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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Rot Eating at America's Soul

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Opponents of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have long compared it to the earlier intervention in Southeast Asia, which created a quagmire on the ground and a painful rift at home.

Until recently, U.S. President George W. Bush resisted the Vietnam analogy. But he has come around and now supports a revisionist view, which maintains that victory in Vietnam was within grasp and was frittered away by the failure of nerve at home. Needless to say, Bush wants nothing of the sort to happen in Iraq on his watch.

But Vietnam is hardly the only parallel for Iraq. Opponents and supporters of this war have been busily checking off similarities and differences with World War II and Korea. David Walker, head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, reached even deeper, comparing the United States to the Roman Empire. U.S. entanglement in the Middle East is prominent among the perilous parallels he drew.

And then there is Osama bin Laden, the man Bush claims to be fighting in Iraq. Sporting a dyed beard, the perennial Public Enemy No. 1 recently appeared in a video, confidently declaring that, just like the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States will lose in Iraq.

Unfortunately, bin Laden may have hit the nail on the head. Similarities between the Soviet army's ill-advised foray into Kabul in 1979 and the "shock and awe" storming of Baghdad in 2003 are pervasive, the most important being that both plans were born of hubris and hatched at a time when Moscow and Washington, respectively, thought they were destined to dominate the world.

Few people remember this today, but in the late 1970s, the Soviet Union looked like a clear winner in the Cold War. U.S. foreign policy was suddenly timid following the drubbing in Indochina -- pace Bush and neo-con revisionists -- while the economy was mired in a mix of stagnation and inflation reminiscent of the death throes of capitalism predicted by Karl Marx.

Meanwhile, rising oil revenues allowed the Soviet Union to paper over its own fatal economic flaws and support its clients abroad. Cuban troops were exporting Soviet-style revolution to Africa. Soviet allies grabbed power in Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Grenada and elsewhere, and European Communists were ascendant in France and Italy. Humiliated in Iran, Washington was powerless to respond.

To the senescent ideologues in the Kremlin, expanding the Soviet bloc along its southern border must have seemed like Manifest Destiny.

The tables were turned when Bush invaded Iraq. The Soviet Union had been off the map for over a decade. The United States was the only remaining superpower. Democracy and free enterprise had triumphed everywhere. Surely in the few places where freedom's introduction tarried, a gentle military nudge would do the job? Washington had the most powerful military in history; why not use it as a force for good?

The reason why the Soviet Union is no more has much to do with the costly disaster in Afghanistan. A decade later, the Soviet Union was pauperized and demoralized. It lost 15,000 soldiers by the time the troops were finally pulled out.

The U.S. military has lost close to 4,000 troops in four years. Since none of the realistic candidates in the 2008 presidential election has a plausible plan to end the war, it is likely that it will last through 2013, and the number of U.S. war dead will be rise accordingly. More to the point is the rot eating at the American soul from within due to the Iraqi crisis, ranging from the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal in 2004 and the Haditha massacre one year later to the lies that now pervade political discourse in Washington.

As to the cost of the war, it has not mattered as long as China is willing to lend Washington all the rope it needs to hang itself. The fun will begin when the credit line runs out.

Alexei Bayer, a native Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.