.They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made..
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I watched "Charlie Wilson's War" on DVD last weekend. Remember this Julia Robert-Tom Hanks film from 2007? It was loosely based on the story of how U.S. House Representative Charlie Wilson got funding and arms for the mujahaddin (he calls them "the muj") in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Army. Their casualties mounting, the Soviets ended up signing a treaty and leaving the country, "with their tail between their legs" -- a phrase uttered with smug glee at the film's climax.
As the United States returns -- yes, returns! -- to the Iraqi killing fields, one has to look with a new perspective on the Soviet retreat: you have to admire the wisdom of their realizing that the war was lost.
No doubt Soviet leaders knew that they would take a lot of guff, as everyone in Moscow played the same game now in full swing in Washington and the media: "Who lost Iraq?"
A quick check of the Internet lists pages and pages of this same question. Fareed Zakaria, that most corporate of corporate salesman, has an opinion (predictably, his culprit is the Iraqis). Even humble Minnesota Public Radio has one. Who lost Iraq is now doubtlessly the major issue left from America's decade in that unfortunate country. The uncomfortable matter of who destroyed Iraq, however, doesn't get much play: a half-dozen or articles that appear on small websites. Zakaria can't be bothered.
That is the uniquely amoral American attitude in the aftermath of the Iraq conflict. Just look at the polls taken on Iraq. They show no shame, only disapproval. Between 71 and 75 percent give the thumbs-down to Iraq, depending on the poll. Some 66 percent are down on Afghanistan, and in a 2000 Gallup looking-back-on-it-all poll 69 percent of Americans are down on Vietnam.
But are people ashamed of destroying other countries? Not a bit. Their disapproval has a different root altogether. Look at how these polls are phrased. The NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll says Iraq "wasn't worth it." Wasn't worth it? Wasn't worth the trillions spent, the lives lost? Is war, like a car, just one more bang-for-your-buck calculation?
The Gallup poll respondents call Vietnam "a mistake." A mistake -- like spelling Gallup with just one L? Do Americans, if they think at all about their destruction of that country, the chemical weapons spread, the millions of Vietnamese killed, just shrug it off and say, "Well, everybody's entitled to a mistake now and then."?
If there is a single summation of the American attitude, it is surely Nick Carraway's phrase from The Great Gatsby: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
These days, "other people" refers to Sunnis and Shia going at each other's throats, UNHCR workers desperately trying to feed millions in the middle of sweltering deserts, and Afghans and Pakistanis trying to keep one step ahead of the Taliban and drone strikes and hunger. Americans, ever proud of their flag and their power and their democracy, are just sorry they got so little bang for their buck.