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World War IV (Continued IV) By: Norman Podhoretz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 17, 2004


If this was how the Arab/Muslim world largely felt about 9/11, what could have been expected from that world when the United States picked itself up off the ground—Ground Zero, to be exact—and began fighting back? What could have been expected is precisely what happened: another furious outburst of anti-Americanism. Only this time the outbursts were infused not by jubilation but by the desperate hope that the United States would somehow be humiliated. This hope was soon extinguished by the quick defeat of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but it was immediately rekindled by the way Saddam Hussein was standing up against America. Saddam had killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iran, and countless Arabs in his own country and Kuwait. Obviously, however, to his Arab and Muslim "brothers" this was completely canceled out by his defiance of the United States.

Was there, perhaps, an element of the same twisted sentiment in the willingness of millions upon millions of Europeans to lend de-facto aid and comfort to this monster? Of course, the claim was that most such people were neither pro-Saddam nor anti-American: all they wanted was to "give peace a chance." But this claim was belied by the slogans, the body language, the speeches, and the manifestos of the "peace" party. Though hatred of America may not have been universal among opponents of American military action, it was obviously very widespread and very deep. And though other considerations (pacifist sentiment, concern about civilian casualties, contempt for George Bush, faith in the UN, etc.) were at work, these factors had no trouble coexisting harmoniously with extreme hostility to the United States.

Thus, within two months of 9/11, a survey of influential people in 23 countries was undertaken by the Pew Research Center, the Princeton Survey Research Associates, and the International Herald Tribune. Here is how a British newspaper summarized the findings:

Did America somehow ask for the terrorist outrages in New York and Washington? . . . [M]ost people of influence in the rest of the world . . . believe that, to a certain extent, the U.S. was asking for it. . . . From its closest allies, in Europe, to the Middle East, Russia, and Asia, a uniform 70 percent said people considered it good that after September 11 Americans had realized what it was to be vulnerable.

It would therefore seem that the Italian playwright Dario Fo, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, was more representative of European opinion than he may at first have appeared when spewing out the following sentiment:

The great speculators wallow in an economy that every year kills tens of millions of people with poverty—so what is 20,000 [sic] dead in New York? Regardless of who carried out the massacre, this violence is the legitimate daughter of the culture of violence, hunger, and inhumane exploitation.

In France, a leading philosopher and social theorist, Jean Baudrillard, produced a somewhat different type of apologia for the terrorists of 9/11 and their ilk. This was so laden with postmodern jargon and so convoluted that it bordered on parody ("The collapse of the towers of the World Trade Center is unimaginable, but this does not suffice to make it a real event"). But Baudrillard’s piece did at least contain a revealing confession:

That we have dreamed of this event, that everyone without exception has dreamed of it, . . . is unacceptable for the Western moral conscience, but it is still a fact. . . . Ultimately, they [al Qaeda] did it, but we willed it.

Much the same idea, in even more straightforward terms, was espoused across the Channel by Mary Beard, a teacher of classics at my other alma mater, Cambridge University, who wrote: "[H]owever tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming. . . . World bullies . . . will in the end pay the price." With this the highly regarded novelist Martin Amis agreed. But Beard’s old-fashioned English plainness evidently being a little too plain for him, Amis resorted to a bit of fancy continental footwork in formulating his own endorsement of the idea that America had been asking for it:

Terrorism is political communication by other means. The message of September 11 ran as follows: America, it is time you learned how implacably you are hated. . . . Various national characteristics—self-reliance, a fiercer patriotism than any in Western Europe, an assiduous geographical incuriosity—have created a deficit of empathy for the sufferings of people far away.

What on earth was going on here? After 9/11, most Americans had gradually come to recognize that we were hated by the terrorists who had attacked us and their Muslim cheerleaders not for our failings and sins but precisely for our virtues as a free and prosperous country. But why should we be hated by hordes of people living in other free and prosperous countries? In their case, presumably, it must be for our sins. And yet most of us knew for certain that, whatever sins we might have committed, they were not the ones of which the Europeans kept accusing us.

