A call to arms

March 05, 2006

What happens to America after Iraq? It may seem like a premature question, but the day is going to come when the U.S. involvement there has reached some sort of conclusion - and that day may be sooner than many would have thought, with the country teetering on the edge of civil war and public support here in America for a prolonged occupation rapidly evaporating.

Among those who most strongly advocated in favor of this war, it's already possible to see a sort of pre-positioning rhetoric so as not to be caught flat-footed if it should become a lost cause. One argument, put forward by the editor of The Weekly Standard, William Kristol, has it that the U.S. never really tried to win in Iraq. This probably provoked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's interesting if meaningless remark last week that sending more American troops over there at this point wouldn't help. That debate is surprisingly reminiscent of Vietnam and its aftermath, and there may be a lot more of it ahead.

It's a pretty sure bet that the United States won't be engaging in any military adventurism for a while, once it has pulled free, more or less, from Iraq. Three years into it, the Army is battered and the National Guard is bruised. A Zogby International poll of U.S. troops in Iraq found that just 23 percent support sticking it out as long as necessary. That may not be so surprising, but it nevertheless gives a fairly clear picture of the appetite among ordinary soldiers for further action.

Just as crucial is public opinion. A new book by the influential conservative intellectual Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads, has attracted notice because of Mr. Fukuyama's break with the neoconservative movement, which he says has been taken over by "Leninists" too eager to advance their visions (abroad) at gunpoint.

But of particular interest is Mr. Fukuyama's warning that the so-called red states, which are cool to neoconservative ideology but have been reluctant to abandon a president in time of war, will be swept by an overwhelming tide of isolationism once the war in Iraq can be thought of as over. It could take the form of a very ugly, know-nothing parochialism - dangerous in an era when global changes are afoot. It may fall to the opponents of this war, ironically, to make the argument that America will still have a role to play in the world.

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