. . . time has completely undermined the psychological dimension of the strategy. Four years into the war, no one is shocked and no one is awed.
The war, both in Iraq and against al Qaeda, has worn the United States down over time. The psychology of fear has been replaced by a psychology of cynicism. The psychology of confidence in war has been replaced by a psychology of helplessness. Exhaustion pervades all.
That is the single most important outcome of the war. What happens to bin Laden is, in the end, about as important as what happened to Guevara. Legends will be made of it — not history. But when the world’s leading power falls into the psychological abyss brought about by time and war, the entire world is changed by it. Every country rethinks its position and its actions. Everything changes.
That is what is important about the Petraeus report. He will ask for more time. Congress will give it to him. The president will take it. Time, however, has its price not only in war but also psychologically. And if the request for time leads to more failure and the American psychology is further battered, then that is simply more time that other powers, great and small, will have to take advantage of the situation. The United States has psychologically begun tearing itself apart over both the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. Whatever your view of that, it is a fact — a serious geopolitical fact.
The Petraeus report will not address that. It is out of the general’s area of responsibility. But the pressing issue is this: If the United States continues the war and if it maintains its vigilance against attacks, how does the evolution of the American psyche play out?
Even if the C-in-C was a Great Communicator, even if there were islands of Public Diplomacy competence within the Department of State, even if the English-language Main Stream Media didn’t enthusiastically partner with the enemy to spread gloom and doom quagmire pessimism, even if defeat of the Army and Marine Corps in Iraq wouldn’t bring victory to Democrats in Washington, morale on the home front after six years of war would still be an element of national power to be assessed, preserved and bolstered. If a frog had wings . . .
Between the ears of the American voter lies the key terrain of this war.