War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
Norman Podhoretz's new book, World
War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, is a hate-filled, anti-American
book of the first order. Podhoretz hates every American who does not support
the neoconservatives' views, the foreign policy they have devised, and the military
and national security disasters to which they are leading America. Patrick Buchanan,
Andrew J. Bacevich, Sir John Keegan, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samuel
Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, and many others are all targets of Podhoretz.
These men are variously characterized as anti-Semites, isolationists, recanters
from the true creed, or simply as small men who fear the neoconservative utopia
is about to arrive, discredit their views, and cost them their jobs or prestige.
Podhoretz is particularly vicious toward Buchanan because he knows that Buchanan
sees through the neoconservative fantasy with the most unrelenting acuity. Buchanan's
frank voice and non-interventionism – not isolationism – are genuinely American
characteristics, so Podhoretz must go all out to discredit Buchanan as an anti-Semite,
lest Americans listen to Buchanan's advice not to get their children killed
fighting other peoples' wars, be they wars for Israelis or Muslims or anyone
who are the heroes of the story? Why, Podhoretz and the familiar roster of the
only real Americans and Israel-firsters, of course: Paul Wolfowitz, R. James
Woolsey, Charles Krauthammer, Douglas Feith, Victor Davis Hanson, John R. Bolton,
Joseph Lieberman, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Max Boot, Steve Emerson, Daniel
Pipes, Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Kenneth Adelman, Frank Gaffney, and a
few others who have battled so long and hard to ensure that America fights an
endless war against Muslims in Israel's defense. Podhoretz and his chums are
the men responsible for the lethal mess America now faces in the Muslim world,
and they have also done more than any other group – Hamas and Hezbollah included
– to undermine Israel's long-term security. In short, the influence and arrogance
of this gang has been an unmitigated and accelerating disaster for the two nations
they claim to love most. I will leave it up to those who read the book to decide
which country they obviously love best, but I bet you can guess before turning
Podhoretz is big on pinning the Islamofascist label on our Islamist enemies.
The phrase has nothing to do with reality, of course, as the Islamists are far
from fascists, though they clearly are the most dangerous threat America now
confronts. But Podhoretz does not care about understanding the enemy's real
motivation and attributes in order to annihilate him as quickly as possible.
By using the term Islamofascist he seeks only to block any debate on the neoconservative
agenda by ensuring that its critics are identified as pro-fascist, therefore
anti-American, therefore pro-Nazi, and therefore anti-Semitic. Other notable
men have described this tactic as the Big Lie, and it is a neocon specialty
And if this Big Lie is not enough for you, try another of Podhoretz's on for
size. This one is so ahistorical and deliberately misleading that it is hard
to even begin to comment on its mendacity. Podhoretz focuses on one of the terrorist
Yasser Arafat's rants damning the United States as "the murderers of humanity,"
considering it divine revelation that Arafat did not mention Israel in the single
paragraph quoted in the book. "The absence of even a word here about Israel,"
lectures Podhoretz to Americans he obviously sees as mindless cattle who will
believe any lie thrown their way, "showed that if the Jewish state had
never come into existence, the United States would still have stood as the embodiment
of everything that most of these Arabs considered evil. Indeed, the hatred of
Israel was in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism, rather than the reverse."
(91) How many major American military conflicts with Arabs can Podhoretz name
that occurred prior to Israel's establishment?
