William Faulkner once said, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” It’s a good line, and about as true a statement concerning memory and history as one can get. But when it comes to spitballing the ultimate meaning of the war in Iraq, it seems that the past may be a pretty good barometer of what the future will hold.
In today’s Los Angeles Times, columnist Max Boot looks at how history will regard the war in Iraq, and who will be blamed for things going so spectacularly wrong. Boot writes that:
If we wind up losing the war in Iraq, as now appears likely (though not inevitable), many conservatives know who to blame: the press, or, in blogger-speak, the MSM (mainstream news media). Just as it did during the Vietnam War, a myth is likely to develop in which America’s valiant fighting men and women were stabbed in the back by unpatriotic, even treasonous, reporters.
Boot goes on to say that blaming the press for Iraq would be just as disingenuous and dishonest as blaming the press for the failure in Vietnam, and offers the surprising observation (surprising, at least, coming from an ardent war supporter) that, “if you wanted to figure out what was happening over the last four years, you would have been infinitely better off paying attention to [journalists] than to what the president or his top generals were saying.”
All this comes from a guy who has vociferously supported the war and who wrote back in June 2005 that, “No wonder public support for the war is plummeting and finger-to-the-wind politicians are heading for the exits: All the headlines out of Iraq lately have been about the rebels’ reign of terror. But, lest we build up the enemy into 10-foot-tall supermen, it’s important to realize how weak they are.”
As evidence of this weakness, Boot touted “some impressive Iraqi units, such as the…302nd National Guard Battalion, which has pacified Haifa Street, a onetime insurgent stronghold in Baghdad.” (The same Haifa Street in Baghdad that was the scene of an intense, eleven-hour battle yesterday between 1,000 American and Iraqi troops and insurgents.)
But we’re not here to quibble with an op-ed written eighteen months ago. The point is that if some of the war’s strongest supporters have been scared straight by the current situation in Iraq, then maybe Boot and his peers — respected military intellectuals and neocons like Francis Fukuyama (another belated convert) — will help resist the manipulation of history that Boot foresees. The myth that the media — rather than the policymakers — lost Vietnam was a valuable weapon in the thirty-year effort by the right to undermine intellectually honest journalism in the name of saving America from “liberal bias.” It’s important that this time, history, and the popular imagination, does better.