To wit: far from being a nation of overbearing bullies, we were humbly begging for the support of tiny countries we could easily have pushed around. Far from being "unilateralists," we were busy soliciting the gratuitous permission and the dubious blessing of the Security Council before taking military action against Saddam Hussein. Far from "rushing into war," we were spending months dancing a diplomatic gavotte in the vain hope of enlisting the help of France, Germany, and Russia. And so on, and so on, down to the last detail in the catalogue.

What, then, was going on? An answer to this puzzling question that would eventually gain perhaps the widest circulation came from Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment. In a catchy formulation that soon became famous, Kagan proposed that Americans were from Mars and Europeans were from Venus. Expanding on this formulation, he wrote:

On the all-important question of power—the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power—American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s "Perpetual Peace." The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.

In developing his theory, Kagan got many things right and cast a salubrious light into many dark corners. But it also seemed to me that he was putting the shoes of his theory on the wrong feet. Although I fully accepted Kagan’s description of the divergent attitudes toward military power, I did not agree that the Europeans were already living in the future while the United States remained "mired" in the past. In my judgment, the opposite was closer to the truth.

The "post-historical paradise" into which the Europeans were supposedly moving struck me as nothing more than the web of international institutions that had been created at the end of World War II under the leadership of the United States in the hope that they would foster peace and prosperity. These included the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Court, and others. Then after 1947, and again under the leadership of the United States, adaptations were made to the already existing institutions and new ones like NATO were added to fit the needs of World War III. With the victorious conclusion of World War III in 1989-90, the old international order became obsolete, and new arrangements tailored to a new era would have to be forged. But more than a decade elapsed before 9/11 finally made the contours of the "post-cold-war era" clear enough for these new arrangements to begin being developed.

Looked at from this angle, the Bush Doctrine revealed itself as an extremely bold effort to break out of the institutional framework and the strategy constructed to fight the last war. But it was more: it also drew up a blueprint for a new structure and a new strategy to fight a different breed of enemy in a war that was just starting and that showed signs of stretching out into the future as far as the eye could see. Facing the realities of what now confronted us, Bush had come to the conclusion that few if any of the old instrumentalities were capable of defeating this new breed of enemy, and that the strategies of the past were equally helpless before this enemy’s way of waging war. To move into the future meant to substitute preemption for deterrence, and to rely on American military might rather than the "soft power" represented by the UN and the other relics of World War III. Indeed, not even the hard power of NATO—which had specifically been restricted by design to the European continent and whose deployment in other places could, and would be, obstructed by the French—was of much use in the world of the future.

Examined from this same angle, the European justifications for resisting the Bush Doctrine—the complaints about "unilateralism," trigger-happiness, and the rest—were unveiled as mere rationalizations. Here I went along with Kagan in tracing these rationalizations to a decline in the power of the Europeans. He put it very well:

World War II all but destroyed European nations as global powers. . . . For a half-century after World War II, however, this weakness was masked by the unique geopolitical circumstances of the cold war. Dwarfed by the two superpowers on its flanks, a weakened Europe nevertheless served as the central strategic theater of the worldwide struggle between Communism and democratic capitalism. . . . Although shorn of most traditional measures of great-power status, Europe remained the geopolitical pivot, and this, along with lingering habits of world leadership, allowed Europeans to retain international influence well beyond what their sheer military capabilities might have afforded. Europe lost this strategic centrality after the cold war ended, but it took a few more years for the lingering mirage of European global power to fade.

So far, so good. Where I parted company with Kagan’s analysis was over his acquiescence in the claim that the Europeans had in fact made the leap into the post-national, or postmodern, "Kantian paradise" of the future. To me it seemed clear that it was they, and not we Americans, who were "mired" in the past. They were fighting tooth and nail against the American effort to move into the future precisely because holding onto the ideas, the strategic habits, and the international institutions of the cold war would allow them to go on exerting "international influence well beyond what their sheer military capabilities might have afforded." It was George W. Bush—that "simplistic" moralizer and trigger-happy "cowboy," that flouter of inter national law and reckless unilateralist—who had possessed the wit to see the future and had summoned up the courage to cross over into it.

