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


In World War III, despite the bipartisan consensus that became apparent after 1952 (and contrary to the roseate reminiscences of how it was then), plenty of "discord" remained, and there were plenty of missteps—most notably involving Vietnam—along the way to victory. There were also moments when it looked as though we were losing, and when our enemies seemed so strong that the best we could do was in effect to sue for a negotiated peace.

Now, with World War IV barely begun, a similar dynamic is already at work. 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 us the reward of victory was the elimination of a military, political, and ideological threat. To the people living both within the Soviet Union itself and in its East European empire, it brought liberation from a totalitarian tyranny. Admittedly, liberation did not mean that everything immediately came up roses, but it would be foolish to contend that nothing changed for the better when Communism landed on the very ash heap of history that Marx had predicted would be the final resting place of capitalism.

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. But 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. As we can already see from Afghanistan and Iraq, liberation will no more result in the overnight establishment of ideal conditions in the Middle East than it has done in East Europe. But as we can also see from Afghanistan and Iraq, better things will immediately happen, and a genuine opportunity will be opened up for even better things to come.

 

The memory of how it was toward the end of World War III suggests another intriguing parallel with how it is now in the early days of World War IV. We have learned from the testimony of former officials of the Soviet Union that, unlike the elites here, who heaped scorn on Ronald Reagan’s idea that a viable system of missile defense could be built, the Russians (including their best scientists) had no doubt that the United States could and would succeed in creating such a system and that this would do them in. Today the same kind of scorn is heaped by the same kind of people on George W. Bush’s idea that the Middle East can be democratized, while our enemies in the region—like the Russians with respect to "Star Wars"—believe that we are actually succeeding.

 

One indication is the warning to this effect issued by al Zarqawi to al Qaeda, from which I have already quoted. But his letter is not the only sign that the secular despots and the Islamofascists in the Middle East are deeply worried over what the Bush Doctrine holds in store for them. There is Libya’s Qaddafi, who has admitted that it was his anxiety about "being next" that induced him to give up his nuclear program. And there are the Syrians and the Iranians. Of course they keep making defiant noises and they keep trying to create as much trouble for us as possible, but with all due respect to the disappointed expectations of Fouad Ajami, I have to ask: why would they be sending jihadists and weapons into Iraq if not in a desperate last-ditch campaign to derail a process whose prospects are in their judgment only too fair and whose repercussions they fear are only too likely to send them flying?

 

This fear may, as Ajami says, have been tempered by our response to the troubles they themselves have been causing us. But it cannot have been altogether assuaged, since it is solidly grounded in the new geostrategic realities in their region that have been created under the aegis of the Bush Doctrine. Professor Haim Harari, a former president of the Weizmann Institute, describes these realities succinctly:

 

Now that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are out, two-and-a-half terrorist states remain: Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, the latter being a Syrian colony. . . . As a result of the conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq, both Iran and Syria are now totally surrounded by territories unfriendly to them. Iran is encircled by Afghanistan, by the Gulf States, Iraq, and the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. Syria is surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel. This is a significant strategic change and it applies strong pressure on the terrorist countries. It is not surprising that Iran is so active in trying to incite a Shiite uprising in Iraq. I do not know if the American plan was actually to encircle both Iran and Syria, but that is the resulting situation.

 

Finally, there is the effect the Bush Doctrine has had on the forces pushing for liberalization throughout the Middle East. When Ronald Reagan used the word "evil" in speaking of the Soviet Union, and even confidently predicted its demise, he gave new hope to democratic dissidents in and out of the gulag. Back then, very much like Ajami on Bush, some of us fell into near despair when Reagan failed to act in full accordance with his own convictions. When, for example, he responded tepidly to the great Polish crisis of 1982 that culminated in the imposition of martial law, the columnist George F. Will, one of his staunchest supporters, angrily declared that the administration headed by Reagan "loved commerce more than it loathed Communism," and I wrote an article expressing "anguish" over his foreign policy. Yet even though (once more like Ajami today) our criticisms were mostly right in detail, we were proved wondrously wrong about the eventual outcome. It was different with the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. They knew better than to get stuck on tactical details, and they never once lost heart.

