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World War IV (Continued V) By: Norman Podhoretz
Commentary | Tuesday, August 17, 2004


These were hard questions about which reasonable men could and did differ. But those of us who backed Bush’s bet had our own set of doubts about the doubts of the realists. They seemed to forget that the Middle East of today had not been created by Allah in the 7th century, and that the miserable despotisms there had not evolved through some inexorable historical process powered entirely by internal cultural forces. Instead, the states in question had all been conjured into existence less than a hundred years ago out of the ruins of the defeated Ottoman empire in World War I. Their boundaries were drawn by the victorious British and French with the stroke of an often arbitrary pen, and their hapless peoples were handed over in due course to one tyrant after another.

Mindful of this history, we backers of the Bush Doctrine wondered why it should have been taken as axiomatic that these states would and/or should last forever in their present forms, and why the political configuration of the Middle East should be eternally immune from the democratizing forces that had been sweeping the rest of the world.

And we wondered, too, whether it could really be true that Muslims were so different from most of their fellow human beings that they liked being pushed around and repressed and beaten and killed by thugs—even if the thugs wore clerical garb or went around quoting from the Quran. We wondered whether Muslims really preferred being poor and hungry and ill-housed to enjoying the comforts and conveniences that we in the West took so totally for granted that we no longer remembered to be grateful for them. And we wondered why, if all this were the case, there had been so great an outburst of relief and happiness among the people of Kabul after we drove out their Taliban oppressors.

Yes, came the response, but what about the people of Iraq? Most supporters of the invasion—myself included—had predicted that we would be greeted there with flowers and cheers; yet our troops encountered car bombs and hatred. Nevertheless, and contrary to the impression created by the media, survey after survey demonstrated that the vast majority of Iraqis did welcome us, and were happy to be liberated from the murderous tyranny under which they had lived for so long under Saddam Hussein. The hatred and the car bombs came from the same breed of jihadists who had attacked us on 9/11, and who, unlike the skeptics in our own country, were afraid that we were actually succeeding in democratizing Iraq. Indeed, this was the very warning sent by the terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi to the remnants of al Qaeda still hunkered down in the caves of Afghanistan: "Democracy is coming, and there will be no excuse thereafter [for terrorism in Iraq]."

Speaking for many of his fellow realists, Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek disagreed with al Zarqawi that democracy was coming to Iraq and contended that it was premature to try establishing it there or anywhere else in the Middle East:

We do not seek democracy in the Middle East—at least not yet. We seek first what might be called the preconditions for democracy . . . the rule of law, individual rights, private property, independent courts, the separation of church and state. . . . We should not assume that what took hundreds of years in the West can happen overnight in the Middle East.

Now, those of us who believed in the Bush Doctrine saw nothing wrong with pursuing Zakaria’s agenda. But we rejected the charge—often made not only by realists like Zakaria but also by paleoconservatives like Buchanan—that our position was too "ideological" or naively "idealistic" or even "utopian." We agreed entirely with what the President had long since contended: that the realist alternative of settling for autocratic and despotic regimes in the Middle East had neither brought the regional stability it promised nor—as 9/11 horribly demonstrated—made us safe at home. Bush had also long since given his answer to the question posed by "some who call themselves realists" as to whether "the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours." It was, he affirmed in the strongest terms, a concern of ours precisely because democratization would make us more secure, and he accused the realists of having "lost contact with a fundamental reality" on this point. In this respect, I would argue, Bush was adopting a course akin to the one taken by the Marshall Plan, which had simultaneously served American interests and benefited others. Like the Marshall Plan, his new policy was a synthesis of realism and idealism: a case of doing well by doing good.

Those of us who supported the new policy also took issue with the view that democracy and capitalism could grow only in a soil that had been cultivated for centuries. We reminded the realists that in the aftermath of World War II, the United States managed within a single decade to transform both Nazi Germany and imperial Japan into capitalist democracies. And in the aftermath of the defeat of Communism in World War III, a similar process got under way on its own steam in Central and Eastern Europe, and even in the old heartland of the evil empire itself. Why not the Islamic world? The realist answer was that things were different there. To which our answer was that things were different everywhere, and a thousand reasons to expect the failure of any enterprise could always be conjured up to discourage making an ambitious effort.