But Bush was also a politician, and as such he felt it necessary to make some accommodation to the pressures coming at him both at home and from abroad. What this required was an occasional return visit to the past. On such visits, as when he would seek endorsements from the UN Security Council, he showed a polite measure of deference to those, again both at home and abroad, who insisted on reading the Bush Doctrine not as a blueprint for the future but as a reckless repudiation of the approach favored by the allegedly more sophisticated Europeans and their American counterparts. In Kagan’s apt description of how the Europeans saw themselves:

Europeans insist they approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. They try to influence others through subtlety and indirection. . . . They generally favor peaceful responses to problems, preferring negotiation, diplomacy, and persuasion to coercion. They are quicker to appeal to international law, international conventions, and international opinion to adjudicate disputes. They try to use commercial and economic ties to bind nations together. They often emphasize process over result, believing that ultimately process can become substance.

None of this was new: the Europeans had made almost exactly the same claim of superior sophistication during the Reagan years. At that time—in 1983—it had elicited a definitive comment from Owen Harries (the former head of policy planning in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and himself a member of the realist school):

When one is exposed to this claim of superior realism and sophistication, one’s first inclination is to ask where exactly is the evidence for it. If one considers some of the salient episodes in the history of Europe in this century—the events leading up to 1914, the Versailles peace conference, Munich, the extent of the effort Europe has been prepared to make to secure its own defense since 1948, and the current attitude toward the defense of its vital interests in the Persian gulf—one is not irresistibly led to concede European superiority.

Two decades later, Harries as a realist would have his own grave reservations about the Bush Doctrine. But I had no hesitation in adding the "sophisticated" European opposition to it as the latest episode in the long string of disastrously mistaken judgments he had enumerated back in 1983.

Unrealistic Realists

The astonishing success of the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq made a hash of the skepticism of the many pundits who had been so sure that we had too few troops or were following the wrong battle plan. Instead of getting bogged down, as they had predicted, our forces raced through these two campaigns in record time; and instead of ten of thousands of body bags being flown home, the casualties were numbered in the hundreds. As the military historian Victor Davis Hanson summarized what had transpired in Iraq:

In a span of about three weeks, the United States military overran a country the size of California. It utterly obliterated Saddam Hussein’s military hardware . . . and tore apart his armies. Of the approximately 110 American deaths in the course of the hostilities, fully a fourth occurred as a result of accidents, friendly fire, or peacekeeping mishaps rather than at the hands of enemy soldiers. The extraordinarily low ratio of total American casualties per number of U.S. soldiers deployed . . . is almost unmatched in modern military history.

True, the aftermath of major military operations, especially in Iraq, turned out to be rougher than the Pentagon seems to have expected. Thanks to the guerrilla insurgency mounted by a coalition of intransigent Saddam loyalists, radical Shiite militias, and terrorists imported from Iran and Syria, American soldiers continued to be killed. Nevertheless, by any historical standard—the more than 6,500 who died on D-Day alone in World War II, to cite only one example—our total losses remained amazingly low.

But it was not military matters that aroused the equally sour skepticism of the realists. Their doubts centered, rather, on the issue of whether the Bush Doctrine was politically viable. Most of all, they questioned the idea that democratization represented the best and perhaps even the only way to defeat militant Islam and the terrorism it was using as its main weapon against us. Bush had placed his bet on a belief in the universality of the desire for freedom and the prosperity that freedom brought with it. But what if he was wrong? What if the Middle East was incapable of democratization? What if the peoples of that region did not wish to be as free and as prosperous as we were? And what if Islam as a religion was by its very nature incompatible with democracy?

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