Having exposed their country to the ignominy of certain defeat in Iraq, the Bush Administration and its neoconservative allies are seeking to salvage their crumbling reputations by blaming their critics for the catastrophe their policies have wrought. We are witnessing the foundation for a post-Iraq “stab in the back” campaign.
The tactic–Dolchstoßlegende, which means, literally, “dagger stab legend”–is associated with attacks by German anti-Semites on Jews in the aftermath of World War I and is a familiar response for frustrated American right-wingers when reality fails to live up to their ideological fantasies. Following the inevitable collapse of nationalist China, unhinged accusations of a liberal conspiracy inside the US government that purposely “lost” China to the Commies ruled the foreign policy debate. Consider these words from GOP Senator William Jenner of Indiana: “This country today is in the hands of a secret inner coterie which is directed by agents of the Soviet Union…. [A] secret invisible government…[has] led our country down the road to destruction.” The China lobby–the AIPAC of its day–tirelessly policed American politics to insure that no one with national aspiration dared recognize the reality of the Communist Chinese victory.
During Vietnam, Ronald Reagan tried to blame protesters for killing troops, charging, “Some American will die tonight because of the activity in our streets.” The right created the myth of antiwar protesters spitting on soldiers, although a detailed study by Jerry Lembcke, in his The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam, found not a single verifiable incident of such behavior. And while it is a given among conservatives–and even reporters–that critical media coverage somehow hampered the war effort, Daniel Hallin’s The Uncensored War notes that most reports, particularly on television, rarely deviated from patriotic, pro-American assumptions. Indeed, the Army’s official history of the media’s role in the conflict, published by the Army Center of Military History, explicitly rejects this line. None of this prevented Norman Podhoretz from reviving the charge in 1982 with a thinly researched book-length essay called Why We Were in Vietnam. Fortunately, the country was not in the mood; the vast majority of Americans surveyed over the past thirty years have said US involvement was a mistake from the start. (Nowhere in his book did Podhoretz admit that one of those leftists calling explicitly for a US defeat was the then-editor of Commentary–a fellow by the name of “Norman Podhoretz.” He argued in 1971 that a Vietcong victory was preferable to “the indefinite and unlimited bombardment by American pilots in American planes of every country in that already devastated region.”)