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


Possibly the most dire consequences [of attacking Saddam] would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Showing little regard for the American "obsession," Scowcroft was very solicitous of the regional one:

If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict . . . in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest.

This, added Scowcroft, "could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region," than which, to a quintessential realist like him, nothing could be worse.

In coming out publicly, and in these terms, against the second President Bush’s policy, Scowcroft underscored the extent to which the son had diverged from the father’s perspective. In addition, by lending greater credence to the already credible rumor that the elder Bush opposed invading Iraq, Scowcroft’s article belied what would soon become one of the favorite theories of the hard Left—namely, that the son had gone to war in order to avenge the attempted assassination of his father.

On the other hand, by implicitly assenting to the notion that toppling Saddam was merely "a narrow American interest," Scowcroft gave a certain measure of aid and comfort to the hard Left and its fellow travelers within the liberal community. For from these circles the cry had been going out that it was the corporations, especially Halliburton (which Vice President Dick Cheney had formerly headed) and the oil companies that were dragging us into an unnecessary war.

So, too, with Scowcroft’s emphasis on resolving "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"—a standard euphemism for putting pressure on Israel, whose "intransigence" was taken to be the major obstacle to peace. By strongly insinuating that the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was a greater threat to us than Saddam Hussein, Scowcroft provided a respectable rationale for the hostility toward Israel that had come shamelessly out of the closet within hours of the attacks of 9/11 and that had been growing more and more overt, more and more virulent, and more and more widespread ever since. To the "paleoconservative" Right, where the charge first surfaced, it was less the oil companies than Israel that was mainly dragging us into invading Iraq. Before long, the Left would add the same accusation to its own indictment, and in due course it would be imprinted more and more openly on large swatches of mainstream opinion.

A cognate count in this indictment held that the invasion of Iraq had been secretly engineered by a cabal of Jewish officials acting not in the interest of their own country but in the service of Israel, and more particularly of Ariel Sharon. At first the framers and early spreaders of this defamatory charge considered it the better part of prudence to identify the conspirators not as Jews but as "neoconservatives." It was a clever tactic, in that Jews did in fact constitute a large proportion of the repentant liberals and leftists who, having some two or three decades earlier broken ranks with the Left and moved rightward, came to be identified as neoconservatives. Everyone in the know knew this, and for those to whom it was news, the point could easily be gotten across by singling out only those neoconservatives who had Jewish-sounding names and to ignore the many other leading members of the group whose clearly non-Jewish names might confuse the picture.

This tactic had been given a trial run by Patrick J. Buchanan in opposing the first Gulf war of 1991. Buchanan had then already denounced the Johnny-come-lately neoconservatives for having hijacked and corrupted the conservative movement, but now he descended deeper into the fever swamps by insisting that there were "only two groups beating the drums . . . for war in the Middle East—the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States." Among those standing in the "amen corner" he subsequently singled out four prominent hawks with Jewish-sounding names, counterposing them to "kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales, and Leroy Brown" who would actually do the fighting if these Jews had their way.

Ten years later, in 2001, in the writings of Buchanan and other paleoconservatives within the journalistic fraternity (notably Robert Novak, Arnaud de Borchgrave, and Paul Craig Roberts), one of the four hawks of 1991, Richard Perle, made a return appearance. But Perle was now joined in starring roles by Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, both occupying high positions in the Pentagon, and a large supporting cast of identifiably Jewish intellectuals and commentators outside the government (among them Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, and Robert Kagan). Like their predecessors in 1991, the members of the new ensemble were portrayed as agents of their bellicose counterparts in the Israeli government. But there was also a difference: the new group had managed to infiltrate the upper reaches of the American government. Having pulled this off, they had conspired to manipulate their non-Jewish bosses—Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush himself—into invading Iraq.

Before long, this theory was picked up and circulated by just about everyone in the whole world who was intent on discrediting the Bush Doctrine. And understandably so: for what could suit their purposes better than to "expose" the invasion of Iraq—and by extension the whole of World War IV—as a war started by Jews and being waged solely in the interest of Israel?

