Lest anyone forget that today is the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, columnist Victor Davis Hanson offers a reminder.
In his column today, Hanson draws on the parallels and differences between the United States that successfully fought World War II and the U.S. that is currently less successfully fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hanson doesn’t break any new ground in his piece, and he isn’t necessarily wrong about anything; nor is he guilty of twisting the facts to fit his worldview. But he does fall into a nasty habit — continuously saddling the collective “United States” with making bad decisions in Iraq, when the blame obviously lies with a select group of policymakers.
More specifically, he manages to make it through an entire column lamenting the many missteps the American leadership has made in Iraq without once mentioning the names Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Franks or Wolfowitz. That’s odd, given that these were the leaders of a relative handful of men who made the stupid decisions that he’s complaining about. Instead, Hanson uses the less effective rhetorical device of saying the “United States” has done everything wrong, which, if the construction has any value, is a less cumbersome read.
For example, he says that since the attacks of 9/11, “the United States has encouraged its citizens to shop rather than sacrifice. The subtext is that we can defeat the terrorists and their autocratic sponsors with just a fraction of our available manpower — ensuring no real disruption in our lifestyles.”
Actually, it was president Bush, who in a speech on September 20, 2001 to Congress, extolled the virtues of shopping by asking for the American people’s “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” Was it a horrible suggestion? No. But it quickly became a refrain Bush repeated throughout the fall of 2001 in various ways, and despite Hanson’s parsing, there wasn’t a whole lot of subtext to be found in his comments.
What’s more, the American people never clamored to fight terrorists “with just a fraction of our available manpower” — that was the bill of goods that Donald Rumsfeld sold to the president and vice president, which they subsequently sold to the American people.
Sticking to the subject of waging of war, Hanson writes that in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we try to help and reform countries before our enemies have been vanquished — putting the cart of aid before the horse of victory.” Apparently, Hanson isn’t familiar with the names Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney or Bush. It wasn’t the American people who decided to invade Iraq with too few troops to occupy a huge country, or to fail to plan for all the many complications of the war’s aftermath.
Hanson continues, “A stronger, far more affluent United States believes it can use less of its power against the terrorists than a much poorer America did against the formidable Japanese and Germans.” According to Hanson’s construction, this great, monolithic “United States,” which speaks and acts as one, believes that less is more in the current war. Against this is the fact that someone in particular is responsible for the blunder — and that someone is Donald Rumsfeld, who along with his civilian advisers pushed this strategy on the president.