Tuesday, August 17, 2004

World War 4

First readers, then Instapundit, link to Norman Podhoretz's World War IV. This extensive article is nothing less than an attempt to understand the Global War on Terror in the context of the last 60 years. Podhoretz compares the manner in which GW Bush met the threat posed by radical Islam to Harry Truman's response to the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent, the way Roosevelt faced global fascism. The article argues that in terms of scope, potential deadliness and the fundamental nature of issues, the current struggle against radical Islamism ranks as a World War. Podhoretz lays out the themes of Bush's policy speeches side by side with their implementation and concludes the President has founded his strategy on four pillars.

  1. The idea that Western civilization is worth fighting for in a contest with an ideology which aims to destroy it;
  2. That regimes which abet this hostile ideology will be destroyed or reformed;
  3. That America has the right not merely to respond, but to pre-empt enemy action; and
  4. That the Arab-Israeli issues will be judged by their contribution to the goal of creating democratic institutions in the Middle East, and not upon any grounds of historical entitlement.

Taken together, these pillars implied a revolution in international affairs, not simply because they overturned the institutional framework of the last half century, but because they introduced a normative standard into what was previously the absolute prerogative of nation-states. Woven through his account in ways that almost become a personal history are Podhoretz's recollections of how the Left, of which he was once an adherent, suborned, subverted and distorted -- at times almost fatally -- the American response to each of the challenges it faced.

While schematically relegated to the background, the machinations of the Left in the World War IV article repeatedly threaten to upstage the notional villain, radical Islamism. By placing the War on Terror in serial with World War 2 and the Cold War (World War 3), the article makes it hard to wholly escape the notion that the West has been gripped by one auto-immune crisis after another, first against monsters of its own conjury (the Nazis and the Communists) and this time, against a parasitic infection spreading over its weakened corpus. Watered by the defeatism of Jimmy Carter and egged on by the Western "intelligensia", radical Islam appears less a malevolent force in its own right then the longed-for "exterminator" which will carry out the sentence of guilt which the Left has passed. Podhoretz himself briefly skirts this possibility, then flinches:

In World War III, we as a nation persisted in spite of the inevitable setbacks and mistakes and the defeatism they generated, until, in the end, we won. ... To the people living both within the Soviet Union itself and in its East European empire, it brought liberation from a totalitarian tyranny. ... Suppose that we hang in long enough to carry World War IV to a comparably successful conclusion. What will victory mean this time around? Well, to us it will mean the elimination of another, and in some respects greater, threat to our safety and security.

It will eliminate the threat until the nihilism of the West creates yet another. Surely it is fair to ask, whether the Left, having taken down the poster of Che Guevara and replaced it with Osama will not find yet another false idol to worship the moment he is dead. The greatest tragedy would be to find that after the last Islamist has been destroyed, and one hundred thousand illiterate men annihilated by the greatest fighting force on earth, that yet another new "destroyer" anointed by the Left is in its stead. Podhoretz knows that:

... because that threat cannot be eliminated without "draining the swamps" in which it breeds, victory will also entail the liberation of another group of countries from another species of totalitarian tyranny.

Therefore it is necessary, but not enough, to win another victory against oppressors in other countries; it also past the time for the West to triumph against the dark recesses of its own soul.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
T.S. Eliot Journey of the Magi