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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The "Iraq Syndrome"

I thought that I had coined a phrase -- the "Iraq Syndrome." Last week, on an essay exam, I asked my students to write about the prospects of an "Iraq Syndrome" for the future of American foreign policy.

For those too young to remember, the "Vietnam Syndrome" meant that the US was quite unwilling to intervene with its military for some years after the Vietnam war. The war, after some years, was unpopular and costly -- in both human lives and dollars.

No less an authority than the current President's father argued that the US didn't get over its aversion to using military force until the Persian Gulf War:
Former President George H.W. Bush famously declared [in 1991], "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!"
That quote is reproduced by former University of Kansas debater Gary Sick (who served in the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan). He recently penned an interesting op-ed that used the phrase in the title: 'By God, we've just created the Iraq syndrome!'. The op-ed appeared in The Daily Star of Lebanon on October 9.

Well, I guess I didn't coin the phrase. Indeed, a google search depressingly reveals that many people have been talking about this idea for awhile. Notre Dame's George Lopez, for instance, used the phrase in November 2003 in USA Today.

Here's Sick's argument:
In one of the many ironies of our times, the current president, George W. Bush, may have inadvertently created a new syndrome - the Iraq syndrome...

...the U.S. has steadily whittled down both its objectives and its expectations in favor of a makeshift political arrangement that will meet the minimum requirements to permit America to disengage without excessive embarrassment.

The bottom line is the emergence of an Iraq syndrome that seems likely to bedevil U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East at least for the near future. After the fall of Baghdad, Washington neoconservatives were speculating openly about what the next U.S. target should be ("Should we turn left toward Syria, or right toward Iran?" they asked), and the leaders of both those nations were paying close attention. Today, the Iranians and Syrians are aware that America is bogged down in Iraq and, despite the persistent rhetoric of a few hard-liners, the U.S. is unlikely to soon launch another costly military venture in the region.
I suspect that any President in the near future is going to have to answer very tough questions about threats, costs, planning, exit strategies, and multilateralism.

For those who think the US might face some new emergency and need to use force quickly and preemptively in a legitimate case when the threat is imminent, this might be a disaster.

We can thank the Bush administration for that.

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