In World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, conservative giant Norman Podhoretz lays out the case for America's war against radical Islam in the kind of lucid prose and moral clarity that we have come to expect from him.
In all the furor over the conflict in Iraq, the Bush Doctrine, which laid out the foundations for the war, has been lost in the media shuffle — not to mention deliberately mischaracterized by the media, academics and other elements of America's liberal elite. Podhoretz breathes new life into the president's early declarations in the war against Islamofascism, restoring the moral and strategic focus to the arguments behind the conflict America must win.
Of course, the book's title begs a couple of questions, namely: "What happened to World War III? Did I miss it?"
Podhoretz, a seminal figure in the unjustly maligned neoconservative movement, (and one who actually meets the definition of someone who switched from the Left to the Right over issues like the Left's sympathy with America's enemies) builds a strong case that the Third World War actually was the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies/satellites.
In some respects, the third and fourth wars are remarkably alike: Just as the Cold War was waged on dozens of fronts around the world, the struggle against Islamofascism is a global affair in a score of different theaters.
And just as the World War III was a seemingly endless standoff that liberals in the post-'60s era pretended were separate and isolated indigenous conflicts, World War IV is a fight against enemies who might not work together directly but have the same ultimate goal: Defeat the West, particularly America.
Podhoretz lays out the case for the Bush Doctrine and his thesis that we are in World War IV by comparing the Bush Doctrine with the Truman Doctrine expounded in 1947, which saved Greece and Turkey from falling into the Soviet orbit. In Harry Truman, Podhoretz sees a precursor to Bush:
"It was not Reagan to whom Bush should have been compared, but Harry Truman. ... in 1947, at a time when many denied that the Soviet Union was even a threat to us, Truman saw it as an aggressive totalitarian force that was plunging us into another world war. If Truman had done nothing else than this, he would deserve to be ranked as a great president."
As Podhoretz eventually points out, however, the Bush Doctrine has more in common with the Reagan Doctrine, which accelerated communism's fall. Instead of taking nearly 40 years to come to that point, George W. Bush laid out an action plan to roll back Islamofascism — a term the President is unfortunately reluctant to use — rather than settling for mere containment.
But this is the stumbling point for many Foggy Bottom-types — even many who were known as being reliably anti-Communist but who freaked out when Reagan walked out on Soviet boss Mikhail Gorbachev at the summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.
As Podhoretz observes, when George W. Bush announced his intention to establish democratic regimes in the Muslim world and preemptively take out regimes that promote terrorism and threaten us in ways that traditional nation states do not, it was a threat to the world view of both the so-called "Realists" and liberal internationalists.
Ultimately, Podhoretz says, "Realists ... along with most liberal internationalists were rooting for an American defeat as the only way to save their world view from winding up on the ash heap of history."
Bush realized the tradition of propping up dictators to keep a lid on the masses had simply kicked the problem down the road. His belief that the host of tyrannies that hold sway in Arab lands was a swamp that needed be drained was a direct slap at the Realists.
The idea that America would act in its own interest whether the U.N. liked it or not sent liberal internationalists over the edge. The mainstream media were mostly chummy with "experts" in the Realist or liberal internationalist camps, so the drumbeat against Bush's vision seemed unanimous to casual observers.
Meanwhile, the Democrats became radicalized — i.e., anti-war — much sooner than they did during the Vietnam War. Podhoretz writes this occurred because so many of their leaders were summa cum laude graduates of that dangerous generation.
On this point, however, I think Podhoretz ignores a vital component of the Democrats' radicalization: the 2000 election, an extremely raw point in recent history. While Democrats claim the U.S. Supreme Court bestowed the presidency on Bush in the ballot battle of 2000, it was the Florida Supreme Court justices -- all appointed by Democrats -- who were the interlopers, disregarding state law about who had the power to settle disputed elections.
While many Democrat groups might have been poised to oppose war in any form, the Democrat electors to whom they ultimately must appeal were not — as is evidenced by Bush's stratosperhic approval ratings in late 2001.
However, the fact that Al Gore lacked the decency Richard Nixon showed in the wake of his ultra-tight loss to John F. Kennedy made our current divisions all but inevitable. After attacking the legitimacy of the new commander in chief in early 2001, it was that much easier for the Democrats to attack the legitimacy of the war itself. While Chicago pols and thugs probably stole the White House from Nixon, he understood that Americans must believe in their own institutions in a dangerous world and did not challenge Kennedy's win. Even Nixon showed himself to be more a man of principle and less of personal ambition than Gore would 40 years later.
