Why Does Norman Podhoretz Hate America?

World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
Norman Podhoretz
Doubleday, 2007
240 pp.

Norman Podhoretz’s new book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, is a hate-filled, anti-American book of the first order. Podhoretz hates every American who does not support the neoconservatives’ views, the foreign policy they have devised, and the military and national security disasters to which they are leading America. Patrick Buchanan, Andrew J. Bacevich, Sir John Keegan, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, and many others are all targets of Podhoretz. These men are variously characterized as anti-Semites, isolationists, recanters from the true creed, or simply as small men who fear the neoconservative utopia is about to arrive, discredit their views, and cost them their jobs or prestige. Podhoretz is particularly vicious toward Buchanan because he knows that Buchanan sees through the neoconservative fantasy with the most unrelenting acuity. Buchanan’s frank voice and non-interventionism – not isolationism – are genuinely American characteristics, so Podhoretz must go all out to discredit Buchanan as an anti-Semite, lest Americans listen to Buchanan’s advice not to get their children killed fighting other peoples’ wars, be they wars for Israelis or Muslims or anyone else.

And who are the heroes of the story? Why, Podhoretz and the familiar roster of the only real Americans and Israel-firsters, of course: Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, Charles Krauthammer, Douglas Feith, Victor Davis Hanson, John R. Bolton, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Max Boot, Steve Emerson, Daniel Pipes, Michael Rubin, Michael Ledeen, Kenneth Adelman, Frank Gaffney, and a few others who have battled so long and hard to ensure that America fights an endless war against Muslims in Israel’s defense. Podhoretz and his chums are the men responsible for the lethal mess America now faces in the Muslim world, and they have also done more than any other group – Hamas and Hezbollah included – to undermine Israel’s long-term security. In short, the influence and arrogance of this gang has been an unmitigated and accelerating disaster for the two nations they claim to love most. I will leave it up to those who read the book to decide which country they obviously love best, but I bet you can guess before turning a page.

Podhoretz is big on pinning the Islamofascist label on our Islamist enemies. The phrase has nothing to do with reality, of course, as the Islamists are far from fascists, though they clearly are the most dangerous threat America now confronts. But Podhoretz does not care about understanding the enemy’s real motivation and attributes in order to annihilate him as quickly as possible. By using the term Islamofascist he seeks only to block any debate on the neoconservative agenda by ensuring that its critics are identified as pro-fascist, therefore anti-American, therefore pro-Nazi, and therefore anti-Semitic. Other notable men have described this tactic as the Big Lie, and it is a neocon specialty and trademark.

And if this Big Lie is not enough for you, try another of Podhoretz’s on for size. This one is so ahistorical and deliberately misleading that it is hard to even begin to comment on its mendacity. Podhoretz focuses on one of the terrorist Yasser Arafat’s rants damning the United States as “the murderers of humanity,” considering it divine revelation that Arafat did not mention Israel in the single paragraph quoted in the book. “The absence of even a word here about Israel,” lectures Podhoretz to Americans he obviously sees as mindless cattle who will believe any lie thrown their way, “showed that if the Jewish state had never come into existence, the United States would still have stood as the embodiment of everything that most of these Arabs considered evil. Indeed, the hatred of Israel was in large part a surrogate for anti-Americanism, rather than the reverse.” (91) How many major American military conflicts with Arabs can Podhoretz name that occurred prior to Israel’s establishment?

Clearly, Podhoretz and his heroic band want the Islamist enemy to stay in the field so that the war he and the Israel-firsters wanted and now have will go on and on and on. Like the sickest and most addled of bloodletting Wilsonian interventionists, Podhoretz quotes the puerile position of George W. Bush that U.S. security depends on building mirror images of America abroad: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know that the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.” (182) And what is the endgame of standing with those who stand for liberty? Quoting President Bush again, Podhoretz says U.S. military forces must “drain the swamps” of the Islamofascist world and replace incumbent regimes with elected governments that will “fulfill the hopes ‘of the Islamic nations [who] want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation.'” (135) This effort, Podhoretz adds, is “marked by more than a touch of nobility.” (212)

In Podhoretz’s hateful prose we find the true crusader spirit bound up with the con-man’s willingness to distort history for political advantage. Again using the rhetoric of George W. Bush, Podhoretz argues “that history had called America to action and that it was both ‘our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight.'” (215) Taken to its logical bottom line, this assertion means that American parents should be delighted to nobly spend the lives of their children so Iraqis and Afghans can vote and have parliaments. Implicit in this absurd argument is that somehow U.S. national security requires that other people – not all others, of course, only Muslims – vote, behave democratically, and become secular. This is truly analysis by assertion. Can anyone really imagine that American society is automatically safer because Mrs. Mohammed votes and wears mascara? Or, alternatively, that U.S. national security is threatened if the Pashtun tribal leaders of southeastern Afghanistan do not appoint precinct captains to get out the vote in parliamentary elections? Clearly, Podhoretz is running a con here, and the price will be paid not in cash but in the blood of American kids. Indeed, Podhoretz can only lecture the grieving parents of the young Americans who have already died in Iraq : “By any historical standard, our total losses were still, and would remain, amazingly low.” (110)

History also gets in the way of Podhoretz’s worldview, so we get another con. We are not, he argues, trying to impose democracy and neuter the religion of a 14-century-old Islamic civilization and 1.4 billion Muslims, but merely trying to repair a political order that was inappropriately arranged by the Western powers a hundred years ago. “But here again,” Podhoretz argues,

