Victor Davis Hanson

Given all of this country's past wars involving intelligence failures, tactical and strategic blunders, congressional fights and popular anger at the president, Iraq and the rising furor over it are hardly unusual.

Imagine if the House of Representatives had debated a resolution to authorize the president's use of force in Iraq only after the bombs were already falling. And what if after the debate, in the middle of the war, with our troops already in combat, Congress had suddenly denied such approval?

That is precisely what happened to President Clinton during the Serbian war of 1999. Neither the Senate nor the House agreed to sanction the administration's ongoing preemptive bombing campaign against Serbia. That congressional rebuke prompted liberal commentator Mark Shields to scoff on "PBS Newshour" that American troops were "putting their life on the line, and (the Congress) are saying, we're not with you."

Or consider the national mood in 1968 when the United States suffered over 16,000 American dead in Vietnam (at that rate, we lost more troops in three months than we have during the entire four-year Iraqi war). In response, riots racked the country. Protestors stormed the Democratic Convention in Chicago. And a polarized country saw both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. gunned down.

Nothing in Iraq comes close to the furor over Korea, either. Again, suppose the following: President Bush conducts an ongoing public fight with the new commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who in turn serially whines to the press that he is being backstabbed by an unsupportive administration. Bush then fires Petraeus. The general returns to the United States to tickertape parades, while the president becomes even more detested as thousands more Americans are killed.

That scenario sums up the Truman-MacArthur row over the stalemate in Korea. During that conflict, President Truman fired Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson; fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, his senior military commander in the theater; and faced calls for impeachment from U.S. senators, including the venerable Robert Taft. By February 1952, Truman's approval ratings had hit 22 percent - the lowest-known polls of any sitting U.S. president, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon included.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.