As the political microcosm in Washington holds its breath for General David Petraeus’ report on the “surge” policy in Iraq, the regular folk would do well to read this broader report on the much larger struggle of which the battle for Baghdad is an episode.
The author, Norman Podhoretz, believes that we should call this larger struggle World War IV and offers a series of persuasive arguments to that effect. Podhoretz shows that this war started before 9/11 and is likely to continue after Iraq has been stabilised.
For more than four decades, Podhoretz has been an important voice in foreign policy debates in the United States. Starting as a militant intellectual of the left, Podhoretz was one of those American intellectuals who, discovering the horrors of Soviet totalitarianism, moved to the right. For much of the Cold War they wielded little influence. But, when Ronald Reagan became president, they achieved access to powers and succeeded in shaping policies that helped bring about the disintegration of the Soviet empire.
Podhoretz and his friends claimed a share of the victory in what they saw as a world war. In this book, Podhoretz draws the contours of another world war and, once again, promises victory.
But who is fighting whom?
On one side, there is the United States and its allies, including the governments of most Muslim countries, throughout the world. At the opposite side, we find a variety of radical Islamist forces, or Islamofascists as Podhoretz calls them, who oppose the modern global system and fight to replace it with a caliphate or an imamate based on their peculiar understanding of Islam. The subtitle of Podhoretz’s book is ” The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism”.
Most battlefields in this war are in Muslim majority countries where armed insurgents and terrorists are fighting against Muslim rulers allied with the United States and other Western democracies.
The fact that this war is fought in several dozen countries in different parts of the globe, enables Podhoretz to see it as World War IV, with the Cold War, which also includes more than 100 hot wars of various sizes over half a century, regarded as the third.
Podhoretz asserts that this new enemy is as dedicated to the destruction of whatever America stands for, as were the totalitarian enemies of the previous world wars.
A former editor of the influential magazine Commentary for more than three decades, Podhoretz is often seen as the father figure of the neoconservatives, a group of intellectuals who wielded some influence in the early phases of President George W Bush’s presidency. Although neo-conservatism is no longer the hottest thing in the bazaar of American ideas, Podhoretz assumes the label with evident pride. Nevertheless, this book reveals him as an atypical thinker free of ideological constraints.
Podhoretz is not one of those intellectuals who emulate politicians when it comes to double-talk. He sets up no hedge fund of ideas designed to cover him in all eventualities. He is not the ” yes-but” kind of analyst. He is not one of those intellectuals who are neither hot nor cold, specialising in what Bill Clinton’s favourite game of “triangulation.” At an age in which all colours are reduced to a grey of fake consensus, Podohretz’s analysis reminds one of the clarity of the old black-and-white movies, when good and evil were easily discernible and beyond them lay nothing but perdition.
It is in that spirit that Podhoretz emerges as one of the last of the Mohicans, in this case the supporters of the Bush Doctrine.
Yes, he argues, Bush was right in saying that unless helped out of its despotic ordeal, the Middle East will remain a cesspool breeding the mosquitoes of terrorism. Bush was also right in asserting that helping other nations democratise would enhance the United States’ national security.
Podhoretz’s defence of the Bush Doctrine leads him into battle on three fronts. On one front, he takes on the advocates of ” Blame-America-First” doctrine who claim that it is the US and not its enemies that are the cause of virtually all tensions and conflicts across the globe. On another front, Podhoretz crosses sword with those right-wing thinkers- he calls them paleo-conservatives- who perpetuate the tradition of pre-World War II “America First” isolationism.
Podhoretz also takes on a long list of neoconservatives who have broken with Bush with the claim that, although his doctrine was right, his leadership fell far short of what was required.
Podhoretz believes that George W Bush has been ” a great president” and will be recognised as such by history. Podhoretz recalls the presidency of Harry S Truman who was also hit by the lowest ratings at the start of the Cold War (or World War III) but ended up being recognised as one of America’s greatest leaders. The Truman Doctrine had also even mocked in its time but became the matrix of American foreign policy for almost five decades.
Podhoretz, recently appointed by Republican presidential hopeful Rudi Giuliani as his chief foreign policy advisor, hopes that the Republicans will retain control of the White House, giving the Bush Doctrine a longer run.
The most interesting part of Podhoretz’s multi-pronged attacks, however, is his carefully reasoned refutation of the so-called “Realist” school of foreign policymaking. He shows how the term “realism” has been used to cover up appeasement, sheer cowardice, and even dereliction of duty at the highest levels of US policymaking under different administrations.
Podhoretz believes that liberating and Afghanistan Iraq was both a noble and a necessary act, and that no tears should be shed for Mullah Omar or Saddam Hussein. He has no doubt that, despite inevitable mistakes that happen in any war, the US and its Afghan and Iraqi allies will defeat the enemies of the nascent and still fragile democratic systems established in Kabul and Baghdad.
When it comes to the Khomeinist regime in Tehran, Podhoretz advocates a strong policy that could include a massive bombing of sites in Iran suspected of being used for manufacturing nuclear weapons.
Podhoretz also believes that the US, if ,and when, needed, should be prepared to fight alone, although he has no doubt that when the Americans show their resolve many would flock to their side. It is only when the US appears divided and unsure of itself that many, including some actual or potential allies, distance themselves from it, and hedge their bets by kowtowing to its enemies.
Podhoretz calls for “resilience and perseverance” in pursuit of victory in World War IV.
“What will victory bring this time round?” he asks. “To us, it will bring the elimination of another, and in some respects greater, threat to our safety and security….. Victory will also bring the liberation of another group of countries from another species of totalitarian tyranny.”
To be sure, these are goals worth fighting for. What remains to be done is to convince a majority of the Americans, a task to which Podhoretz’s book is a timely contribution.