George W. Bush is the center of attention this week, and properly so. On Monday, the networks each showcased an exclusive interview with the president done in the White House Library. Flicking from ABC to CBS to NBC it seemed possible to catch them all, and not surprising that all pondered similar questions. They bore on the tactical question of Iraq (How are we doing?) and the strategic implications of Iraq (Where else are we likely to do the same thing?). One questioner was pretty blunt: Since Iraq was not in fact deploying weapons of mass destruction, what reason do you have, Mr. President, to suppose that the world will believe you if in the future you make such charges intending preemptive action?
Mr. Bush said that he had relied on the same intelligence which had been accepted by the United Nations (and by France and Germany); that Saddam had the capacity to manufacture WMD’s, and a disposition to use such weapons; and that he would not exclude “any” option in the future, should the welfare of the United States require it.
His presence was remarkably serene, handling barb after barb. One had the impression that he had thought through the answers to the questions that would be raised, and was at peace with the conclusions he had arrived at.
Coincidentally, the February issue of Commentary magazine carries an extended essay by Norman Podhoretz, which is a sequel to his major essay of last fall proclaiming World War IV. The new article is entitled, “The War Against World War IV.”
Podhoretz’s assumption is that the radical-Islamist offensive on so many fronts, religious and secular, is most usefully thought of as a war, and that historical logic dubs it World War IV. He goes directly to the question of the constancy of George W. Bush. It is popularly advertised that presidents tend to divert, in their second terms in office, from the emphases of their first terms. Cited are FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan. This is not happening with Bush, says Podhoretz, citing as symbols his dismissal of Iraq skeptic Colin Powell and his remandating of Iraq enthusiast Donald Rumsfeld.
Characteristically, Podhoretz goes to the big scene but relishes opportunities to disarm the critics. He flaunts the tenacity of George Bush first by citing the adamance of his position on Israel. Yes, Mr. Bush has called for nationhood for the Palestinians. But the context is unchanged, insisting on an end to terrorism. Tony Blair made a special trip to Washington to get something more propulsive from Bush, in the way of encouragement to Abbas and discipline of Sharon, but Bush simply reiterated the old precepts, declining a special representative. Add his continued firmness on Iraq and you get “the amazing leader this president has amazingly turned out to be. [He] will — like the comparably amazing Harry Truman before him when he took on the Communist world — have the wind at his back as he continues the struggle against Islamist radicalism and its vicious terrorist armory: a struggle whose objective is the spread of liberty and whose success will bring greater security and greater prosperity.”
Podhoretz takes on the dissidents one at time. Of course, the insurgents, but they, in the last analysis, are militarily impotent. Then the isolationists, right and left. These, he notes, have converged “into the same channel of fierce opposition to everything Bush has done in response to 9/11.”
He dismisses the “superhawks,” notably Mark Helprin and Angelo Codevilla and, marginally, Charles Kesler, on the grounds that in calling for the kind of national mobilization that would be needed to carry forward their policies, they are living in another world. The “liberal internationalists” are losing their influence and drifting towards vituperation, even as the “realists” come up against the hard truths posed by an offensive warlike in scope. He quotes Bush, in answer to the realists’ indisposition to embrace regime change: “For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy.”
Podhoretz, in this important essay, takes on those who balk at Bush’s idealism. He quotes Bush: “Some who call themselves realists question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality: America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat; America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.”
This not only sounds good, claims Podhoretz, it is good.