Clearly, Podhoretz and his heroic band want the Islamist enemy to stay in the
field so that the war he and the Israel-firsters wanted and now have will go
on and on and on. Like the sickest and most addled of bloodletting Wilsonian
interventionists, Podhoretz quotes the puerile position of George W. Bush that
U.S. security depends on building mirror images of America abroad: "All
who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know that the United States will not
ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty,
we will stand with you." (182) And what is the endgame of standing with
those who stand for liberty? Quoting President Bush again, Podhoretz says U.S.
military forces must "drain the swamps" of the Islamofascist world
and replace incumbent regimes with elected governments that will "fulfill
the hopes 'of the Islamic nations [who] want and deserve the same freedoms and
opportunities as people in every nation.'" (135) This effort, Podhoretz
adds, is "marked by more than a touch of nobility." (212)
In Podhoretz's hateful prose we find the true crusader spirit bound up with
the con-man's willingness to distort history for political advantage. Again
using the rhetoric of George W. Bush, Podhoretz argues "that history had
called America to action and that it was both 'our responsibility and our privilege
to fight freedom's fight.'" (215) Taken to its logical bottom line, this
assertion means that American parents should be delighted to nobly spend the
lives of their children so Iraqis and Afghans can vote and have parliaments.
Implicit in this absurd argument is that somehow U.S. national security requires
that other people – not all others, of course, only Muslims – vote, behave democratically,
and become secular. This is truly analysis by assertion. Can anyone really imagine
that American society is automatically safer because Mrs. Mohammed votes and
wears mascara? Or, alternatively, that U.S. national security is threatened
if the Pashtun tribal leaders of southeastern Afghanistan do not appoint precinct
captains to get out the vote in parliamentary elections? Clearly, Podhoretz
is running a con here, and the price will be paid not in cash but in the blood
of American kids. Indeed, Podhoretz can only lecture the grieving parents of
the young Americans who have already died in Iraq : "By any historical
standard, our total losses were still, and would remain, amazingly low."
History also gets in the way of Podhoretz's worldview, so we get another con.
We are not, he argues, trying to impose democracy and neuter the religion of
a 14-century-old Islamic civilization and 1.4 billion Muslims, but merely trying
to repair a political order that was inappropriately arranged by the Western
powers a hundred years ago. "But here again," Podhoretz argues,
"[T]he so-called realist [view of U.S. foreign policy that opposed
the Iraq war] ignored the reality, which was that the Middle East of today was
not thousands of years old, and was not created in the seventh century by Allah
or the Prophet Mohammed. … Instead, the states in question had all been conjured
into existence less than one hundred years ago out of the ruins of the defeated
Ottoman Empire in World War I. Their boundaries had been drawn by the victorious
British and French with a stroke of an often arbitrary pen, and their hapless
peoples were handed over in due course to one tyrant after another."
This is another absurd argument that again reduces to nonsense, to wit: The
French and British tried to dictate the organization and political system of
an ancient Islamic civilization and cocked it up, but we are much smarter –
and implicitly purer – than they were, so we can build the perfect Muslim world.
This smug attitude does capture in a nutshell, however, a good part of the basic
un-Americanism of the neoconservatives; they are a foreign and, I think, malign
influence in our body politic. America is a republic founded on the principles
and insights derived from what Gertrude Himmelfarb has described in her brilliant
Roads to Modernity as the American Enlightenment, fundamental to which
is a profound belief in the utter imperfectability of man. Podhoretz and his
all-knowing and stern-minded gang of neoconservative warmongers, on the other
hand, are the heirs of the French Enlightenment's faith in man's perfectibility,
the principles of which have brought the world the bloody horrors and mass murder
conducted by the French revolutionaries, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and
any number of others who attempted to create a perfect society. There is no
sane reason to believe that neoconservative-led efforts to "perfect"
Muslim society would yield less bloodshed, much less to imagine that it would
increase security for the United States.
The other part of the fundamental un-Americanism of Podhoretz and his brothers
lies in their use of the ideas and heroes of American history only if they further
their "enlightened" foreign policy; all others they ignore or misrepresent.
Picking and choosing from the words of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and
John Kennedy, Podhoretz tries to infer that fighting a "world war"
against the Islamofascists is identical to fighting world wars against Nazi
Germany and Imperial Japan, and then the Soviet Union. This sounds good if you
say it fast, but the selective use of our presidents' words by Podhoretz is
just another of his inaccurate assertions.
