After Vietnam, Americans thought that if there were any silver lining in that awful cloud, it was the fact that this country had learned a lesson, that never again would we be snookered into a foreign war where national defense was not an issue. North Vietnam was obviously never going to attack our homeland, so the hawks had to invent a domino theory that they sold to the public and three presidents. Well, we hoped, never again!
But the hawks, now rechristened as the neocons, never gave up, and after 9-11, the ducks were in a row for them. All they had to do was sell the public a story about weapons of mass destruction, and once again we went to war against a far-away country that posed no credible threat to the United States. Over a hundred thousand lives and a trillion dollars later, we are skulking out of Baghdad and Kabul. Some of us were hoping that this time we had truly learned our lesson.
But no. The neocons are at it again. This time they have seized on an ambiguous UN report to make their case for an attack on Iran or at least to green-light an Israeli attack. In this political season, the Republican presidential candidates are all peddling a muscular response to Iran’s nuclear program. All except Ron Paul, who doesn’t see why we should start a new war with any country that doesn’t credibly threaten the U.S., especially after the experience of the past decade. But Ron Paul isn’t going anywhere politically, so the question on this voter’s mind, as I survey the Republican field, is this: Which candidate is most likely to initiate a new war? Who is the least likely?
It isn’t as easy as it sounds. The American psyche doesn’t automatically embrace peaceniks. Few politicians will call the Iraq War a mistake, because to do so would dishonor the brave soldiers who were killed in that remote land. Politicians like Chuck Schumer grandstand by verbally attacking the Chinese. And the anti-Iran hysteria is phrased, not as a call to arms, but as a noble defense of little Israel, surrounded by hostile neighbors. The politicians of both parties know that Americans want their leaders to sound heroic in matters of national security. Of course, it all depends on how one defines national security.
Last night I watched, once again, The Americanization of Emily, a terrific movie scripted by Paddy Chayefsky. As you probably know, the hero (or anti-hero) is a Navy officer in WW2, played by James Garner. Garner’s objective is to skate through D-Day without getting killed, and in the course of the film he delivers a powerful argument for survival, a case for not celebrating heroism, because that only feeds the pro-war propagandists. Garner’s apologia for survivalism might have come right from Ron Paul, if Paul were as skilled as Paddy Chayefsky.
Anyway, the Republican primaries are worth watching as a gauge of the national pro- or anti-war fervor. To measure the temperature, watch the neocons. Watch for op-ed pieces by John Bolton, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and of course Dick Cheney. Do not sell them short. The lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan are already fading.