To protect themselves against the taint of anti-Semitism, purveyors of this theory sometimes disingenuously continued to pretend that when they said "neoconservative" they did not mean "Jew." Yet the theory inescapably rested on all-too-familiar anti-Semitic canards—principally that Jews were never reliably loyal to the country in which they lived, and that they were always conspiring behind the scenes, often successfully, to manipulate the world for their own nefarious purposes. 9

Quite apart from its pernicious moral and political implications, the theory was ridiculous in its own right. To begin with, it asked one to believe the unbelievable: that strong-minded people like Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice could be fooled by a bunch of cunning subordinates, whether Jewish or not, into doing anything at all against their better judgment, let alone something so momentous as waging a war, let alone a war in which they could detect no clear relation to American interests.

In the second place, there was the evidence uncovered by the purveyors of this theory themselves. That evidence, to which they triumphantly pointed, consisted of published articles and statements in which the alleged conspirators openly and unambiguously advocated the very policies they now stood accused of having secretly foisted upon an unwary Bush administration. Nor had these allegedly secret conspirators ever concealed their belief that toppling Saddam Hussein and adopting a policy aimed at the democratization of the entire Middle East would be good not only for the United States and for the people of the region but also for Israel. (And what, an uncharacteristically puzzled Richard Perle asked a hostile interviewer, was wrong with that?)

Which brings us to the fourth pillar on which the Bush Doctrine was erected.

The Fourth Pillar

Listening to the laments of Scowcroft and many others, one would think that George W. Bush had been ignoring "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" altogether in his misplaced "obsession" with Iraq. In fact, however, even before 9/11 it had been widely and authoritatively reported that Bush was planning to come out publicly in favor of establishing a Palestinian state as the only path to a peaceful resolution of the conflict; and in October, after a short delay caused by 9/11, he became the first American President actually to do so. Yet at some point in the evolution of his thinking over the months that followed, Bush seems to have realized that there was something bizarre about supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state that would be run by a terrorist like Yasir Arafat and his henchmen. Why should the United States acquiesce, let alone help, in adding yet another state to those harboring and sponsoring terrorism precisely at a time when we were at war to rid the world of just such regimes?

Presumably it was under the prodding of this question that Bush came up with an idea even more novel in its way than the new conception of terrorism he had developed after 9/11. This idea was broached only three weeks after his speech at West Point, on June 24, 2002, when he issued a statement adding conditions to his endorsement of a Palestinian state:

Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging, not opposing terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

But engaging in such a fight, he added, required the election of "new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," who would embark on building "entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics, and action against terrorism."

It was with these words that Bush brought his "vision" (as he kept calling it) of a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel into line with his overall perspective on the evil of terrorism. And having traveled that far, he went the distance by repositioning the Palestinian issue into the larger context from which Arab propaganda had ripped it. Since this move passed almost unnoticed, it is worth dwelling on why it was so important.

Even before Israel was born in 1948, the Muslim countries of the Middle East had been fighting against the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state—any Jewish state—on land they believed Allah had reserved for those faithful to his prophet Muhammad. Hence the Arab-Israeli conflict had pitted hundreds of millions of Arabs and other Muslims, in control of more than two dozen countries and vast stretches of territory, against a handful of Jews who then numbered well under three-quarters of a million and who lived on a tiny sliver of land the size of New Jersey. But then came the Six-Day war of 1967. Launched in an effort to wipe Israel off the map, it ended instead with Israel in control of the West Bank (formerly occupied by Jordan) and Gaza (which had been controlled by Egypt). This humiliating defeat, however, was eventually turned into a rhetorical and political victory by Arab propagandists, who redefined the ongoing war of the whole Muslim world against the Jewish state as, instead, a struggle merely between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Thus was Israel’s image transformed from a David to a Goliath, a move that succeeded in alienating much of the old sympathy previously enjoyed by the outnumbered and besieged Jewish state.

Bush now reversed this reversal. Not only did he reconstruct a truthful framework by telling the Palestinian people that they had been treated for decades "as pawns in the Middle East conflict." He also insisted on being open and forthright about the nations that belonged in this larger picture and about what they had been up to:

I’ve said in the past that nations are either with us or against us in the war on terror. To be counted on the side of peace, nations must act. Every leader actually committed to peace will end incitement to violence in official media and publicly denounce homicide bombs. Every nation actually committed to peace will stop the flow of money, equipment, and recruits to terrorist groups seeking the destruction of Israel, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah. Every nation committed to peace must block the shipment of Iranian supplies to these groups and oppose regimes that promote terror, like Iraq. And Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations.

