Jonah Goldberg has written something worthy of a fisking. I know, weird, right?
Ross Douthat keeps giving credence to this "stabbed in the back" meme (ugh, I feel dirty using "meme" un-ironically). I think it started with Matt Yglesias. The basic idea is that after we fail in Iraq, conservatives will mount a "stabbed in the back" campaign against liberals, specifically the press, who prevented the military from winning.
Hear that, Ross? Get back on the reservation! Anyhow, Matt's original article was perfectly prescient, but now that the war is a self-evident disaster, I think it's sort of odd that people are discussing a "stab in the back" campaign as some sort of far-off possibility for some point in the future "after we fail in Iraq". The campaign is already well underway.
Having spent a few year toiling on fascism and the use and abuse of fascism analogies, I found the whole conversation interesting at first. But at the end of the day, there's nothing there except the phrase "stabbed in the back." Yglesias, as far as I am aware, never bothered to make a tight link between the National Socialist reaction to German surrender at the end of WWI and, again as far as I'm aware, nobody since has tried to defend the analogy on the merits. But the Dolchstosslegende thing thrives.
I refer Jonah to an admittedly obscure source that details fairly extensively the origins of the "Dolchostosslegende thing."
Now, it's nothing new for liberals to draw invidious comparisons between American conservatives and Nazis, but I'm not clear why Ross so gamely goes along with it. If you read his post today, he uses the "stabbed in the back" phrase uncritically. Why? Why not just talk about the Vietnam syndrome? Or media bashing? Which, after all, is what he's really talking about anyway. I'm not reflexively opposed to the comparison to the end of WWI Germany, but nobody's really tried to make it in any serious way. The assertion has simply caught on. In that sense it really is a meme, an idea that spreads around because of its superficial seductiveness alone. (Oh and please spare me the emails from people who seem to know what I write in my book better than I do. You don't).
Even if the Dolchstosslegende has absolutely no merit, the basic theory behind it is still a perfectly valid one to reckon with. I don't see why it's any different to describe the conservative campaign to blame the failure of the war on liberal treachery as "stab in the back" or "[liberal] media bashing" or whatever. Whatever you call it, it's a phenomenon whose existence either is or is not borne out by the evidence. All of the terms Jonah mentions fairly accurately describe it.
At the same time, Jonah's right. Don't email him as if you know what he writes in his book better than he does. You don't. But feel free to email him as somebody who knows just as well as he does what he wrote (and didn't write) on the cover:
Liberal Fascism: A Very Serious, Thoughtful, Argument That Has Never Been Made in Such Detail or With Such Care. Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton. Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods.
Be warned though: Somebody with such an obviously deep understanding of liberals and fascists--a man who can no doubt recite verbatim the writings of Jefferson and Gentile without a cheat sheet--will likely respond to your emails...with great detail and care.
And speaking of the Vietnam syndrome, I think Ross is basically wrong when he says that the Vietnam syndrome didn't help conservatives. Vietnam saturated American politics in myriad ways that helped the Reaganite Right, particularly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, become the party of American confidence. "Morning in America" makes little sense without Vietnam. This is not to say that I think blaming the liberal media is a particularly persuasive explanation on the merits for failure in Iraq (if we fail), but it's far from clear that an American defeat in Iraq helps those Democrats who seemed, fair or not, determined to make failure a self-fulfilling prophecy. He may be right that if we fail in Iraq, conservatives will shrink their appeal if they blame anyone but themselves. But my guess is that the psychological and geostraategic fallout from failure will be sufficiently enormous and complex that nobody can predict who comes out a winner or a loser from it.
I agree with him about that first part. Conservatives marched out of the Vietnam era at the helm of a party that hadn't recently been particularly beloved for its national security chops. But they realized, shrewdly, that, just beyond the fog of the disaster lay a chance to essentially flip public perception of the major parties and their willingness to use force to defend the country. It was a cynical move, but completely effective.
Then, though, Jonah trots out the predictable critique that the Democratic party--the one that voted for the war and supported it broadly from the beginning--wanted for some reason to "make failure a self-fulfilling prophecy." Let's just say that if by some miracle we all awoke tomorrow and Iraq had become calm and orderly and maybe even democratic, I doubt that American liberals would have nearly as hard a time accepting the new reality as conservatives have had accepting the fact that, in the real world, we've lost.
If things were just and people were honest, the failure would fall at the feet of Republicans and the handful of others who supported the war well past the point when supporting it made sense. As it is, though, it's sadly difficult to, as Jonah put it, "predict who comes out a winner or a loser from it."