 

So it has been with the Bush Doctrine. Bush has made reform and democratization the talk of the entire Middle East. Where before there was only silence, now there are countless articles and speeches and conferences, and even sermons, dedicated to the cause of political and religious liberalization and exploring ways to bring it about. Like the dissidents behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980’s, the democratizers in the Middle East today evidently remain undiscouraged. Falluja and the rest notwithstanding, there has been, if anything, a steady increase in the volume and range of the reformist talk that was and continues to be inspired by the Bush Doctrine. 15

 

I do not wish to exaggerate. Except in Iran, and perhaps also one or two other non-Arab Muslim states, the democratizers are still a relatively small group, and as yet their ranks seem to contain no one comparable in intellectual stature or moral and political influence to Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn or Sharansky. But the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, Barry Rubin, who has generally been very skeptical about the chances for democratization in the region, offers a cautious assessment that seems reasonable to me:

 

Democracy and reform are on the Arab world’s agenda. It will be a long, uphill fight to bring change to those countries, but at least a process has begun. Liberals remain few and weak; the dictatorships are strong and the Islamist threat will discourage openness or innovation. Still, at least there are more people trying to move things in the right direction.

 

To which I (though not Rubin) would add, thanks to George W. Bush.

 

Then there is Gaza, where at least some elements of the fabled Palestinian street have for the very first time exploded with denunciations not of Israel or the United States, but of Yasir Arafat’s tyrannical and corrupt rule. For the first time, too, we find articles in the Arab press calling for Arafat’s removal—in favor not of the Islamist alternative represented by Hamas but of a different kind of leadership.

 

Here, for example, is the Jordan Times:

 

The rapid deterioration of the domestic political order in Gaza mirrors similar dilemmas that plague most of the Arab world, revolving around the tendency of small power elites or single men to monopolize political and economic power in their hands via their direct, personal control of domestic security and police systems. Gaza is yet another warning about the failure of the modern Arab security state and the need for a better brand of statehood based on law-based citizen rights rather than gun-based regime protection and perpetual incumbency.

 

And here is the Arab Times of Kuwait:

 

Arafat should quit his position because he is the head of a corrupt authority. Arafat has destroyed Palestine. He has led it to terrorism, death, and a hopeless situation.

 

And there is this, from the Gulf News in Dubai:

 

Palestinians are saying their president for life— Arafat—is the problem along with his cronies who rule them, rob them, and impoverish them. Arabs have a responsibility here too. They can say "Israel" until they are all blue in the face, but it does not change the fact that a large part of the fault lies with the Palestinians and the Arabs.

 

According to a Palestinian legislator quoted by the Washington Post, "what is happening in the streets of Gaza has [nothing] to do with reform. It’s a simple power struggle." By contrast, the Iranian-born commentator Amir Taheri sees it as a new kind of "intifada aimed at bringing down yet another Arab tyranny." Chances are that there is some truth in both of these opposing judgments, and in any event it is still too early to tell how the turmoil in Gaza will play itself out. But it is surely not too early to say that there would have been no uprising against Arafat, and much less talk about reform, if not for George W. Bush’s policies combined with his courageous willingness to back those of Ariel Sharon.

 

History’s Call

 

In his first State of the Union address, President Bush affirmed that history had called America to action, and that it was both "our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight"—a fight he also characterized as "a unique opportunity for us to seize." Only last May, he reminded us that "We did not seek this war on terror," but, having been sought out by it, we responded, and now we were trying to meet the "great demands" that "history has placed on our country."

 

In this language, and especially in the repeated references to history, we can hear an echo of the concluding paragraphs of George F. Kennan’s "X" essay, written at the outbreak of World War III:

 

The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.

 

Kennan then went on to his peroration:

 

In the light of these circumstances, the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will experience a certain gratitude for a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history plainly intended them to bear.

 

Substitute "Islamic terrorism" for "Russian-American relations," and every other word of this magnificent statement applies to us as a nation today. In 1947, we accepted the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history "plainly intended" us to bear, and for the next 42 years we acted on them. We may not always have acted on them wisely or well, and we often did so only after much kicking and screaming. But act on them we did. We thereby ensured our own "preservation as a great nation," while also bringing a better life to millions upon millions of people in a major region of the world.

 

Now "our entire security as a nation"—including, to a greater extent than in 1947, our physical security—once more depends on whether we are ready and willing to accept and act upon the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history has yet again so squarely placed upon our shoulders. Are we ready? Are we willing? I think we are, but the jury is still out, and will not return a final verdict until well after the election of 2004.