Podhoretz does his customary fine job of succinctly and cogently laying out the positions of all sides of the issue, their intellectual roots and the ways their prominent thinkers responded to the Bush Doctrine. He also dismisses each with some killer asides:
· On the isolationists, left and right, and why polar opposites like paleocon Pat Buchanan and radical Noam Chomsky can take the same position on the war in Iraq in specific and Bush Doctrine in general: "The isolationists on the Right are afraid the world is bad for America, while the isolationists on the Left think America is bad for the world."
· On the realists: "Of all the groups making up the domestic insurgency against the Bush Doctrine, the one with the most to lose."
· On the liberal internationalists who once championed the spread of democracy: "[They] had been reduced to a domestic echo chamber for the French and the Germans."
Conservatives fully expected groups and individuals like Code Pink, Sean Penn and MoveOn.org to oppose an American victory in Iraq. But when men like Brent Scowcroft come out blasting the Bush Doctrine, some conservatives are taken aback that former stalwart Cold Warriors are not with the program.
Outstanding histories of American foreign policy this year — such as Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation and Michael Oren's Power Faith and Fantasy — have shown that U.S. foreign policy has always been more robust and interventionist than either the realists or the liberal internationalists would have us believe. Both Reagan and Bush 43 may have broken with the foreign policy elite of the last half-century, but they are in a long and robust American tradition.
But Podhoretz asserts that President Bush is not given nearly enough credit for declaring World War IV. The Islamofascists, he writes, have been at war with us for a lot longer than we have been at war with them. Despite plenty of provocation, American responses for at least 28 years — going back to Jimmy Carter's Iran hostage crisis — have been tepid.
After 9/11, some Clintonistas were openly fretting that their man never was given the chance to prove himself under fire the way Bush did. But it's not altogether clear that just any president would have reacted to the World Trade Center attack with such ferocious resolve.
While Podhoretz catalogs Bill Clinton's failures to react seriously to bin Laden's various attacks — and the ideologically driven barriers his administration put up to prevent an effective response and prevention — he also observes that Clinton was merely the most egregious example of a sorry mini-tradition.
Even Ronald Reagan, whose presidency was launched by Carter's ineptitude in the face of Iranian radicals, never gave serious attention to this enemy to the surprise, undoubtedly, of the Iranians themselves. While their fear of what Reagan would do about the hostages was widely credited as a cause of their release, Podhoretz writes, "[I]f they could have foreseen what would happen under Reagan, they would not have been so fearful."
Terror mastermind Osama bin Laden later included Reagan's withdrawal from Beirut after the Iranian-supported Hezbollah killed 241 Marines in a barracks bombing in his litany of why America could be rolled.
And all the perpetrators of the Tehran invasion of our embassy ever got in retaliation was a cake from Bud MacFarlane.
Reagan gets credit for bombing Qadaffi into a public position of submission, but even here the record is mixed. After the Pan Am 103 bombing, America went right back to the habit of treating Islamic terrorism as a nuisance and a law enforcement problem.
While we view Reagan with the rosy glasses of hindsight these days, there was an awful lot of conservative dissent back in the day. Podhoretz remembers, much of it principled but misguided:
"I repeatedly blasted [Reagan] for one betrayal after another: for reacting tepidly to the suppression (yes, by the evil empire) of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland; … for cutting and running when Hezbollah. blew up a barracks in Lebanon, killing 241 American servicemen; for trading arms for hostages with Iran; for entering into arms control agreements with the Soviet Union....
Rereading those pieces, I was amazed to discover that they were right in almost every detail even though they were dead wrong about the ultimate effect. For what these acts of Reagan's turned out to be was a series of prudential tactics within an overall strategy that in the end succeeded in attaining its great objective."
It was similarly remarkable for George W. Bush — who called for "humility" in our foreign policy during the 2000 debates — to treat 9/11 as the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century, rather than merely stepping up a covert war against al Qaeda, or limiting his attention to Afghanistan. And it's entirely possible that, in another generation, we will view Bush's resolve in the current war the way we view Truman and Reagan now.
Unfortunately, Podhoretz laments, the administration's decision to focus on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to market a strategically necessary war has all but obliterated the discussion of the Bush Doctrine from public life.
World War IV is a bracing read, and a necessary one. It will sharpen your arguments and help you focus your attention on what really matters. Podhoretz also compiles a handy list of Democrat perfidies and answers to them for quick reference.
If George W. Bush would defend his vision and strategy half as well as Norman Podhoretz — and overcome his reluctance to label the enemy by its name, Islamofascism — we'd be in better shape today.
But Podhoretz does help us recall those heady months when Bush was laying out the principles for World War IV, and when a Bush speech was a stimulating and moving event. Most importantly, he reminds us that the principles laid out in the Bush Doctrine still form a valid foundation for the future — if we have the fortitude to see it through.