The latest political species sighted on the landscape is the Neo–Culpa, a rapidly propagating breed that once supported the Iraq invasion, but has now bailed out. Conveniently, the Neo-Culpas made their first appearance just before the election, prominently surfacing in Vanity Fair excerpts (vanityfair.com/politics/features/2006/12/neo cons200612), where Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, David Frum, and Michael Rubin blasted the Bush Iraq policy. Just two days earlier, in USA Today (blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2006/11/post_6.html), Ralph Peters threw in the towel. Of course, the war critics screamed with delight that several high-profile stalwarts had, as Margaret Thatcher said, "gone wobbly."
Mr. Perle blamed confusion in the administration — there was too much listening. He wrote: "The decisions … didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly. … At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible." Wait! Didn't the war critics tell us nonstop that Don Rumsfeld was too dictatorial? That he didn't listen? Mr. Adelman complained that while he once thought the members of the Bush team were "the most competent national security team since Truman," he now found them "dysfunctional" and "incompetent."
So, the Bushies listened, but didn't listen well? Mr. Frum blamed President Bush for not countering the notion that the insurgency proved it could kill whomever it wanted to but that we had yet to prove we could protect our friends. Could that possibly be the fault of domestic critics such as Dick Durbin, John Kerry, and John Murtha, who have likened our troops to Nazis, "terrorists," and mass murderers? Naaaaaahhhh.
We must not simply blow off the Neo-Culpas as disgruntled former insiders whose views were rejected for whatever reason, because, like many previous wars, we cannot walk away from this one. And we certainly cannot lose, nor will we. Instead, it is imperative that we place Iraq into historical perspective, and realize that the ever-present Vietnam template is utterly wrong.
The difficult reality of history is that every conflict, and almost every theater within each conflict, is full of missteps, 20/20 hindsight, and perfect after-the-fact understanding of "what went wrong." Understanding Iraq, and likely most of the conflicts we will find ourselves in for the next 20 years, requires that we employ the right model: the Philippine Insurrection and Moro wars of 1898 to 1913.
There, America committed, as a total share of its military ground forces, about the same percentage as we now have collectively in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is, between 12% and 17%, depending on how today one counts Air Force ground personnel and non-Marine Navy support personnel. Despite even more ruthless tactics by our military than those employed in Iraq — the kind Mr. Peters wants to apply and the kind Mr. Kerry thinks we already have applied — the conflict still took 12 years and 4,234 dead to win.
Every American war has come with its claims of incompetence and malfeasance at the top. As the colonies' top general, George Washington faced constant backbiting and intrigue from those who thought Horatio Gates or Charles Lee were the Revolution's real military geniuses. In 1861 and 1862, congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle positively salivated over the prospect of removing Abraham Lincoln for Bull Run and Fredericksburg, creating a Committee on the Conduct of the War. During the Spanish-American War, there were complaints of insufficient war materiel, but instead of body armor, the issue was poor rifles and inadequate medicine.
A full year after Pearl Harbor was attacked, America still lacked sufficient quantities of first-line aircraft capable of defeating the Zero, and well through 1944, the Sherman was considered inferior to the Germans' main battle tanks. Taken collectively, the evidence is that a democracy is seldom "fully prepared" for war, and as the recently unemployed Mr. Rumsfeld somewhat insensitively said, you go to war with what you have.
Historically, most people — and many fine military minds — have thought whatever conflict they were embarking upon would be brief. The British were surprised that they were still "bogged down" in the American colonies after four years, while politicians and soldiers on both sides in the Civil War thought it would not last a year. The stunningly rapid collapse of Saddam Hussein's traditional armies misled many into thinking that all resistance would quickly dissipate. Was this a gross miscalculation? Perhaps, but how different was it from the Marines at Iwo Jima, who expected to find the enemy resisting at the water's edge, only to discover that they could walk ashore … and that the enemy had changed his tactics?
Americans constantly ignore the maxim, "The enemy gets a vote" on the battlefield. If the Neo-Culpas had focused more on history, they would have realized that in Iraq, we're about where we were at the same point in the Philippine Insurrection — or in countless other conflicts — and that none of the criticisms of President Bush is particularly new to a wartime commander in chief, even when made by onetime supporters.
Mr. Schweikart is a professor of history at the University of Dayton and author of "America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror" (Sentinel, 2006).