Marc Thiessen and the “Stab-in-the-Back” Myth

Former Bush speechwriter and torture enthusiast Marc Thiessen’s new column in the Washington Post continues his war against WikiLeaks — his previous column advocated using the U.S. military to apprehend WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange overseas — but adds a twist. It is not merely that the recent WikiLeaks disclosures endangered U.S. troops and their Afghan allies, Thiessen argues; additionally, they may have crippled General Petraeus’s new “surge” strategy:

Assange’s illegal disclosures are helping the Taliban to undermine Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy before it has a chance to work….This is a devastating blow to the surge in Afghanistan….It may be impossible to fully recover from this leak.

Needless to say, Thiessen’s chronology and his account of the war are both a bit faulty. There has been no new “surge” or new strategy under Petraeus; as far as anyone can tell, he is largely continuing the strategy of his predecessor, Stanley McChrystal — a strategy that has already been in place for nine months and has thus far yielded disappointing returns.

The point of Thiessen’s misleading spin, however, is clear: by pretending that Petraeus has embarked on a bold change of strategy that has been sabotaged by WikiLeaks “before it has a chance to work,” he lays the groundwork for blaming any eventual failure of the Afghan war effort on home front critics like WikiLeaks rather than the strategy or war aims themselves. It is simply the latest incarnation of the Dolchstosslegende, the “myth of the stab-in-the-back,” which is always the favored method of hawks to explain away the failures of their wars.

It’s hard to see anyone being convinced by Thiessen’s latest attempt, though. Regardless of what one thinks of the WikiLeaks disclosures, it requires a great deal of credulity to see them as the primary force making or breaking the war effort.

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Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.

One Comment

  1. RE: …It is simply the latest incarnation of the Dolchstosslegende, the “myth of the stab-in-the-back,”… – Luban
    MY COMMENT: Yes, like the “real reason” (according to National Socialists) that the Germans lost WWI despite their superior Aryan will, etc. And of course, the “real reason” the U.S. lost in Vietnam (namely “the press”, according to many right-wingers).

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