Germany, Japan, and the USSR were modern industrial nation-states that posed
direct, tangible, and sustainable military threats to the survival of the United
States. The Islamofascist enemy is a specious conjuring of the neoconservatives
that does not exist. The Islamist threat personified and led by Osama bin Laden
is a direct, tangible, and enduring national-security threat to the United States,
but it does not now amount to a world war, and it will not unless the neoconservatives
continue to hold sway. We are fighting a war with the Islamists that is ours
to lose, and at the moment we are successfully losing it because President Bush
and 17 of the 19 individuals in the current crop of presidential candidates
buy Podhoretz's lethal lie that the Islamists are "the latest mutation
of the totalitarian threat to our civilization" and are, "like the
Nazis and the Communists before them … dedicated to the destruction of the freedoms
we cherish and for which Americans stand." (14-15) Actually, America's
war with the bin Laden-led Islamists is fueled by the impact of U.S. and Western
interventionist foreign policies in the Islamic world, not, as Podhoretz claims,
by "our virtues as a free and prosperous country." (102) To the extent
that America combines reduced interventionism with military action against genuine
threats, we will defeat the Islamists. The increased interventionism of Podhoretz
and his coterie will lead to endless war abroad and eventually between Muslim
Americans and their countrymen at home – and America's defeat.
Podhoretz's final con comes at the expense of the late George Kennan. Podhoretz
takes some of Kennan's words and twists them in a way that makes him seem like
a supporter of the neoconservatives' endless overseas interventionism and war-for-perfection
agenda. At the end of his book, Podhoretz quotes Kennan: "To avoid destruction
the United States need only to measure up to its own best traditions and prove
itself worthy of preservation as a great nation." (215) With this passage
he leaves the reader to believe that Kennan would have supported the neoconservative
crusade "to beat back the 'implacable challenge' of Islamofascism as the
'greatest generation' of World War II in taking on the Nazis and their fascist
allies, and as its children and grandchildren ultimately managed to do in confronting
the Soviet Union and its Communist empire in World War III." (217)
This is an intolerable and deliberately misleading attempt to make Kennan appear
to be an arch-interventionist. Toward the end of his long life, Kennan wrote
something of a valedictory essay for his fellow citizens in Foreign Affairs
(March/April 1995), "On American Principles." In this essay Kennan
praised John Quincy Adams's noninterventionist foreign policy as a principle
appropriate to America, and, more important, described how it was admirably
applicable to the chaos and confusion of the post-Cold War world. The dangers
inherent in U.S. interventionism after the Cold War, Kennan wrote, are roughly
similar to those
"that clearly underlay John Quincy Adams' response to similar problems
so many years ago – his recognition that it is very difficult for one country
to help another by intervening directly in its domestic affairs or in its conflicts
with its neighbors. It is particularly difficult to do this without creating
new and unwelcome embarrassments and burdens for the country endeavoring to
help. The best way for a larger country to help smaller ones is surely by the
power of example. Adams made this clear in the address cited above. One will
recall his urging that the best response we could give to those appealing to
us for support would be to give them what he called 'the benign sympathy of
our example.' To go further, he warned, and try to give direct assistance would
be to involve ourselves beyond the power of extrication 'in all the wars of
interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assumed
the colors and usurped the standards of freedom.' Who, today, looking at our
involvements of recent years, could maintain that the fears these words expressed
were any less applicable in our time than in his?"
Does this sound like the warmongering of the neoconservative interventionists?
I think not. It rather sounds like the words of a man who knows his country's
history and traditions and its peoples' character far better than the obtuse
Podhoretz and crew. At one point in his book Podhoretz quotes W.H. Auden's description
of the 1930s as "a low and dishonest decade." (188) There is no better
overall description for Norman Podhoretz's World War IV: The Long Struggle
Against Islamofascism than "low and dishonest."