“[T]he so-called realist [view of U.S. foreign policy that opposed the Iraq war] ignored the reality, which was that the Middle East of today was not thousands of years old, and was not created in the seventh century by Allah or the Prophet Mohammed. … Instead, the states in question had all been conjured into existence less than one hundred years ago out of the ruins of the defeated Ottoman Empire in World War I. Their boundaries had been drawn by the victorious British and French with a stroke of an often arbitrary pen, and their hapless peoples were handed over in due course to one tyrant after another.” (144-145)

This is another absurd argument that again reduces to nonsense, to wit: The French and British tried to dictate the organization and political system of an ancient Islamic civilization and cocked it up, but we are much smarter – and implicitly purer – than they were, so we can build the perfect Muslim world. This smug attitude does capture in a nutshell, however, a good part of the basic un-Americanism of the neoconservatives; they are a foreign and, I think, malign influence in our body politic. America is a republic founded on the principles and insights derived from what Gertrude Himmelfarb has described in her brilliant work The Roads to Modernity as the American Enlightenment, fundamental to which is a profound belief in the utter imperfectability of man. Podhoretz and his all-knowing and stern-minded gang of neoconservative warmongers, on the other hand, are the heirs of the French Enlightenment’s faith in man’s perfectibility, the principles of which have brought the world the bloody horrors and mass murder conducted by the French revolutionaries, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and any number of others who attempted to create a perfect society. There is no sane reason to believe that neoconservative-led efforts to “perfect” Muslim society would yield less bloodshed, much less to imagine that it would increase security for the United States.

The other part of the fundamental un-Americanism of Podhoretz and his brothers lies in their use of the ideas and heroes of American history only if they further their “enlightened” foreign policy; all others they ignore or misrepresent. Picking and choosing from the words of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy, Podhoretz tries to infer that fighting a “world war” against the Islamofascists is identical to fighting world wars against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and then the Soviet Union. This sounds good if you say it fast, but the selective use of our presidents’ words by Podhoretz is just another of his inaccurate assertions.

Germany, Japan, and the USSR were modern industrial nation-states that posed direct, tangible, and sustainable military threats to the survival of the United States. The Islamofascist enemy is a specious conjuring of the neoconservatives that does not exist. The Islamist threat personified and led by Osama bin Laden is a direct, tangible, and enduring national-security threat to the United States, but it does not now amount to a world war, and it will not unless the neoconservatives continue to hold sway. We are fighting a war with the Islamists that is ours to lose, and at the moment we are successfully losing it because President Bush and 17 of the 19 individuals in the current crop of presidential candidates buy Podhoretz’s lethal lie that the Islamists are “the latest mutation of the totalitarian threat to our civilization” and are, “like the Nazis and the Communists before them … dedicated to the destruction of the freedoms we cherish and for which Americans stand.” (14-15) Actually, America’s war with the bin Laden-led Islamists is fueled by the impact of U.S. and Western interventionist foreign policies in the Islamic world, not, as Podhoretz claims, by “our virtues as a free and prosperous country.” (102) To the extent that America combines reduced interventionism with military action against genuine threats, we will defeat the Islamists. The increased interventionism of Podhoretz and his coterie will lead to endless war abroad and eventually between Muslim Americans and their countrymen at home – and America’s defeat.

Podhoretz’s final con comes at the expense of the late George Kennan. Podhoretz takes some of Kennan’s words and twists them in a way that makes him seem like a supporter of the neoconservatives’ endless overseas interventionism and war-for-perfection agenda. At the end of his book, Podhoretz quotes Kennan: “To avoid destruction the United States need only to measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.” (215) With this passage he leaves the reader to believe that Kennan would have supported the neoconservative crusade “to beat back the ‘implacable challenge’ of Islamofascism as the ‘greatest generation’ of World War II in taking on the Nazis and their fascist allies, and as its children and grandchildren ultimately managed to do in confronting the Soviet Union and its Communist empire in World War III.” (217)

This is an intolerable and deliberately misleading attempt to make Kennan appear to be an arch-interventionist. Toward the end of his long life, Kennan wrote something of a valedictory essay for his fellow citizens in Foreign Affairs (March/April 1995), “On American Principles.” In this essay Kennan praised John Quincy Adams’s noninterventionist foreign policy as a principle appropriate to America, and, more important, described how it was admirably applicable to the chaos and confusion of the post-Cold War world. The dangers inherent in U.S. interventionism after the Cold War, Kennan wrote, are roughly similar to those

“that clearly underlay John Quincy Adams’ response to similar problems so many years ago – his recognition that it is very difficult for one country to help another by intervening directly in its domestic affairs or in its conflicts with its neighbors. It is particularly difficult to do this without creating new and unwelcome embarrassments and burdens for the country endeavoring to help. The best way for a larger country to help smaller ones is surely by the power of example. Adams made this clear in the address cited above. One will recall his urging that the best response we could give to those appealing to us for support would be to give them what he called ‘the benign sympathy of our example.’ To go further, he warned, and try to give direct assistance would be to involve ourselves beyond the power of extrication ‘in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assumed the colors and usurped the standards of freedom.’ Who, today, looking at our involvements of recent years, could maintain that the fears these words expressed were any less applicable in our time than in his?”

Does this sound like the warmongering of the neoconservative interventionists? I think not. It rather sounds like the words of a man who knows his country’s history and traditions and its peoples’ character far better than the obtuse Podhoretz and crew. At one point in his book Podhoretz quotes W.H. Auden’s description of the 1930s as “a low and dishonest decade.” (188) There is no better overall description for Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism than “low and dishonest.”

Author: Michael Scheuer

Michael Scheuer is a 22-year veteran of the CIA and the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.