The Stab in the Back

Two out of two Matts agree: If the U.S. pulls out of Iraq or fails to bomb Iran, the "stab in the back" narrative is going to become the centerpiece of a revived post-Bush conservatism, and progressives need to steel themselves to combat it.

Myself, I think that liberals should be praying that the Right embraces the "stabbed in the back" theory of what went wrong in Iraq (and possibly Iran as well), because it will push conservatives toward political irrelevance. Yes, many conservatives have long nursed the belief that we could have won in Vietnam if liberals hadn't turned gutless and anti-American, but this belief hasn't won the Right any elections: Not in a country where large majorities consistently say that the Vietnam War wasn't worth fighting. The association of conservatism with foreign-policy strength and liberalism with foreign-policy weakness emerged from the Vietnam era, true, but it emerged because the trauma of Vietnam pushed liberalism to the left of the country on foreign policy and defense in general, not because the majority of Americans were mad at liberals for losing Indochina specifically. (They were more likely to be mad at liberals for getting us into the mess in the first place.) And the successful conservative foreign-policy rhetoric of the last forty years has traded on Democratic weakness in the face of the Soviet/Islamist threat, not on rehashing the battles of 1966-75. Ronald Reagan didn't go around giving speeches about the Tet Offensive and the Treason of Walter Cronkite - he talked about Iran or Afghanistan, Star Wars or defense spending, Central America or the Berlin Wall. So when Dinesh D'Souza tells conservative cruisegoers that "it's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'? ... The left won by demanding America's humiliation," he isn't broadening conservatism's base - he's shrinking it. Which is what a post-Bush conservatism that obsesses over how the liberal media undid the Iraq Occupation by failing to "report the good news" would do as well.