Here, then, Bush rebuilt the context in which to understand the Middle East conflict. In the months ahead, pressured by his main European ally, the British prime minister Tony Blair, and by his own Secretary of State, Colin Powell, Bush would sometimes seem to backslide into the old way of thinking. But he would invariably recover. Nor would he ever lose sight of the "vision" by which he was guided on this issue, and through which he had simultaneously made a strong start in fitting not the Palestinian Authority alone but the entire Muslim world, "friends" no less than enemies, into his conception of the war against terrorism.

With the inconsistency thus removed and the resultant shakiness repaired by the addition of this fourth pillar to undergird it, the Bush Doctrine was now firm, coherent, and complete.

Saluting the Flag Again

Both as a theoretical construct and as a guide to policy, the new Bush Doctrine could not have been further from the "Vietnam syndrome"—that loss of self-confidence and concomitant spread of neoisolationist and pacifist sentiment throughout the American body politic, and most prominently in the elite institutions of American culture, which began during the last years of the Vietnam war. I have already pointed to a likeness between the Truman Doctrine’s declaration that World War III had started and the Bush Doctrine’s equally portentous declaration that 9/11 had plunged us into World War IV. But fully to measure the distance traveled by the Bush Doctrine, I want to look now at yet another presidential doctrine—the one developed by Richard Nixon in the late 1960’s precisely in response to the Vietnam syndrome.

Contrary to legend, our military intervention into Vietnam under John F. Kennedy in the early 1960’s had been backed by every sector of mainstream opinion, with the elite media and the professoriate leading the cheers. At the beginning, indeed, the only criticism from the mainstream concerned tactical issues. Toward the middle, however, and with Lyndon B. Johnson having succeeded Kennedy in the White House, doubts began to arise concerning the political wisdom of the intervention, and by the time Nixon had replaced Johnson, the moral character of the United States was being indicted and besmirched. Large numbers of Americans, including even many of the people who had led the intervention in the Kennedy years, were now joining the tiny minority on the Left who at the time had denounced them for stupidity and immorality, and were now saying that going into Vietnam had progressed from a folly into a crime.

To this new political reality the Nixon Doctrine was a reluctant accommodation. As getting into Vietnam under Kennedy and Johnson had worked to undermine support for the old strategy of containment, Nixon—along with his chief adviser in foreign affairs, Henry Kissinger—thought that our way of getting out of Vietnam could conversely work to create the new strategy that had become necessary.

First, American forces would be withdrawn from Vietnam gradually, while the South Vietnamese built up enough power to assume responsibility for the defense of their own country. The American role would then be limited to providing arms and equipment. The same policy, suitably modified according to local circumstances, would be applied to the rest of the world as well. In every major region, the United States would now depend on local surrogates rather than on its own military to deter or contain any Soviet-sponsored aggression, or any other potentially destabilizing occurrence. We would supply arms and other forms of assistance, but henceforth the deterring and the fighting would be left to others.

On every point, the new Bush Doctrine contrasted sharply with the old Nixon Doctrine. Instead of withdrawal and fallback, Bush proposed a highly ambitious forward strategy of intervention. Instead of relying on local surrogates, Bush proposed an active deployment of our own military power. Instead of deterrence and containment, Bush proposed preemption and "taking the fight to the enemy." And instead of worrying about the stability of the region in question, Bush proposed to destabilize it through "regime change."

The Nixon Doctrine had obviously harmonized with the Vietnam syndrome. What about the Bush Doctrine? Was the political and military strategy it put forward comparably in tune with the post-9/11 public mood?

Certainly this is how it seemed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks: so much so that a group of younger commentators were quick to proclaim the birth of an entirely new era in American history. What December 7, 1941 had done to the old isolationism, they announced, September 11, 2001 had done to the Vietnam syndrome. It was politically dead, and the cultural fallout of that war—all the damaging changes wrought by the 1960’s and the 1970’s—would now follow it into the grave.