To this, in turn, the counter frequently was that the Bush administration had wildly underestimated the special difficulties of democratizing Iraq and had correlatively misjudged the time so great a transformation would take, even assuming it to be possible at all. Yet talk about a "cakewalk" and the like mainly came from outside the administration; and in any event it had been applied to the future military campaign (which definitely did turn out to be a cakewalk), not to the ensuing reconstruction of Iraq. As to the latter, the administration kept repeating that we would stay in Iraq "for as long as it takes and not a day longer." How long would that be? For those who opposed the Bush Doctrine, a year (or even a month?) after the end of major combat operations was already much too much; for those of us who supported it, "as long as it takes and not a day longer" still seemed, given the stakes, the only satisfactory formula.

As with democratization, so with the reform and modernization of Islam. In considering this even more difficult question, we found ourselves asking whether Islam could really go on for all eternity resisting the kind of reformation and modernization that had begun within Christianity and Judaism in the early modern period. Not that we were so naive as to imagine that Islam could be reformed overnight, or from the outside. In its heyday, Islam was able to impose itself on large parts of the world by the sword; there was no chance today of an inverse instant transformation of Islam by the force of American arms.

There was, however, a very good chance that a clearing of the ground, and a sowing of the seeds out of which new political, economic, and social conditions could grow, would gradually give rise to correlative religious pressures from within. Such pressures would take the form of an ultimately irresistible demand on theologians and clerics to find warrants in the Quran and the sharia under which it would be possible to remain a good Muslim while enjoying the blessings of decent government, and even of political and economic liberty. In this way a course might finally be set toward the reform and modernization of the Islamic religion itself.

The Democrats of 2004

What I have been trying to say is that the obstacles to a benevolent transformation of the Middle East—whether military, political, or religious—are not insuperable. In the long run they can be overcome, and there can be no question that we possess the power and the means and the resources to work toward their overcoming. But do we have the skills and the stomach to do what will be required? Can we in our present condition play even so limited and so benign an imperial role as we did in occupying Germany and Japan after World War II?

Some of our critics on the European Right sneer at us not, as the Left does, for being imperialists but for being such clumsy ones—for lacking the political dexterity to oversee the emergence of successor governments more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place. I confess that I am prey to anxieties about our capabilities, and to others stemming from our character as a nation. And in thinking about our long record of inattention and passivity toward terrorism before 9/11, I fear a relapse into appeasement, diplomatic evasion, and ineffectual damage control.

Anxieties and fears like these were given a great boost by the attacks on the Bush Doctrine that became so poisonous in the 2004 presidential primary campaigns of the Democratic party. I have already told of my early apprehensions about the potential spread of the antiwar movement from the margins to the center, and my subsequent amazement in watching it go so far so fast. Whereas it took twelve years for the radicals I addressed in that drafty union hall in 1960 to capture the Democratic party behind George McGovern, their political and spiritual heirs of 2001 seemed to be pulling off the same trick in less than two. This time their leader of choice was the raucously antiwar Howard Dean. Though he eventually failed to win the nomination, his early successes frightened most of the relatively moderate candidates into a sharp leftward turn on Iraq, and drove out the few who supported the campaign there. As for John Kerry, in order to win the nomination, he had to disavow the vote he had cast authorizing the President to use force against Saddam Hussein.

To make matters worse, the campaign to discredit the action in Iraq moved from the hustings into the halls of Congress, where it wore the camouflage of a series of allegedly nonpartisan hearings. In these hearings, the most prominent of which was held by the Senate Intelligence Committee, high officials of the Bush administration were hectored by Democratic legislators (and even a few Republicans) in terms that often came close to sounding like the many articles and books in circulation that were accusing the President of having lied to us in going after Saddam Hussein. This was no slow process of trickle-down; this was an instantaneous inundation of the whole political landscape.

