World War IV

“Democracy is coming, and there will be no excuse thereafter [for terrorism in Iraq].” — Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

Perhaps the most powerful and persuasive polemicists are those who have not only crossed but leapt across the ideological divide. Norman Podhoretz is just such a person. He was part of a cohort of New York intellectuals, born in the first half of the last century, who gave rise to the likes of Norman Mailer and Susan Sontag. These were radicals who embraced Socialism, were sympathetic to Soviet Communism, and perceived little moral distance between the United States and Fascists in Europe. Somewhere in the 1960s, Podhoretz, on the basis of US efforts at post-war European reconstruction, Soviet repression, and the material success of the US economy began to appreciate the force for liberty and success the United States represented. As a consequence, he became one of the founders of the “Neoconservative” movement.

These Conservatives appreciate the role government sometimes play in ameliorating extreme fluctuations of a robust capitalist economy. You will not find these “new” Conservatives still upset at Franklin D.Roosevelt’s Social Security. Yet Neoconservatives are blessed with the congenital Conservative intuition that personal freedom is linked to the personal resources people control, and they retain the certain knowledge that the United States has a positive obligation to nurture freedom and democracy across the world.

Now that we have entered into the second generation of Neoconservatives, perhaps the movement should be thought of as a separate branch rather than new sprig off the main trunk of Conservatism. Neoconservatives believe that American intervention in the world is not only salutary, but necessary, while “paleoconservatives” believe that the United States is too good to involve itself intrigues of the old world. Pat Buchanan is perhaps the most vocal of current paleoconservatives.

Podhoretz has long been a writer of political philosophy and at age thirty became the editor of Commentary, one of the most influential political journals. This month, in Commentary, Podhoretz lays out a cogent and persuasive case for the Bush Doctrine: the fundamental notion that American economic and physical security are best protected when the Zeitgeist favors politically free and economically open societies. At its heart, the Bush Doctrine holds that the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is rooted in the lack of these values in countries ruled either by thugs or Islamic theocracies or both.

The key to this understanding is to recognize, that World War IV has now been thrust upon us. The first two world wars involved pitched battles between massive armed forces. World War III, what is commonly called the Cold War, was different. Soon after the close of World War II, it became apparent that Stalin considered the demilitarization of the US as a sign that US involvement in world affairs was a momentary phenomenon brought on by the unique events of World War II. We would soon retire behind our oceans and retreat to traditional isolationism. Hence, Stalin saw little impediment to Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe and elsewhere. It was the other underestimated president, President Truman, that in response enunciated the Truman Doctrine. This doctrine held that the US should by various means: political, economic, and, if necessary, military contain the spread of Soviet domination. This policy worked best when the US nurtured fledgling democracies rather than making temporary alliances with non-Communist, yet authoritarian regimes.

With fits and starts from Korea, to Vietnam, to South America, presidents of both parties adhered to this containment strategy. However, containment was drifting into accommodation until President Ronald Reagan seized the rhetorical offensive and assured us “the march of freedom and democracy … will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.” This moral certitude, coupled with the intention to achieve a military dominance over the Soviet Union could not keep up with, was sufficient to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Like the WWIII, World War IV against Islamic Fascism is likely to be a long struggle employing economic, political, and military means. In an age where weapons of mass destruction are too conveniently available the stakes are very large.

The US was slow in coming to an appreciation that World War IV had begun even while we were still in the last stages of World War III. Indeed, the tensions of that war obscured the events that pointed to the growing terrorist threat. As far back as the 1970s, during the Nixon and Ford Administrations, offshoots of the Palestine Liberation Organization murdered American diplomats in Lebanon and the Sudan. During the Carter Administration, Islamic Fundamentalist under Ayatolla Khomeini seized 52 hostages in the US Embassy in the capital of Iran. Even the stalwart Ronald Reagan withdrew American troops from Beirut, Lebanon — troops placed there as a buffer to protect the PLO from the Israelies — with no effective response to the killing of 241 marines asleep in their barracks. Though the first President Bush forced Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to retreat from its invasion of Kuwait, the unwillingness to topple Saddam, fairly or unfairly, convinced Islamic fundamentalists that the West was too decadent and casualty adverse to seriously pursue their adversaries to the end.

The pace picked up in the 1990s as the US and US interests were attacked by Al Qaeda in Somila, at the World Trade Center in 1993, and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. The USS Cole lost 17 sailors in a suicide attack while refueling in Yemeni. It was not until the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, that the US came realize that threat was grave and not a sporadic law enforcement issue.

Podhoretz argues that the previous weak responses convinced Al Qaeda that there would be few long-lasting consequences to any attack. “The sheer audacity of what bin Laden went on to do on September 11 was unquestionably a product of his contempt for American power. Our persistent refusal for so long to use that power against him and his terrorist brethren — or to do so effectively whenever we tried — reinforced his conviction that werae a nation on the way down, destined to be defeated by the resurgence of the same Islamic militancy that had once conquered and converted large parts of the world by sword.” This was a miscalculation on his part.

To set forth political framework for this struggle, the Bush Doctrine has emerged. Though the specifics may be altered with time, the framework is a thoughtful basis for pursing this fourth world war. While Podhoretz is anxious that we may not muster the will to purse the doctrine over the decades it will require, he does outline the four pillars of the policy: morality, sources, preemption, and accountability.

  1. The first pillar is recognition of the crucial applicability of moral considerations in foreign policy. For the foreign policy “realists,” stability is guiding principle. Moral considerations obscure the delicate balancing require to maintain the status quo. While it is clear that there are times that one must deal with and perhaps eve accept unsavory and despotic regimes, it must be recognized that there is a real moral cost for such decisions. The cost is that the delayed and deferred legitimate claims of the governed can nurture the resentments that feed Islamic terrorism.
  2. The second pillar is the assertion that the cause of terrorism is not poverty, but political repression as evidenced by the prosperous background of may terrorists. Draining the repressive swamps in which terrorism breeds requires the fresh drying winds of liberty and democracy.
  3. During World War III, we relied on deterrence. The assumption was that no state would launch an attack against the United States for fear of nuclear retaliation. However, in a world where small, suicidal groups, only loosely associated with states, can cause large numbers civilian casualties, deterrence has lost its saliency. There is no one to retaliate against. Preventing such attack, through preemption becomes an option.
  4. The fourth pillar is one of state accountability for allowing or encouraging terrorism. Such states are as culpable as the terrorists themselves. This extends to the PLO. Bush was the first president to explicitly call for an independent Palestinian state, yet only state that eschews corruption and terrorism and embraces democratic ideals . As Bush explained in 2002, “Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging not opposing terrorism. This is unacceptable. And the Unites States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorist and dismantle their infrastructure.”

It was the United States that was decisive factor in the victories of the last three world wars. The United States has proved to be the single most important force in the spread of freedom, democracy, and posterity. The question is whether the United States will once again answer histories call. In the words, of Bush nomination acceptance speech:

“This moment in the life of our country will be remembered. Generations will know if we kept our faith and kept our word. Generations will know if we seized this moment, and used it to build a future of safety and peace. The freedom of many, and the future security of our Nation, now depend on us.”

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