The Wacky World
of Norman Podhoretz

People tend to stay fixated on the best time of their lives, and in the case of the neocons, that was undoubtedly the Cold War era. It is therefore no surprise that, with the coming of the "war on terrorism," they have likened the enemy, as Norman Podhoretz puts it in his latest jeremiad, to "yet another mutation of the totalitarian disease we defeated first in the shape of Nazism and fascism and then in the shape of Communism; it is global in scope; it is being fought with a variety of weapons, not all of them military; and it is likely to go on for decades."

The reality we face is quite different, however. The "Islamofascism" Podhoretz speaks of is nowhere in state power. Osama bin Laden and his followers constitute a very small section of Islamic opinion, and there is not a single Arab or Muslim state that can rightly be considered "totalitarian" in the sense that the word fit the old Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy.

Furthermore, "Islamofascism" is an arbitrary, cobbled-together intellectual construct that has no real-world existence outside the neoconservative imagination: it is a content-free concept, utterly meaningless outside of the need to create some overarching term for the Muslim bogeyman at the heart of the LikudniksManichean vision of the world. It makes no distinction between Sunni, Shi’ite, Alawite, or Sufi, and it says absolutely nothing about the political organization of a country like, say, Iran that accurately describes how that country is ruled.

Fascism is a highly centralized system: indeed, centralism is its core tenet. Yet the Iranian system is a decentralized one, with several centers of power, all jockeying for position – quite the opposite of the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy, and the Communist states of yesteryear. The neocons, however, are not too concerned with such bothersome details: just let them reconstitute the heyday of their Cold Warrior mentality, revamp and refit it with fresh rhetoric and a new "grand theory," and we’re off to what Podhoretz deems "World War IV." He writes:

"Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be understood if they are regarded as self-contained wars in their own right. Instead we have to see them as fronts or theaters that have been opened up in the early stages of a protracted global struggle."

Relax, we’re in "the early stages." If the horror, tragedy, and futility of Iraq fills you with despair, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Poddy & Co. have given themselves lots of scope for their grand strategy and plenty of rationales for invading and destroying the Muslim nations of the world, one by one – and the prime candidate, as Podhoretz makes clear is Iran, "the most dangerous of all" because of its nuclear ambitions.

Fitting this "Islamofascist" threat into the Procrustean bed of the Cold War paradigm, Poddy claims that the Iranians aren’t just content with threatening Israel, but instead dream of conquering Europe – and even the United States! Oh, of course, they couldn’t really be serious about this latter goal – yet, worries Podhoretz, they might even achieve a semblance of this grand goal by "Finlandizing" the U.S., i.e., neutralizing the War Party to such an extent, politically, that the West would fall into the hands of the Islamists like an overripe fruit.

The evidence of this Finlandization process is, in Podhoretz’s view, the British reaction to the capture of their sailors in the Persian Gulf and the process that led to their release: it was "humiliating," and the Brits deserved it, according to Poddy, because, after all, aren’t they letting Muslims emigrate to England, which is becoming "Islamicized"? And if the Brits and the West "kowtow" to the Iranians now, how will they act toward a nuclear-armed Iran? Berlin, Rome, London – all the capitals of the West will be "held hostage" by the prospect of nuclear annihilation. And there is nothing to deter the Muslims, you see, Iranian or otherwise, because they’re all "fanatics" – they want to die. They want to see their own countries "burn." As evidence Poddy trots out a decades-old quote from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who has been dead for 18 years.

But Podhoretz doesn’t need any real evidence to back up his claim that Iran, like the old Soviet Union, is intent on world conquest. It’s all a priori theorizing on his part, and as such, requires no real proof, only bland (or is that blind?) assertion. In his imagination, the Iranians will unleash "nuclear terror" on the U.S., but those cowardly "antiwar forces" will advise against retaliation, because we won’t be able to prove the Iranians detonated that nuke in the middle of Manhattan, now will we?

As the analogy with "World War III" – the Cold War – breaks down, Podhoretz resorts to the Hitler canard: like Saddam before him, and, indeed, every deposed tyrant in recent memory, from Manuel Noriega to Slobodan Milosevic, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likened to Hitler. Like the unemployed paperhanger from Austria, the former mayor of Tehran is a "revolutionary" who cannot be dealt with in any ordinary fashion. His ambitions are unlimited, defined by a genocidal-mystical vision of universal destruction: he is not a man, but a devil, the Devil incarnate. And therefore anything is justified in destroying him and the foundations of his power. This fever-dream is just that: a fantasy. The reality is that Ahmadinejad is not a dictator, nor even the most powerful person in Iran: that title goes to Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. What’s more, the hard-line faction Ahmadinejad represents is not exactly in the drivers’ seat.