Among the lies through which Bush supposedly misled John Kerry and everyone else was that there might have been some connection between Saddam and al Qaeda. Now, even those of us who believed in such a connection were willing to admit that the evidence was not (yet) definitive; but this was a far cry from denying that there was any basis for it at all.10 So far a cry, that according to the reports that would be issued both by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission in the summer of 2004 (and contrary to how their conclusions would be interpreted in the media), al Qaeda did in fact have a cooperative, if informal, relationship with Iraqi agents working under Saddam.11

It was the same with another of the lies Bush allegedly told to justify the invasion of Iraq. In his State of the Union address of 2003, he said that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Then an obscure retired diplomat named Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had earlier been sent to Niger by the CIA to check out this claim, earned his 15 minutes of fame—not to mention a best-selling book—by loudly denouncing this assertion as a lie. But it would in due course be established that every one of the notorious "sixteen words" Bush had uttered was true. This was the consensus of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, two separate British investigations, and a variety of European intelligence agencies, including even the French.12 Not only that, but it turned out that Wilson’s own report to the CIA had tended to confirm the suspicion that Saddam had been shopping for uranium in Africa, and not, as he went around declaring, to debunk it.13 The liar here, then, was not Bush but Wilson.

But of course the biggest lie Bush was charged with telling was that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. On this issue, too, those of us who still suspected that the WMD remained hidden, or that they had been shipped to Syria, or both, were willing to admit that we might well be wrong. But how could Bush have been lying when every intelligence agency in every country in the world was convinced that Saddam maintained an arsenal of such weapons? And how could Bush have "hyped" or exaggerated the reports he was given by our own intelligence agencies when the director of the CIA himself described the case as a "slam dunk"?

To be sure, again according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the case, far from being a "slam dunk," actually rested on weak or faulty evidence. Yet the committee itself "did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence, or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities." The CIA, that is, did not tell the President what it thought he wanted to hear. It told him what it thought it knew; and what it told him, he had every reason to believe. 14

In the wake of the WMD issue, several others emerged that did even more to shake the confidence of some who had been enthusiastic supporters of the operation in Iraq. On top of the mounting number of American soldiers being killed as they were trying to bring security to Iraq, and on the heels of the horrendous episodes of the murder and desecration of the bodies of four American contractors in Falluja, came the revelation that Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib had been subjected to ugly mistreatment by their American captors.

Among supporters of the Bush Doctrine, these setbacks set off a great wave of defeatist gloom that was deepened by the nervous tactical shifts they produced in our military planners (such as the decision to hold back from cleaning out the terrorist militias hiding in and behind holy places in Falluja and Najaf). Even the formerly unshakable Fouad Ajami was shaken. In a piece entitled "Iraq May Survive, But the Dream is Dead," he wrote: "Let’s face it: Iraq is not going to be America’s showcase in the Arab-Muslim world."

That the antiwar party would batten on all this—and would continue ignoring the enormous progress we had made in the reconstruction of Iraqi society—was only to be expected. It was also only natural for the Democrats to take as much political advantage of the setbacks as they could. But it was not necessarily to be expected that the Democrats would seize just as eagerly as the radicals upon every piece of bad news as another weapon in the war against the war. Nor was it necessarily to be expected that mainstream Democratic politicians would go so far off the intellectual and moral rails as to compare the harassment and humiliation of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib—none of whom, so far as anyone then knew, was even maimed, let alone killed—to the horrendous torturing and murdering that had gone on in that same prison under Saddam Hussein or, even more outlandishly, to the Soviet gulag in which many millions of prisoners died.

Yet this was what Edward M. Kennedy did on the floor of the Senate, where he declared that the torture chamber of Saddam Hussein had been reopened "under new management—U.S. management," and this was what Al Gore did when he accused Bush of "establishing an American gulag." Joining with the politicians was the main financial backer of the Democratic party’s presidential campaign, George Soros, who actually said that Abu Ghraib was even worse than the attack of 9/11. On the platform with Soros when he made this morally disgusting statement was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who let it go by without a peep of protest.

Equally ignominious was the response of mainstream Democrats to the most effective demagogic exfoliation of the antiwar radicals, Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11. Shortly after 9/11—that is, long before the appearance of this movie but with many of its charges against Bush already on vivid display in Moore’s public statements about Afghanistan—one liberal commentator had described him as a "well-known crank, regarded with considerable distaste even on the Left." The same commentator (shades of how the "jackal bins" of yore were regarded) had also dismissed as "preposterous" the idea that Moore’s views "represent a significant body of antiwar opinion." Lending a measure of plausibility to this assessment was the fact that Moore elicited a few boos when, in accepting an Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine in 2003, he declared:

We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. . . . [W]e are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.

