13 Jun 2007

Pre-Traumatic Defeatism From a Naval Academy Professor

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Christopher J. Fettweis puts America on the couch for a session of (slightly premature) Post-traumatic Iraq Syndrome counseling in the La Times.

Losing hurts more than winning feels good. This simple maxim applies with equal power to virtually all areas of human interaction: sports, finance, love. And war. …

The endgame in Iraq is now clear, in outline if not detail, and it appears that the heavily favored United States will be upset. Once support for a war is lost, it is gone for good; there is no example of a modern democracy having changed its mind once it turned against a war. So we ought to start coming to grips with the meaning of losing in Iraq.

The consequences for the national psyche are likely to be profound, throwing American politics into a downward spiral of bitter recriminations the likes of which it has not seen in a generation. …

The American people seem to understand, however — and historians will certainly agree — that the war itself was a catastrophic mistake. It was a faulty grand strategy, not poor implementation. The Bush administration was operating under an international political illusion, one that is further discredited with every car bombing of a crowded Baghdad marketplace and every Iraqi doctor who packs up his family and flees his country.

The only significant question still hanging is whether Iraq will turn out to have been the biggest strategic mistake in U.S. history. …

Perhaps at some point we will come to recognize that the United States can afford to be much more restrained in its foreign policy adventures. Were our founding fathers here, they would surely look on Iraq with horror and judge that the nation they created had fundamentally lost its way. If the war in Iraq leads the United States to return to its traditional, restrained grand strategy, then perhaps the whole experience will not have been in vain.

Either way, the Iraq syndrome is coming. We need to be prepared for the divisiveness, vitriol, self-doubt and recrimination that will be its symptoms. They will be the defining legacy of the Bush administration and neoconservatism’s parting gift to America.


Thank you, Neocons, for returning the USA to the grand old pre-WWII philosophy of Isolationism.


It seems curious to this reader that Mr. Fettweis, an assistant professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, in his eagerness to snatch defeat, never actually identifies when and where the US defeat occurred.

Where exactly did the American Blenheim, the American Retreat from Moscow, the American Stalingrad, or the American Dien Bien Phu take place and when did it occur?

Traditionally, nations lose wars when they suffer a major defeat in battle resulting in the destruction or surrender of an entire army.

Alternatively, nations lose wars the way the Confederacy did in 1865 and Germany did in WWI via drastic prolonged losses of manpower, economic exhaustion, and civilian starvation.

We lost 3513 men in Iraq over four years, not the 10-13 thousand Grant lost at Cold Harbor, the 100,000 each France and Germany lost at Verdun, not even the 7000 we lost in less than a month at Iwo Jima.

It can hardly be contended that the loss of 3500 men over four years has brought a nation of 300 million to its knees. The United States lost 3% of its population in the Civil War before one side lost the will to continue the fight. Germany lost more than 1,700,000 in WWI before accepting the Armistice. We lose 26,000 lives in highway fatalities per annum, and we’re not withdrawing from the nation’s roads.

We are obviously not really running out of manpower. Have we exhausted our financial resources?

We’re running a deficit, it’s true, but the deficit as percentage of GDP is low: 1.4%. The average since 1970 is 2.3%.

We haven’t lost any battles. No US army has been annihilated or surrendered. We are hardly running out of manpower. We are neither starving, nor broke. So why are we defeated?

What we are running out of is conviction in the justness of our cause and confidence in our success. Those losses did not occur in Iraq. Those losses were inflicted on the homefront in a highly successful propaganda operation which inflicted the death of a thousand cuts upon American support for the War in Iraq by lovingly detailed news coverage of every American casualty, by the systematic magnification of the enemy’s every trivial ambush or booby trap into a major victory, by the obfuscation and denigration of America’s causus belli and war aims.

American military forces cannot possibly be defeated on the battlefield by the inferior numbers of lightly armed irregular adversaries. But we have been brought very close to defeat, with withdrawal not difficult to imagine, by domestic defeatism and treason.

Before Mr. Fettweis undertakes to talk about Post-Traumatic Defeat Syndrome, he is under an obligation to identify the real character of that defeat.

3 Feedbacks on "Pre-Traumatic Defeatism From a Naval Academy Professor"

Dominique R. Poirier

Ho, ho, ho; your excellent comment on this article hits the target, David.

Congratulations and best regards.

Tom Veal

“Once support for a war is lost, it is gone for good; there is no example of a modern democracy having changed its mind once it turned against a war.”

In 1917, a large part of the French Army mutinied, which suggests that its countrymen’s support for the Great War was at a pretty low ebb. A Professeur Fettweis would no doubt have taken that as proof that it was time to “start coming to grips with the meaning of losing”.

In their hearts, I suspect, the Fettweises of the world fear that, despite all their efforts, the mufsidun will fail in Iraq. Their insistence that American defeat is inevitable is a desperate throw to make sure that it occurs.


Hi, Tom,

And the Navy hires this guy to teach, no less.



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