After the Vietnam war had ended, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the North's top commander, admitted that North Vietnam had never possessed the military strength necessary to defeat the United States. Everything, he acknowledged, depended on eroding the determination of the American home front to win. So the North Vietnamese had hung on grimly, inflicting steady casualties, until the balance of opinion in the United States swung against continuing the war.
A similar calculation has obviously been made in Iraq by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He knows very well that he can never oust the Americans from Iraq by military force. But he remembers the lesson of Vietnam, and can watch television and read the news reports as well as any American, and he knows that public disillusion with the war is growing in the United States. It is only a matter of time, as he sees it, before "the world's only superpower" decides to cut its losses and withdraw its troops from Iraq.
Truth to tell, the United States is developing quite a knack for losing its wars. The last declared war we won (counting Korea as essentially a stalemate) was World War II -- an immense global conflict in which Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor ended all arguments against our participation at the very outset. In Vietnam, we simply quit on our ally, the South, and came home. And it is beginning to be a very good question whether we may not wind up doing the same in Iraq.
Is it coincidence that domestic opposition to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq has been led by our liberals, with the increasing support of the Democratic Party? Significant American military involvement in Vietnam actually began under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, but President Nixon took up the cause and the Democrats ultimately abandoned it. And, of course, the war in Iraq has been a Bush (and therefore Republican) project from the start, though a good many Democrats in Congress originally supported it. So the pattern that has emerged involves Republicans initiating, or at any rate supporting, these small wars, while the Democrats, and more generally the whole liberal apparatus, gradually come to oppose them, and eventually force an American defeat.
Certainly there is no denying that the powerful liberal influence in the American media has been thrown into the battle on the side of withdrawal and defeat. Was there ever, in World War II, a public opinion poll asking people on the home front (let alone the battlefront) whether they thought our losses in lives and treasure were "worth it"? Did the media ever expose an episode in which a German or Japanese prisoner was treated, shall we say, unkindly? Were retired generals ever sought out to criticize battles that were poorly conducted, such as Mark Clark's landing at Anzio? Was hostility to American forces (even in Britain) eagerly reported?
No, these weapons have only been deployed recently. But they are very much a part of the story of Iraq, and they will deserve credit for having played a major role in its outcome if America's will to persist and prevail there is undermined to the point of our effective defeat.
Of course, Iraq from the start was George W. Bush's war, and he cannot fairly expect to be exempt from criticism if it goes badly. But we are not facing here simply a disagreeable aspect of the democratic process. What I am suggesting is that our politics have become so polarized that the president's opponents are prepared to undermine the war effort, even if it would otherwise succeed, in order to bring him down.
If so -- if we, as a nation, are so crippled by dissent that we are incapable of projecting our military power in ways determined by our elected leaders -- it will soon cease to matter whether we are the world's only superpower or not. We will, in truth, be merely a helpless giant, ready to be faced down by any al-Zarqawi with a will superior to our own.