"I think the level of casualties is secondary," American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael A. Ledeen told the gathering of war hawks. "I mean, it may sound like an odd thing to say, but all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war. . . . What we hate is not casualties, but losing."
Odd, indeed, I thought upon reading Ledeen's remarks in news accounts of a so-called "black coffee briefing" held Thursday at the AEI. But, sure enough, results of various opinion polls published a few days later showed Americans' support for the war on Iraq actually hardening, even though most respondents said they believe that there will be "a significant number of additional U.S. military casualties." At this point, dead Iraqi civilians didn't seem to matter at all.
Ledeen, an adviser to the State Department under President Ronald Reagan and author of "The War Against the Terror Masters" and "Tocqueville on American Character," appeared to have his finger on the pulse of a large group of people -- a group, I might add, whose views sometimes baffle me.
Even military officials are warning that Americans might soon be confronting military carnage not seen since the Vietnam War. As of yesterday, a little more than a week after this supposed "cakewalk" of a war had begun, 57 coalition force personnel had been killed, 21 were missing and seven were being held as prisoners of war.
About 589 Iraqi civilians had been reported killed and 4,500 reported injured. Among the victims of errant missiles were Iraqi babies. Exactly where was this upbeat chant to bomb on, as indicated by the polls, coming from?
"We did not choose this war," Ledeen told me. "Terrorists have been killing us for 20 years plus, and this is the first time we've really responded. We are reluctant to engage in war, but once we start fighting, we fight to win."
Loser, he said, is a very bad word in America.