By 2004, however, when Fahrenheit 9/11 came out, things had changed. True, this movie—a compendium of every scurrility ever hurled at George W. Bush, and a few new ones besides, all gleefully stitched together in the best conspiratorial traditions of the "paranoid style in American politics"—did manage to embarrass even several liberal commentators. One of them described the film as a product of the "loony Left," and feared that its extremism might discredit the "legitimate" case against Bush and the war. Yet in an amazing reversal of the normal pattern in the distribution of prudence, such fears of extremism were more pronounced among liberal pundits than among mainstream Democratic politicians.

Thus, so many leading Democrats flocked to a screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 in Washington that (as the columnist Mark Steyn quipped) the business of Congress had to be put on hold; and when the screening was over, nary a dissonant boo disturbed the harmony of the ensuing ovation. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, pronounced the film "very powerful, much more powerful than I thought it would be." Then, when asked by CNN whether he thought "the movie was essentially fair and factually based," McAuliffe answered, "I do. . . . Clearly the movie makes it clear that George Bush is not fit to be President of this country." Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa seconded McAuliffe and urged all Americans to see the film: "It’s important for the American people to understand what has gone on before, what led us to this point, and to see it sort of in this unvarnished presentation by Michael Moore."

Possibly some of the other important Democrats who attended the screening—including Senators Tom Daschle, Max Baucus, Barbara Boxer, and Bill Nelson; Congressmen Charles Rangel, Henry Waxman, and Jim McDermott; and elders of the party like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Theodore Sorensen—disagreed with Harkin and McAuliffe. But if so, they remained remarkably quiet about it.

As for John Kerry himself, he did not take time out to see Fahrenheit 9/11, explaining that there was no need since he had "lived it."

2004 and 1952

Returning now to the gloom that afflicted supporters of the Bush Doctrine in the spring of 2004: one of the reasons Fouad Ajami gave for it was that "our enemies have taken our measure; they have taken stock of our national discord over the war." Emboldened by our restraint in Falluja and elsewhere within Iraq, as well as by our concomitant willingness to bring the UN back into the political picture, our enemies had begun to breathe easier—and not only in Iraq:

Once the administration talked of a "Greater Middle East" where the "deficits" of freedom, knowledge, and women’s empowerment would be tackled, where our power would be used to erode the entrenched despotisms in the Arab-Muslim world.

But now, Ajami lamented, it had become clear that "we shall not chase the Syrian dictator to a spider hole, nor will we sack the Iranian theocracy." There were even indications that, abandoning the dream of democracy altogether, we might settle for the rule of a "strong man" in Iraq.

But how accurate was the measure our enemies had taken of us? Was it possible that their gauge was being thrown off by the overheated atmosphere of a more than usually bitter presidential campaign, and by the caution George Bush felt it necessary to adopt in seeking reelection?

This seemed to me then, and it still seems to me now, the most decisive question of all. I therefore want to conclude by examining it, and I want to do so by returning to the analogy I drew earlier between the start of World War III in 1947 and the start of World War IV in 2001.

When the Truman Doctrine was enunciated in 1947, it was attacked from several different directions. On the Right, there were the isolationists who—after being sidelined by World War II—had made something of a comeback in the Republican party under the leadership of Senator Robert Taft. Their complaint was that Truman had committed the United States to endless interventions that had no clear bearing on our national interest. But there was also another faction on the Right that denounced containment not as recklessly ambitious but as too timid. This group was still small, but within the next few years it would find spokesmen in Republican political figures like Richard Nixon and John Foster Dulles and conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley, Jr. and James Burnham.

At the other end of the political spectrum, there were the Communists and their "liberal" fellow travelers who—strengthened by our alliance with the Soviet Union in World War II—had emerged as a relatively sizable group and would soon form a new political party behind Henry Wallace. In their view, the Soviets had more cause to defend themselves against us than we had to defend ourselves against them, and it was Truman, not Stalin, who posed the greater danger to "free peoples everywhere." But criticism also came from the political center, as represented by Walter Lippmann, the most influential and most prestigious commentator of the period. Lippmann argued that Truman had sounded "the tocsin of an ideological crusade" that was nothing less than messianic in its scope.

