Is it possible we are fighting in Iraq for a myth?
A clue is President Bush's insistence that we remain in Iraq as long as it takes to achieve victory. The subtext is that we can't abide failure. Failure would stain the country's reputation. It is thought that what he really means is that it will stain his reputation and I have argued as much in earlier posts. But it's also possible that he is sincere about his insistence that victory is vital to America. If he is, why does he insist we must win?
Losing of course is unpalatable. No one likes to lose. But there are any number of circumstances in which losing might be preferable to winning. Losing a short war, for instance, might be better than winning a long one which cost many more lives and much more national treasure.
Why then can't we openly discuss the possibility of losing? It is because of that old American myth that we are winners. This same myth kept us in Vietnam for years and years despite evidence that our goal of victory was elusive and it may now be what is keeping us in Iraq.
The victory myth took a beating in Vietnam, of course. Policymakers in the Johnson adminstration could truthfully convince themselves that we had never lost a war when they were contemplating action in Vietnam. At that point we had not. But now? We lost Vietnam. And yet we remain (seemingly) as wedded to the myth of victory as we have ever been.
I am not sure what defeat might look like. But we should be talking about it, which we haven't. We have an idea of defeat in Iraq that is no more specific and realistic than our concept of the boogeymonster that haunts us in our dreams as children.
Shouldn't we, if we are rational, consider specifically what defeat might entail? It might just be helpful.
I am afraid however that we shall never engage in such a rational debate despite our commitment to freedom and reason. Our myths won't let us.