Does Anybody Really Know What Year It Is?


It's bad form to link to articles behind a firewall, but The Atlantic's Ross Douthat has a funny take on foreign policy debates in The Wall Street Journal which he summarizes on his blog. Douthat pegs all opinion on the "war on terror" into five categories, based on the years adherents always warn us we're about to repeat:

whether it's 1942 (the Bush Administration's take), 1938 (the current neoconservative take, with Iran as Nazi Germany), 1948 (the centrist Democrats' take), 1972 (the Huffington Post Democrats' take), or 1919 (the paleocon take, with Bush as a feckless Wilson)

For 1942, read "it's just after Pearl Harbor and before Midway, and we're going to win after a long hard fight." For 1948, read "George Kennan-style containment." For 1972, read "let's get out now! Run! Also, cut!"

Even when it's framed in an amusing fashion, that "war opponents want to relive 1972" trope is a little grating. Of course, it's far worse when framed in another fashion, as here, by the high-pitched has-been Bob Tyrrell.

Their solution to the war in Iraq and to the war on terror is: "Come Home America." They want our troops out of Iraq. They advocate fighting the war on terror closer to home. As Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton puts it, "We still have not done what we need to do to protect our ports, our borders, our bridges, our transit systems, our rail lines—it's a long list." So, "Come Home America." That is the refrain last made famous by Senator Clinton's presidential candidate in 1972, Senator George McGovern. She really has not changed all that much since then, nor have the rest of the Democrats.

The problem with the very, very popular "McGovern!" and "1972!" lines of attack against war opponents is clarified by Douthat's list. The planners of 1919 and 1938 precipitated disaster. George McGovern wanted to withdraw from Vietnam, above the objections of hawks who thought a failed war would lead to Communism spreading further and further across the map. (Some hawks used 1938 and Munich as their example.) Of course, we did pull out of Vietnam, and four years later the Soviet Union sped up its decline by invading Afghanistan. If you're allowed to switch up countries in this game, and the metaphor of the USSR smashing itself against the Hindukush mountains looks like what the USA is doing in Iraq, you've got a new category: 1979ers.