In the election of 1948, Truman had the seemingly impossible task of confronting all three of these challenges (and a few others as well). When, against what every poll had predicted, he succeeded in warding them off, he could reasonably claim a mandate for his foreign policy. And so it came about that, under the aegis of the Truman Doctrine, American troops were sent off in 1950 to fight in Korea. "What a nation can do or must do," Truman would later write, "begins with the willingness and the ability of its people to shoulder the burden," and Truman was rightly confident that the American people were willing to shoulder the burden of Korea.

Even so, enough bitter opposition remained within and around the Republican party to leave it uncertain as to whether containment was an American policy or only the policy of the Democrats. This uncertainty was exacerbated by the presidential election of 1952, when the Republicans behind Dwight D. Eisenhower ran against Truman’s hand-picked successor Adlai Stevenson in a campaign featuring strident attacks on the Truman Doctrine by Eisenhower’s running mate Richard Nixon and his future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Nixon, for example, mocked Stevenson as a graduate of the "Cowardly College of Communist Containment" run by Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson, while Dulles repeatedly called for ditching containment in favor of a policy of "rollback" and "liberation." And both Nixon and Dulles strongly signaled their endorsement of General Douglas MacArthur’s insistence that Truman was wrong to settle for holding the line in Korea instead of going all the way—or, as MacArthur had famously put it, "There is no substitute for victory."

Yet when Eisenhower came into office, he hardly touched a hair on the head of the Truman Doctrine. Far from adopting a bolder and more aggressive strategy, the new President ended the Korean war on the basis of the status quo ante—in other words, precisely on the terms of containment. Even more telling was Eisenhower’s refusal three years later to intervene when the Hungarians, apparently encouraged by the rhetoric of liberation still being employed in the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe, rose up in revolt against their Soviet masters. For better or worse, this finally dispelled any lingering doubt as to whether containment was the policy just of the Democratic party. With full bipartisan support behind it, the Truman Doctrine had become the official policy of the United States of America.

The analogy is obviously not perfect, but the resemblances between the political battles of 1952 and those of 2004 are striking enough to help us in thinking about what a few moments ago I called the most decisive of all the questions now facing the United States. To frame the question in slightly different terms from the ones I originally used: what will happen if the Democrats behind John Kerry defeat George W. Bush in November? Will they follow through on their violent denunciations of Bush’s policy, or will they, like the Republicans of 1952 with respect to Korea, quietly forget their campaign promises of reliance on the UN and the Europeans, and continue on much the same course as Bush has followed in Iraq? And looking beyond Iraq itself, will they do unto the Bush Doctrine as the Republicans of 1952 did unto the Truman Doctrine? Will they treat Iraq as only one battle in the larger war—World War IV—into which 9/11 plunged us? Will they resolve to go on fighting that war with the strategy adumbrated by the Bush Doctrine, and for as long as it may take to win it?

From the way the Democrats have been acting and speaking, I fear that the answer is no. Nor was I reassured by the flamboyant display of hawkishness they put on at their national convention in July. Yet as a passionate supporter of the Bush Doctrine I pray that I am wrong about this. If John Kerry should become our next President, and he may, it would be a great calamity if he were to abandon the Bush Doctrine in favor of the law-enforcement approach through which we dealt so ineffectually with terrorism before 9/11, while leaving the rest to those weakest of reeds, the UN and the Europeans. No matter how he might dress up such a shift, it would—rightly—be interpreted by our enemies as a craven retreat, and dire consequences would ensue. Once again the despotisms of the Middle East would feel free to offer sanctuary and launching pads to Islamic terrorists; once again these terrorists would have the confidence to attack us—and this time on an infinitely greater scale than before.

If, however, the victorious Democrats were quietly to recognize that our salvation will come neither from the Europeans nor from the UN, and if they were to accept that the Bush Doctrine represents the only adequate response to the great threat that was literally brought home to us on 9/11, then our enemies would no longer be emboldened—certainly not to the extent they have recently been—by "our national discord over the war."

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