm talking about? The people who seem to enjoy the way it feels to say "America failed ... defeat in Iraq ... losing the war ...." Not every administration critic or anti-war voice is a vulture. But some are. And it seems to me more and more are.

I can understand it in someone from, say, Germany or China or New Zealand -- to an extent. Old-fashioned nationalism can take a ghoulish satisfaction in believing such a thing.

I also can understand it, to some extent, in the growing ranks of people who supported the war, but have since turned against it. Converts, for whatever reason, are the most zealous practitioners of any religion.

As for the rest, I think the Australian foreign minister hit one nail on the head in the WSJ article:

"What concerns me about this," he said, "is that it's sort of an isolationist sentiment, subconsciously, not consciously, and that would be an enormous problem for the world. I hope the American people understand the importance of not retreating and thinking the world's problems aren't theirs."

Right. Republicans or Democrats, we've never stopped being isolationists at heart. Back in October I was writing this:

Ever since 1914 a large chunk of the American people, including political leaders, have been yearning for the old European imperial order and balance of power -- or some successor -- to restore itself, so that we can go back to ignoring the rest of the world and basking in George Washington's commandment against foreign entanglements.

It's amazing to read today the degree to which Americans, as late as 1945 -- as recently as 1989 -- still clung to that happy dream. A few in the corridors of power always have been seduced by the sirens of empire. But the rest of us really don't want this job. And will deny, deny, deny that we've reached the point where we can no longer behave as innocents, and where our inaction is as potentially lethal and morally compromised as our action.

But even though I can explain this one or that one, there's still a residue. What I can't stomach or quite explain is the people who have been here all along, saying this. That list includes a lot of those who now are up on the roost, crowing that they were right about Iraq when all they did was predict at every step America was going to fail, which always is what they predict. They didn't get the specifics right: in fact, they got more things wrong than we neo-cons did -- the re-group in the sandstorm outside Nasiriyah was a "quagmire;" Saddam was going to drop WMDs on Israel; the U.S. was going to set up another dictator in Baghdad; Bush was going to cancel the '04 elections, etc., etc.

But why do they seem to so much enjoy saying this? For some, it's clearly Bush, who has the same ability to unhinge some people that Bill Clinton had on Bob Barr. But for some, America itself is the Dubya. And has been all their adult lives, seemingly. It has a feeling of catharsis to it. I can speculate (and that "adult lives" is probably a hint of what direction I'd go). But I'm in a listening mood right now. Anyone?

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