The most obvious sign of the new era was that once again we were saluting our now ubiquitously displayed flag. This was the very flag that, not so long ago, leftist radicals had thought fit only for burning. Yet now, even on the old flag-burning Left, a few prominent personalities were painfully wrenching their unaccustomed arms into something vaguely resembling a salute.

It was a scene reminiscent of the response of some Communists to the suppression by the new Soviet regime of the sailors’ revolt that erupted in Kronstadt in the early 1920’s. Far more murderous horrors would pour out of the malignant recesses of Stalinist rule, but as the first in that long series of atrocities leading to disillusionment with the Soviet Union, Kronstadt became the portent of them all. In its way, 9/11 served as an inverse Kronstadt for a number of radical leftists of today. What it did was raise questions about what one of them was now honest enough to describe as their inveterately "negative faith in America the ugly."

September 11 also brought to mind a poem by W.H. Auden written upon the outbreak of World War II and entitled "September 1, 1939." Although it contained hostile sentiments about America, remnants of Auden’s own Communist period, the opening lines seemed so evocative of September 11, 2001 that they were often quoted in the early days of this new war:

I sit in one of the dives
On
Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.

Auden’s low dishonest decade was the 1930’s, and its clever hopes centered on the construction of a workers’ paradise in the Soviet Union. Our counterpart was the 1960’s, and its less clever hopes centered not on construction, however illusory, but on destruction—the destruction of the institutions that made up the American way of life. For America was conceived in that period as the great obstacle to any improvement in the lot of the wretched of the earth, not least those within its own borders.

As a "founding father" of neoconservatism who had broken ranks with the Left precisely because I was repelled by its "negative faith in America the ugly," I naturally welcomed this new patriotic mood with open arms. In the years since making that break, I had been growing more and more impressed with the virtues of American society. I now saw that America was a country in which more liberty and more prosperity abounded than human beings had ever enjoyed in any other country or any other time. I now recognized that these blessings were also more widely shared than even the most visionary utopians had ever imagined possible. And I now understood that this was an immense achievement, entitling the United States of America to an honored place on the roster of the greatest civilizations the world had ever known.

The new patriotic mood therefore seemed to me a sign of greater intellectual sanity and moral health, and I fervently hoped that it would last. But I could not fully share the confidence of some of my younger political friends that the change was permanent—that, as they exulted, nothing in American politics and American culture would ever be the same again. As a veteran of the political and cultural wars of the 1960’s, I knew from my own scars how ephemeral such a mood might well turn out to be, and how vulnerable it was to seemingly insignificant forces.

In this connection, I was haunted by one memory in particular. It was of an evening in the year 1960, when I went to address a meeting of left-wing radicals on a subject that had then barely begun to show the whites of its eyes: the possibility of American military involvement in a faraway place called Vietnam. Accompanying me that evening was the late Marion Magid, a member of my staff at COMMENTARY, of which I had recently become the editor. As we entered the drafty old hall on Union Square in Manhattan, Marion surveyed the 50 or so people in the audience, and whispered to me: "Do you realize that every young person in this room is a tragedy to some family or other?"

The memory of this quip brought back to life some sense of how unpromising the future had then appeared to be for that bedraggled-looking assemblage. No one would have dreamed that these young people, and the generation about to descend from them politically and culturally, would within the blink of a historical eye come to be hailed as "the best informed, the most intelligent, and the most idealistic this country has ever known." Those words, even more incredibly, would emanate from what the new movement regarded as the very belly of the beast: from, to be specific, Archibald Cox, a professor at the Harvard Law School and later Solicitor General of the United States. Similar encomia would flow unctuously from the mouths of parents, teachers, clergymen, artists, and journalists.

More incredible yet, the ideas and attitudes of the new movement, cleaned up but essentially unchanged, would within a mere ten years turn one of our two major parties upside down and inside out. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had famously declared that we would "pay any price, bear any burden, . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty." By 1972, George McGovern, nominated for President by Kennedy’s own party, was campaigning on the slogan, "Come Home, America." It was a slogan that to an uncanny degree reflected the ethos of the embryonic movement I had addressed in Union Square only about a decade before.