August 2, 2004

 

*

 

NORMAN PODHORETZ, editor-at-large of COMMENTARY, is the author of ten books. The most recent of them, The Norman Podhoretz Reader, a selection of his writings from the 1950’s through the 1990’s edited by Thomas L. Jeffers, was brought out earlier this year (Free Press). In June, Mr. Podhoretz was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

 

1 "How to Win World War IV" (February 2002), "The Return of the Jackal Bins" (April 2002), and "In Praise of the Bush Doctrine" (September 2002). A fourth piece I used was "Israel Isn’t the Issue" (Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2001).

 

2 He did, however, seem to have committed a sin of omission. Richard Lowry, the editor of National Review, reports that according to John Lehman, one of the Republican commissioners, "Clarke’s original testimony included ‘a searing indictment of some Clinton officials and Clinton policies.’ That was the Clarke, evenhanded in his criticisms of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, whom Lehman and other Republican commissioners expected to show up at the public hearings. It was a surprise ‘that he would come out against Bush that way.’ Republicans were taken aback: ‘It caught us flat-footed, but not the Democrats.’" In a different though related context, the commission quotes material written by Clarke while he was still in office that is inconsistent with his more recent, much-publicized denial of any relationship whatsoever between Iraq and al Qaeda.

 

3 Hill was referring here to the hearings of the 9/11 commission, not its final report, which did not single out the Bush administration for criticism on this score.

 

4 The analysis offered by Kennan in "The Sources of Soviet Conduct"—as against his own later revisionist interpretation of it—turned out to be right in almost every important detail, except for the timing. He thought it would take only fifteen years for the strategy to succeed in causing the "implosion" of the Soviet empire.

 

5 In expressing his determination to win the war, however, Bush was mainly reaching back to the language of Winston Churchill, who vowed as World War II was getting under way in 1940: "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end."

 

6 It is worth noting that Churchill, who had been the target of many derogatory epithets in his long career but who was never regarded even by his worst enemies as "simple-minded," had no hesitation in attaching a phrase like "monster of wickedness" to Hitler. Nor did the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, whose mind was, if anything, overcomplicated rather than too simple, have any problem in her masterpiece, The Origins of Totalitarianism, with calling both Nazism and Communism "absolute evil."

 

7 Fukuyama did not return the compliment. While not exactly rejecting the Bush Doctrine, he would later criticize it and call for a "recalibration." He would do this more in sorrow than in anger, but still in terms that were otherwise not always easy to distinguish from those of what I characterize below as the respectable opposition.

 

8 As John Podhoretz would later write: "Those who supported the war, in overwhelming numbers, believed there were multiple justifications for it. Those who opposed and oppose it, in equally overwhelming numbers, weren’t swayed by the WMD arguments. Indeed, many of them had no difficulty opposing the war while believing that Saddam possessed vast quantities of such weapons. Take Sen. Edward Kennedy. ‘We have known for many years,’ he said in September 2002, ‘that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.’ And yet only a few weeks later he was one of 23 senators who voted against authorizing the Iraq war. Take French President Jacques Chirac, who believed Saddam had WMD and still did everything in his power to block the war. So whether policymakers supported or opposed the war effort was not determined by their conviction about the presence of weapons of mass destruction."

 

9 The classic expression of this fantasy was, of course, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document that had been forged by the Czarist secret police in the late 19th century but that had more recently been resurrected and distributed by the millions throughout the Arab-Muslim world, and beyond. It would also form the basis of a dramatic television series produced in Egypt.

 

10 Stephen F. Hayes has done especially good work on this issue, both in a series of articles in the Weekly Standard and in his book The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America.

 

11 Additional corroboration of "meetings . . . between senior Iraqi representatives and senior al Qaeda operatives" would come from a comparable British investigation conducted by Lord Butler, whose report would be released around the same time as the Senate Intelligence Committee.

 

12 From the Butler Report: "We conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that ‘The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa’ was well-founded."

 

13 From the Senate Intelligence Committee Report: "He [the CIA reports officer] said he judged that the most important fact in the report [by Wilson] was that Nigerian officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerian prime minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting."

 

14 Going even further than the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Butler Report concluded: "We believe that it would be a rash person who asserted at this stage that evidence of Iraqi possession of stocks of biological or chemical agents, or even of banned missiles, does not exist or will never be found."

 

15 A representative sample can be found on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute (http://www.memri.org/reform.html).




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