The Emerging Mythology

NOTE: An expanded and cleaned up version of this post should appear at lewrockwell.com on Monday.

I’ve long been worried about just how Republicans and conservatives (or rather, the muscular nationalists who pretend to be conservatives) are going to deal with the defeat of the US arms in Iraq. Some version of the “stabbed in the back” mythology will be the prevailing mythos, but just how that “stabbed-in-the-back” myth will work, given that the war was planned, launched, conducted and overseen by Republicans — who have for as long as I can remember sold themselves as the only people competent enough to wage both foreign policy and war in the world in which we live — I do not know.

Alan Bock, Orange Counter Register columnist and weekly contributor to Antiwar.com, thinks he knows, and based on his column today, a review of an essay by Spencer Ackerman in the The New Republic, I think he’s right on the money:

In brief, they [war supporters] have shifted from emphasizing the prospects for victory to warning about the dangers of defeat – and placing the blame for possible defeat not on conditions on the ground or the wisdom of the war itself but on a lack of will to win among strategic elites back home. We’re losing not because the future of Iraq is not, or should not be, America’s to dictate, but because critics of the war, and even of the administration’s prosecution of the war, are sapping the will to fight brutally enough to win.

In short, it is the fault of all of us who failed to have faith in our leadership — and that would be Bush Jong Il and his il-fated administration (these rules about faith in wartime leadership strangely enough never seem to apply to Democrats, like Lyndon Johnson or the militarily promsicuous Bill Clinton) — that cost us the war.

This is magical thinking. To believe that doubting the administration is the cause of that administration’s military failure is akin to believing that harboring bad thoughts about someone is the cause of their misfortune should misfortune arise. Yes, war is about the will to fight, but that’s not all it is about, and simply having the will to fight is pointless if the goals put forth are simply not achievable. And the domination of and rule over others against their will is, in most cases today, not an achievable goal.

This “lack of will” talk is a recipe for authoritarianism and tyranny. It gives government the power, in fact the duty, to punish those who do not believe in the war, because the fate of the war hinges entirely on whether everyone supports it, and not whether it was smart to start the war in the first place. The best example of this is what happened to the German Imperial Army following its defeat in late 1918. Because the German army was never forced to face its very real battlefield defeat (in the allied offensives beginning in late August), because the German government that launched and waged that war was never forced to face the consequences of losing the war it started, the German right easily and eagerly accepted the story of the “November criminals” (those Social Democrats who led the post-imperial government and accepted the armistice), and that story became an essential part of German right-wing mythology in the 1920s. And an essential part of Naziism as well.

We know what Republicans did with this after Vietnam. It remains to be seen how the failure of the Iraq war will play out in Republican politics — it may be that because the war was in fact launched and conducted by a Republican, that some smarter people will be innoculated against this kind of talk. But I rather doubt it, because bad ideas die hard. What I’ve seen on the web tells me that many are willing to blame the media (in particular) and Democrats for the defeat. How that works mechanically, especially given how little power they have in determining policy, is anyone’s guess. But we are talking about magical thinking after all.

It also means that Republicans, if they take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion (and thankfully most of them don’t), then you’re going to need a one-party authoritarian government with the ability to keep all secrets all the time if you want to wage more wars. And possibly arrest and detain dissidents. Given the level of love for an unbound, near-dictatorial presidency among Republicans (a level also seen in Clinton Democrats), these things are a distant, but distinct, possibility.

But not even dictatorship will save Republicans from the consequences of stupid and unwinnable wars. (Hitler anyone? Brezhnev?) Which means the next logical step is the inquisition — “Do you support the war? Do you love and trust your leaders?” they will ask as we are stretched out on the rack. How they will explain defeat in those circumstances is beyond me. But magical thinking tends to have no bounds and is rarely accountable to reason.

Anyway, Bock continues with a short but important review of American “grand strategy”:

Most of all, it can’t be because the grand national strategy of “extraregional hegemony” – which Christopher Layne, author of the fascinating new book The Peace of Illusions, argues has been the de facto U.S. grand strategy since at least shortly before World War II – by its very nature gets the U.S. involved in conflicts that are not only hard to win but utterly marginal to core U.S. interests. Almost all elected Republicans and Democrats, while they might not cop to the term, subscribe to this territorially and ideologically aggressive foreign policy, though they may quibble over where to intervene to create yet another test of American “credibility” next. We certainly can’t expect them to rethink something so intrinsic to their very political natures as to be virtually unnoticed as an ideological position at all.

And this, I think, gets to the heart of the matter. Ruling the world is not only intrinsic to the identity of America’s permanent ruling elites — those who populate and make up what Murray Rothbard called “Rockefeller World Empire” — is has also become very important to the millions of men and women who populate the heartland and the suburbs, people who know little of the world and respect it even less but somehow see American sojers as missionaries of order and civilization, bestowing upon the world something it needs (but probably never asked for). This identity is too important, I think, for Americans to ever question in any great depth or ever consider any alternatives. Even alleged progressives are too attached to an American world empire to ever give it up voluntarily. Or to even consider giving it up.

I would like to see Americans lay down their aspirations to global power. That would be the best course for us and for the world, but it will almost certainly not happen. I don’t think it will be ripped from our hands either. It is crushing us, this overweening desire to rule the world, and we will go bankrupt, we will collapse, under the weight of it. That is both my hope … and my fear.