Like, I am sure, many other believers in what this country has been trying to do in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, I have found my thoughts returning in the past year to something that Tom Paine, writing at an especially dark moment of the American Revolution, said about such times. They are, he memorably wrote, the times that try mens souls, the times in which the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot become so disheartened that they shrink from the service of [their] country.
But Paine did not limit his anguished derision to former supporters of the American War of Independence whose courage was failing because things had not been going as well on the battlefield as they had expected or hoped. In a less famous passage, he also let loose on another group:
Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. . . . Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses . . . . [T]heir peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain for ever undiscovered.
Thus, he explained, Many a disguised Tory has lately shown his head, emboldened by the circumstances of the moment to reveal an opposition to the break with Britain that it had previously seemed prudent to conceal.
The similarities to our situation today are uncanny. We, too, are in the midst of a rapidly spreading panic. We, too, have our sunshine patriots and summer soldiers, in the form of people who initially supported the invasion of Iraqand the Bush Doctrine from which it followedbut who are now abandoning what they have decided is a sinking ship. And we, too, are seeing formerly disguised opponents of the war coming more and more out into the open, and in ever greater numbers.
Yet in spite of these similarities, there is also a very curious difference between the American panic of 1776-7 and the American panic of 2005-6. To put it in the simplest and starkest terms: in that early stage of the Revolutionary War, there was sound reason to fear that the British would succeed in routing Washingtons forces. In Iraq today, however, and in the Middle East as a whole, a successful outcome is staring us in the face. Clearly, then, the panic over Iraqwhich expresses itself in increasingly frenzied calls for the withdrawal of our forcescannot have been caused by the prospect of defeat. On the contrary, my twofold guess is that the real fear behind it is not that we are losing but that we are winning, and that what has catalyzed this fear into a genuine panic is the realization that the chances of pulling off the proverbial feat of snatching an American defeat from the jaws of victory are rapidly running out.
Podhoretz’s article has several highlights. Among them is the following, on the contribution of former Carter administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to the current debate:
Now I have to admit that I find it a little rich that George W. Bush should be accused of suicidal statecraft by, of all people, the man who in the late 1970s helped shape a foreign policy that emboldened the Iranians to seize and hold American hostages while his boss in the Oval Office stood impotently by for over a year before finally authorizing a rescue operation so inept that it only compounded our national humiliation. And where was Brzezinskifamed at the time for his anti-Communismwhen the President he served congratulated us on having overcome our inordinate fear of Communism? Where was Brzezinskiknown far and wide for his hard-line determination to resist Soviet expansionismwhen Cyrus Vance, the then Secretary of State, declared that the Soviet Union and the United States had similar dreams and aspirations, and when Carter himself complacently informed us that containment was no longer necessary? And how was it that, despite daily meetings with Brzezinski, Carter remained so blind to the nature of the Soviet regime that the invasion of Afghanistan, as he himself would admit, taught him more in a week about the nature of that regime than he had managed to learn in an entire lifetime? Had the cat gotten Brzezinskis tongue in the three years leading up to that invasionthe same tongue he now wags with such confidence at George W. Bush?
Please read it all.
JOHN adds: I may be the only one who hadn’t made the connection, but I just now realized where John Kerry and his friends got the name for their “Winter Soldier” campaign, which denounced their fellow servicemembers as war criminals. So now I would add the perversity of the group’s name to its other sins. Kerry’s conduct now is a reprise of what I suspect he still regards as his finest hour.
SCOTT adds: For more on Kerry, see Rick Richman’s “John Kerry: We’ll bear any burden for up to two years” at Jewish Current Issues.