An awesome new issue of Policy Review has just been mounted on the web. I’ve had the hard copy for a bit, and I’m going to say something about just about every piece in this extraordinary issue.
What’s gone wrong in Iraq, and how should we now try to fix things? Robert Zelnick provides us with powerful answers to both of those questions in “Iraq: Last Chance.” This is one of the very best article-length accounts of Iraq’s troubles I can recall seeing. No whitewash here. This is a clear-eyed and sobering piece, all the more impressive for appearing at a conservative outlet. Conservatives have got to confront the reality of the very serious errors we have made in Iraq. A reading of Zelnick confirms that America’s “light footprint” strategy has been a mistake. That fundamental security error is linked to our profound naivete about what it takes to export democracy. At the root of our policy failure in Iraq is the delusion that mere elections would create democracy, without our first disarming militias, much less producing cultural change. This general formulation of the problem comes vividly to life in Zelnick’s report from the field. And Zelnick’s policy recommendations seem right to me, at least as broad guidelines, and as jumping off points for productive debate and fine tuning.
Mary Eberstadt’s sure to be controversial “The Scapegoats Among Us,” argues that many of today’s political obsessions on both the left and the right serve as scapegoating mechanisms for a world in denial about the threat of Islamism. Anti-immigrant feeling on the paleocon right, the left’s attacks on “Christianists,” Bush hatred, and Europe’s anti-Americanism are all being hyped out of proportion by displaced fears of Islamist terror, Eberstadt argues. Eberstadt doesn’t deny that illegal immigration is a problem, or that President Bush’s policies can be fairly criticized. But she does attempt to show that unacknowledged fears of Islamist terror lurk behind of many of our current political preoccupations. I imagine critics will question Eberstadt’s conviction that Islamism is the real threat. Yet we know about 9/11 conspiracy theories. Eberstadt says this open irrationality is only the tip of the iceberg. If in a gentler form, she contends, many of today’s political currents echo the worst sort of 9/11 conspiracy theories.
I agree with Eberstadt. Islamism is the real threat, and too many in America and Europe are in denial about that. Although conservatives understand the Islamist threat very well, I would add that we conservatives risk lapsing into denial ourselves if we can’t face up to our policy errors in Iraq.
Peter Berkowitz’s “Liberal Education, Then And Now,” is my dream of a piece about the university. The heart of this essay is a discussion of John Stuart Mill. George Nash’s classic account of American conservatism seems to have made famous a flip quip from Mill to the effect that conservatives are the “stupid party.” It would be interesting to see Mill’s original comment in context. At any rate, while Nash’s use of that Mill quote was perfectly appropriate, as specimen of Mill’s actual attitude toward conservatism, that quip is incredibly misleading. Mill’s entire philosophy of liberty is built around the conviction that society benefits from competition between a party of progress and a party of order. Berkowitz picks up on this theme and applies it to the university. Better still, Berkowitz resurrects a superb but little known essay by Mill about liberal education: “Inaugural Delivered to the University of St. Andrews on February 1st 1867.” Mill’s Inaugural, and Berkowitz’s discussion of that “lost” lecture within the larger sweep of Mill’s thought, ought to become touchstones of our debate about the modern university.
Although we must fearlessly face our current problems in Iraq, we’ve also got to remember the nature of our enemy, and the grievous failures of liberal foreign policy in the face of Islamist terror. Matthias Kuntzel’s “From Khomeni to Ahmadinejad” is just the thing to remind us. Kuntzel reviews Mark Bowden’s book on the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, and draws out the extraordinary parallels between that moment and the present. We are seeing the same policies out of Iran as in 1979, and purveyed by the very same people. Ahmadinejad, Kuntzel now confirms, was a key figure in the original Iranian embassy hostage crisis. And Ahmadinejad’s playbook today is taken directly from 1979.
I was surprised by Kuntzel’s account of our European allies’ behavior during the hostage crisis. Europe’s current distancing from us seems like a post-Cold War phenomenon. Yet Europe’s weakness and triangulation on Iran apparently goes back to the Cold War. Our troubles in Iraq now mean we may lapse back into a Carter-like capitulation to Iran, with disastrous results in this age of nuclear proliferation. With luck, Kuntzel’s shocking account of the Carter debacle will help to stiffen our spine.
Finally, there’s “Whose Fiasco,” Victor Davis Hanson’s review of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks. Hanson argues that Ricks’ sources are questionable, and points to internal contradictions as well. Yet just because of that, I was a bit frustrated. I had been hoping for an all out debate between Hanson and Ricks on the major military controversies: small versus big footprint, for example. The apparent problems with Ricks make it tough to stage that sort of high-level debate. Even so, for Hanson fans, or anyone with an interest in Iraq, VDH’s take on the big new book by Ricks is well worth a read. If not Ricks’ Fiasco, however, read Zelnick’s account of the same sad situation. If the media has been leaping on our troubles in Iraq, that doesn’t give us the right to deny that those troubles are real. On the contrary, the only way to victory in this long war with Islamism is to learn from our mistakes, adjust, and take the fight back to the enemy.