What is truly amazing is that Podhoretz readily acknowledges the grave consequences of a war with Iran:

"Iran would retaliate by increasing the trouble it is already making for us in Iraq. It would attack Israel with missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads but possibly containing biological and/or chemical weapons. There would be a vast increase in the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for every economy in the world, very much including our own. The worldwide outcry against the inevitable civilian casualties would make the anti-Americanism of today look like a love-fest."

Yet the economic ruin of the U.S. and much of the rest of the world is a small price to pay for the security of Israel, which is "existentially" threatened, as one Israeli politician put it, by Iran’s nuclear program. Let the world economy plunge into the depths of a global depression; let the heavens cry out in pain at the sight of so much death and destruction; let a million jihadists rise up to threaten the safety and security of Americans everywhere. All that pales into insignificance when we realize that it’s all part of the struggle against "Islamofascism." Citing John McCain – who else?! – Poddy opines: "The only thing worse than bombing Iran … is allowing Iran to get the bomb."

The most absurd argument ever made in favor of going to war is made in this essay, wherein Poddy says that "no one really knows" whether or not the Iranians are about to go nuclear, and it’s precisely on account of this uncertainty that we must strike, because it’s better to be safe than sorry. By that standard, then, we don’t need any intelligence-gathering process, we don’t need any facts, all we need to know is that it’s possible Iran might at some point threaten us with "weapons of mass destruction" – and that, alone, is reason enough to launch an attack in which many thousands will die, nearly all of them innocent civilians.

Such is the Podhoretzian concept of "morality," which involves the easy slaughter of anyone of the Muslim faith – because, like their leaders, they are not a normal people but "fanatics" and congenital "Islamofascists" whose lives are not worth a whole lot, certainly not as much as Israeli or Western lives.

Podhoretz once believed that it was possible to overthrow the Iranian regime, but no longer: the Russians and Chinese won’t go along with harsher sanctions, and besides, Poddy’s running out of patience. When, oh, when will the bombing begin? After all, if Ahmadinejad is Hitler, and Hitler is about to get his hands on nukes, then isn’t it long past time to strike? Screw all those Iranian "young people" who hate the mullahs – after all, aren’t they "Islamofascists" under the skin, too?

The reality is quite different from the Podhoretzian Sturm-und-Drang that substitutes for empirical facts. Fact: Iran is a decade away from building a usable nuclear weapon. Fact: Ahmadinejad isn’t Hitler, or even Mussolini. He’s much closer to a leader of the Moral Majority right here in the United States: after all, students wouldn’t dare heckle and mock Hitler, would they? Hitler was the leader of a modern nation with a mighty army and the industrial capacity to dominate Europe and much of the world: Iran is a dilapidated Third World backwater with none of the human, economic, or military resources available to the German Fuehrer.

The United States has rejected every Iranian overture, including one made in 2003 in which Tehran offered to negotiate not only the nuclear issue but also the recognition of Israel (!) and the resolution of all outstanding conflicts between the two countries: the Bush administration rudely rebuffed them. Instead, we labeled Iran part of the "axis of evil" and made it impossible for that country’s leaders to back down from their rhetoric, lest they seem like "appeasers" of the West.

It would not be a good thing if the Iranians went nuclear, but then again, neither was it a good thing when Israel went nuclear – and these two factors are more closely linked than is generally acknowledged. Right at this moment, the Israelis could engulf much of Iran in a pool of nuclear fire and effectively wipe it off the map. Little wonder, therefore, that the Iranians have entered the nuclear sweepstakes, having learned the lesson of Iraq and North Korea – two other spokes in the Axis of Evil that were visited by radically different fates. The former was conquered, while the latter still thumbs its nose at the U.S. – and the lesson here is that if you don’t have nukes, your sovereignty and your very existence as a nation is in danger.

Examining Podhoretz’s case for war with Iran, we can see, with painful clarity, neoconservatism’s utter immorality as a guiding philosophy, its recklessness, and its brazen disregard for the elementary moral and ethical precepts that underlie Western civilization. To hear Podhoretz tell it, we must attack and kill many thousands – not because we are certain Iran poses a threat, but because we are uncertain. We must enrage the entire Muslim world, provoke attacks on U.S. interests globally, and wreck our economy, all in the name of the struggle against "Islamofascism" – a make-believe idea that has no existence outside of table talk in the American Enterprise Institute cafeteria.

What world is Norman Podhoretz living in? Short answer: one that bears not the slightest resemblance to reality. In a normal world, his ravings would be no more important than the deranged tirades of the village nutcase. To our horror, however, we are living in a reality where Podhoretz’s twisted ideology is largely shared by the most powerful man on earth. Therefore, when Poddy writes "my guess is that [Bush] intends, within the next 21 months, to order air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities from the three U.S. aircraft carriers already sitting nearby," we might very well take him seriously.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].