Marine veteran and author J. D. Vance explains the appeal of Donald Trump. In truth, he only tells part of the story, but it is worth examining.
The Iraq War, Vance says, was a failure. And it was, by his account, solely the fault of George W. Bush. Thus, establishment Republicans got us into the war, and they bear responsibility for the consequences. Down with the Republican establishment.
Surely, many Republicans think this way. Many of those who fought in the war think this way. When Trump says that he is tired of seeing America lose, they hear that he is tired of seeing America lose wars.
Full disclosure: in my book Saving Face I discussed at length the cultural costs of our having lost Vietnam. I argued that since those who initiated and fought the war never apologized for their failures, the responsibility shifted to the soldiers. If the fault did not lie with the leaders, it lay with the troops.
If you care to see how a real leader prepares to deal with a possible military failure, you can examine the apology that Dwight Eisenhower would have issued if the D Day invasion had failed:
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
Strangely enough, Vance has nothing to say about the Obama administration’s handling of the same war. He does not say anything about the fact that Barack Obama declared the war a great success in 2011 and then withdrew, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. If the Bush administration bears a responsibility for having gotten us involved in the war, the Obama administration bears the ultimate responsibility for having lost it.
And, let us not forget the catastrophic war in Syria, which Roger Cohen in the New York Times declared to be primarily the fault of Barack Obama.
As long as Obama refuses to take any responsibility for his own failures, for some reason, Americans seem inclined to blame it all on George Bush. The Republican primaries have been an orgy of hatred against the Republican establishment, to the point that Obama has seen his poll numbers rise. Thus the internecine warfare has deflected responsibility away from the man who bears the major part.
Keep in mind, when Obama apologized for America, he took the coward’s way out and apologized for events that he had nothing to do with. In his pseudo-apologies he was asserting his own personal moral superiority. When it comes to apologizing for his own mistakes, Obama prefers to blame others.
Aside from the fact that Vance seems incapable of holding the Obama administration to account for its failures, we read his remarks with interest:
I am proud of my service and proud of those who served alongside me. But war is about more than service and sacrifice — it’s about winning. Sixty years ago, Americans looked to Europe and Asia and saw continents liberated and despots defeated. With the Islamic State on the rampage, Americans today look to a Middle East that is humiliatingly worse off than the way we found it.
Who paid the greatest price for the humiliation? People who lived in Republican precincts:
The burden of this humiliation fell hardest on Republican strongholds. Demographically, the military draws heavily from the South, rural areas and the working and middle class. And while no racial group has a monopoly on military service, white enlistees make up a disproportionate share of those wounded and killed in action. This is the very same demographic that forms the core of the contemporary Republican base. Whether they were working-class Reagan Democrats like Mamaw or committed middle-class Republicans, the people who made Mr. Bush president are the same people who sent their children to fight in his wars.
Again, we note that the Department of Veterans Affairs has not been run by the Bush administration for many years now. It does not seem to bother Vance:
Add to this a Department of Veterans Affairs that failed to adequately care for returning troops, and it’s almost too perfect a narrative: The same leadership that failed to pacify Iraq cannot properly administer benefits to veterans. The product is combustible frustration.
Vance refuses to pronounce the name Obama, and he refuses to recognize that Obama declared that Iraq had been pacified in 2011, but he seems to believe that the Democrats overcame their own responsibility by electing an anti-Iraq war candidate in 2008:
Yet while the Democrats elected an anti-Iraq war candidate in 2008, the Republicans never addressed the anger of their own voters. At best, they criticized the mismanagement of the war or hauled V.A. officials into Congress for hearings. But in 2008 and 2012, the party ran candidates who refused to rethink the Bush foreign policy that led to Iraq.
In early 2015, the party appeared ready to coronate Jeb Bush, the brother of the man who started the Iraq war. Jeb drew his advisers from the same pool of discredited thinkers who planned and executed the war. Meanwhile, his chief adversaries rushed to praise George W. Bush’s national security record.
Surely, he has misunderstood the nature of responsibility. The Democrats elected Obama in order not to accept any responsibility for their having supported the Iraq War. As the Vietnam War started going badly many Democrats broke with the Johnson administration and started an anti-war movement to exculpate the Kennedy administration.
Democrats have not in any way accepted responsibility for what has happened in the Middle East after the Obama foreign policy team took over.
Mr. Trump is unfit for our nation’s highest office. But to those humiliated by defeat, he promises we’ll win again. To those discouraged by a government unable to care for the people it sent to war, he promises to take care of our veterans. To those voters furious at politicians who sent their children to fight and bleed and die in Iraq, he tells them what no major Republican politician in a decade has said — that the war was a terrible mistake imposed on the country by an incompetent president.
The question should be whether or not Trump directs his ire against his fellow Republicans or whether he directs it against the Obama administration. Does he, like Vance, hold the Bush administration responsible for the current state of the Middle East or can he hold the Obama administration accountable for its catastrophic and world changing failure?