Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Weimar Republic and the Iraq War

George Will suggests an interesting historical analogy in his column today -- and it's pretty scary:

Come September, America might slip closer toward a Weimar moment. It would be milder than the original but significantly disagreeable.

After the First World War, politics in Germany's new Weimar Republic were poisoned by the belief that the army had been poised for victory in 1918 and that one more surge could have turned the tide. Many Germans bitterly concluded that the political class, having lost its nerve and will to win, capitulated. The fact that fanciful analysis fed this rancor did not diminish its power.

The Weimar Republic was fragile; America's domestic tranquility is not. Still, remember the bitterness stirred by the accusatory question "Who lost China?" and corrosive suspicions that the fruits of victory in Europe had been squandered by Americans of bad character or bad motives at Yalta.

So, consider this: When Gen. David Petraeus delivers his report on the war, his Washington audience will include two militant factions. Perhaps nothing he can responsibly say will sway either, so September will reinforce animosities.

Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard notes Will's concern, and -- not surprisingly -- misses the point entirely:
Will's right that the two sides will, inevitably, disagree over the report - no matter what it says. That polarization was firmly in place long before the war became the focal point. The danger here, though, is more for the Democrats. As was mentioned yesterday, there has been a scramble by a lot of Democrats to back away from the Reid-Pelosi winner-take-all strategy of continuous attacks. The only way that would be happening is if some Democrats are seing [sic] polling numbers that they do not like - at all.

The problem the Democrats are facing is that when there is unmistakable progress being made by the troops, they are playing with fire to keep attacking and declaring defeat. That's why you're seeing the sudden crumbling of the united front. One thing that would, I think, be a really bad strategy for the Democrats would be to follow their far left elements who have been trying to discredit and smear General Petraeus. That could be the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak. Petraeus is widely seen by the public as honest and credible. Much more so than is Congress as a whole. Taking that tack would be a disaster for the Democrats.

I don't know what would make Gaius conclude that Democrats ever had a united front on Iraq, much less that they are backpedaling on Iraq because their constituents want them to support Pres. Bush's war policies. Every poll that I know of has consistently shown that a majority of Americans do not support the war anymore, do not think it can be won, think it has made the United States less safe, and want the troops to be brought home either immediately or within a specified period of time. And those percentages are highest for Americans who identify themselves as favoring the Democratic Party. Democrats in Congress have never allowed their constituents' wishes, or the wishes of a majority of the American people, to influence them. They have always knuckled under to what the White House wants, rather than standing up for what most Americans want. So I don't see why they would suddenly do a 360 on that now.

Will's major point is that German bitterness over losing WWI was rooted in a belief that was not factually supportable: that Germany could have won the war with one last all-out effort if naysayers had not poisoned the well. That anger and resentment was not resolvable in any positive way, because in reality there did not exist that incontrovertible evidence that Germany could have won the First World War with one final "surge."

When Gaius writes, "The problem the Democrats are facing is that when there is unmistakable progress being made by the troops, they are playing with fire to keep attacking and declaring defeat," he is taking the "bitter German" position, thereby ignoring the underlying problem, which is the unwinnability of the Iraq war -- not the supposed negativity of Democrats in Congress. Democrats in Congress did not create this conflict out of thin air. The U.S. failure in Iraq is not some meme that Democrats made up out of their heads: They are reacting (quite inadequately, I might add) to realities that exist outside of the halls of Congress, which many others -- historians, intelligence experts, former and current military officials, former and current political figures, journalists, foreign leaders, et al. -- have noted and pointed out for a long time now.

It seems to me that war supporters like Gaius would be far better advised to consider what came after the Weimar Republic in Germany, and whether that is something we want for our own country.

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