The New "Jackal Bins"

In going over this familiar ground, I am trying to make two points. One is that the nascent radical movement of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was up against an adversary, namely, the "Establishment," that looked unassailable. Even so—and this is my second point—to the bewilderment of almost everyone, not least the radicals themselves, they blew and they blew and they blew the house down.

Here we had a major development that slipped in under the radar of virtually all the pundits and the trend-spotters. How well I remember John Roche, a political scientist then working in the Johnson White House, being quoted by the columnist Jimmy Breslin as having derisively labeled the radicals a bunch of "Upper West Side jackal bins." As further investigation disclosed, Roche had actually said "Jacobins," a word so unfamiliar to his interviewer that "jackal bins" was the best Breslin could do in transcribing his notes.

Much ink has been spilled, gallons of it by me, in the struggle to explain how and why a great "Establishment" representing so wide a national consensus could have been toppled so easily and so quickly by so small and marginal a group as these "jackal bins." In the domain of foreign affairs, of course, the usual answer is Vietnam. In this view, it was by deciding to fight an unpopular war that the Establishment rendered itself vulnerable.

The ostensible problem with this explanation, to say it again, is that at least until 1965 Vietnam was a popular war. All the major media—from the New York Times to the Washington Post, from Time to Newsweek, from CBS to ABC—supported our intervention. So did most of the professoriate. And so did the public. Even when all but one or two of the people who had either directly led us into Vietnam, or had applauded our intervention, commenced falling all over themselves to join the antiwar parade, public opinion continued supporting the war.

But it did not matter. Public opinion had ceased to count. Indeed, as the Tet offensive of 1968 revealed, reality itself had ceased to count. As all would later come to agree and some vainly struggled to insist at the time, Tet was a crushing defeat not for us but for the North Vietnamese. But Walter Cronkite had only to declare it a defeat for us from the anchor desk of the CBS Evening News, and a defeat it became.

Admittedly, in electoral politics, where numbers are decisive, public opinion remained potent. Consequently, none of the doves contending for the presidency in 1968 or 1972 could beat Richard Nixon. Yet even Nixon felt it necessary to campaign on the claim that he had a "plan" not for winning but for getting us out of Vietnam.

All of which is to say that, on Vietnam, elite opinion trumped popular opinion. Nor were the effects restricted to foreign policy. They extended into the newly antagonistic attitude toward everything America was and represented.

It hardly needs stressing that this attitude found a home in the world of the arts, the universities, and the major media of news and entertainment, where intellectuals shaped by the 1960’s, and their acolytes in the publishing houses of New York and in the studios of Hollywood, held sway. But it would be a serious mistake to suppose that the trickle-down effect of the professoriate’s attitude was confined to literature, journalism, and show business.

John Maynard Keynes once said that "Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." Keynes was referring specifically to businessmen. But practical functionaries like bureaucrats and administrators are subject to the same rule, though they tend to be the slaves not of economists but of historians and sociologists and philosophers and novelists who are very much alive even when their ideas have, or should have, become defunct. Nor is it necessary for the "practical men" to have studied the works in question, or even ever to have heard of their authors. All they need do is read the New York Times, or switch on their television sets, or go to the movies—and, drip by drip, a more easily assimilable form of the original material is absorbed into their heads and their nervous systems.

These, in sum, were some of the factors that made me wonder whether the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 would turn out to mark a genuine turning point comparable to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I was well aware that, before Pearl Harbor, several groups ranging across the political spectrum had fought against our joining the British, who had been at war with Nazi Germany since 1939. There were the isolationists, both liberal and conservative, who detected no American interest in this distant conflict; there were the right-wing radicals who thought that if we were going to go to war, it ought to be on the side of Nazi Germany against Communist Russia, not the other way around; and there were the left-wing radicals who saw the war as a struggle between two equally malign imperialistic systems in which they had no stake. Under the influence of these groups, a large majority of Americans had opposed our entry into the war right up to the moment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But from that moment on, the opposition faded away. The antiwar groups either lost most of their members or lapsed into a morose silence, and public opinion did a 180-degree turn.

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