President Bush has endured the usual amount of abuse from liberals and leftist extremists. Republicans must expect that. But this Republican president has also suffered the contumely of some on the right and of seemingly everyone in the center. As the war in Iraq ground slowly on, Bush supporters grew more and more timid and pettifogging. What was missing was a full-throated, unequivocal, intellectually sparkling defense of the Bush Doctrine.
It is missing no more. With World War IV, Norman Podhoretz has ridden to Bush’s side like the cavalry, and as fans of Podhoretz will not be surprised to hear, his is no uncertain trumpet.
Defending the president against the charge that he “failed to make the case” for toppling Saddam, Podhoretz carefully documents the many instances in which George Bush did exactly that. Was Saddam Hussein contained within his “box,” as Clinton administration officials were fond of arguing? President Bush answered this argument in 2002. “Containment is not possible,” he told West Point officers, “when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver these weapons or missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.”
Podhoretz could also have pointed to the president’s February 2003 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, in which he explicitly endorsed a strategy of exporting freedom: “The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the Middle East. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region, by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction: to a free and peaceful Iraq.”
Did the president falsely claim that the threat from Saddam was “imminent”? He expressly said the opposite: “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. . . . The war on terror will not be won on the defensive.”
Did the president fail to appreciate the wisdom of the “realist” school of foreign policy? No, he considered and rejected their approach. “For decades,” President Bush explained, “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 dissects in turn the arguments of the president’s leftist critics (along with a handy compilation of quotes from the likes of John Kerry, Carl Levin, Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid proclaiming that Saddam had to be disarmed one way or another), as well as his conservative critics.
Podhoretz’s critique of the Right is polite but forceful. He replies to those who have accused Bush of naivete in promoting democracy in the Middle East. Yes, he acknowledges, elections have brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian areas, gave the Muslim Brotherhood seats in the Egyptian parliament and provided Hezbollah a share of power in Lebanon. And yet, as Fouad Ajami, Middle East Studies professor at Johns Hopkins, has written, “while the ballot is not infallible, it has broken the pact with Arab tyranny.” Podhoretz adds that “bad as this option may have been by certain political standards, it was — and still is — marked by more than a touch of nobility.”
World War IV, as Podhoretz characterizes the fight against Islamofascism (with the Cold War designated as World War III), will require heavy sacrifices and patient resolve. President Bush has demonstrated tremendous resilience. Yet a massive failure of nerve seems to afflict most of the opinion-making elite in America. Considering the level of defeatism rampant in the press, among public intellectuals and among the political leadership, it is perhaps even more amazing that so many young Americans have answered the call and donned the uniform. Podhoretz writes: “In their determination, their courage, and their love of country, they are by all accounts a match, and more than a match, for their forebears of World War II and World War III.”
Podhoretz at 75 has not flagged in energy or optimism, and this latest book is a jolt of intellectual electricity for a philosophy (the Bush Doctrine) badly in need of it.
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