Losing Mythic Authority

As a result of America’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have lost the global clout we derived from our role in World War II—for good.

Issue: May-June 2007

MOST NOW acknowledge that America has failed in its war. Some see that failure limited to Iraq, while others describe a larger strategic liability. Thus the question is in part: How big is America's failure? But more significantly, what are the consequences?

In broad terms, we have squandered the World War II canon. We have lost its mythic authority. We are at the historical end of its protective embrace. We are on our own now. This intangible is the most significant, and in some ways surprising, consequence of the war. It has resulted from the most temporal of events and will indeed deliver most apparent costs. But before considering the importance of the consequences, it is first necessary to map the landscape of failure, to diagram its dimensions. Our failure has unfolded in four dimensions: in terms of military objectives; reconstruction promises; "hearts and minds" goals and lofty, transformative ambitions for the region.

Failure How Big, How Far?

MILITARILY, AMERICA'S initial success in Afghanistan and Iraq did not bring secure and stable environments to these countries. However, America's military campaigns have overseen a yearly escalation in chaos and violence in both. And while it is to be hoped that U.S. forces will eventually be extricated successfully, they will leave behind a menagerie of Islamist principalities locked in ceaseless struggle. These, of course, were not our military goals.

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