"All the News That Fits Their Spin"
I am late in blogging this monumental essay by Norman Podhoretz in the current issue of Commentary.
.... But of all the groups making up the coalition against the Bush Doctrine, the one with the most to lose is the realists.
The realist perspective is shaped by two related precepts. The first is that in international affairs the great desideratum is stability, which can be achieved only through a proper balance of power. Following from this is a very old principle, going all the way back to the arrangements of the 16th century that allowed for more or less peaceful coexistence among perennially warring Catholic and Protestant principalities. In its original form this principle was expressed in the Latin motto "cuius regio eius religio" (the religion of the ruler is the religion of the region). Translated into secular terms, it holds that the internal character of a sovereign state is strictly its own affair, and only the actions it takes beyond its own borders are the business of any other state.
In contrast to the liberal internationalists, the realists are not in the least squeamish about the use of force. But under the dictates of their basic principles, force is justified only in repelling another state's aggressive effort to upset a previously stable balance of power, while to make war in order to institute "regime change" is almost always both wrong and foolish. A good example of these dictates at work was the first Gulf war, when George W. Bush's father, with Brent Scowcroft as his National Security Adviser, used force to undo Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait but stopped short of removing him from power in Iraq.
Until 9/11, the realists undoubtedly represented the single most influential school of thought in the world of foreign policy, with all others considered naïve or dangerous or both (though a patronizing pass might occasionally be given to liberal internationalists). It would not be going too far to say that for everyone of any great importance in that world, whether as a theorist or a practitioner, the realist perspective was axiomatic. And being, as it were, the default position, it was almost automatically adopted by George W. Bush, too, in his pre-9/11 incarnation. But on 9/11, Bush's more or less reflexive realism took so great a hit that it collapsed in flames just as surely as did the Twin Towers.
Bush made no secret of his repudiation of realism, and he did not pussyfoot around it:
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.
That took care of the first guiding precept of the realist perspective. And Bush was equally forthright almost brutal in giving the back of his hand to the realist prohibition against using force to transform the internal character of other states:
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.
Farewell, then, to cuius regio eius religio as well.
What Bush was declaring here was a revolutionary change in the rules of the international game. If we are to grasp the full significance of this change, we have to start by recognizing that the invasion of Afghanistan was only a partial application of the new doctrine. Because the terrorists who had attacked us were based in Afghanistan, and were protected and supported by the Taliban regime ruling that country, going after it did not constitute a preemptive strike. It represented, rather, a conventional retaliation against an unconventional aggression: they hit us and we hit back.
Being nothing new, the invasion itself was not opposed in principle by the realists (even though some of them considered it crazy to think that we could win where so many other armies most recently the Russians had come a cropper). But the operation in Afghanistan did begin to conflict in principle with the realist perspective when it went beyond toppling the Taliban regime to sponsoring a replacement government pledged to democratization.
Still, the main criticism leveled by the realists at this point took a prudential form: our political objective, they said, was even more foolhardy than our military effort. This suggests that they were slower than the liberal internationalists in fully grasping what Bush was throwing at them. Probably unable to imagine that he could possibly be serious when he talked about reshaping the political character of the entire region, they seem to have consoled themselves with the notion that Afghanistan was just a one-shot overreaction to 9/11.
If so, they were soon to be stripped of this cold comfort by the invasion of Iraq. And even then, it still took another while before the realists felt the full force of the gale being whipped up by George W. Bush. What caused the additional delay was the almost exclusive focus of the debate over Iraq on weapons of mass destruction....
As the anti-Bush coalition goes on exaggerating the bad news through such distortions and overstatements, it will simultaneously go on ignoring the good news coming out of Iraq. Nothing will be heard from these quarters about the progress being made in getting a free political system going, in reconstructing the economy, and in establishing law and order throughout most of the country, even as the more aggressive measures being taken against the insurgency are having an effect within the Sunni triangle. Since such news does not jibe with the antiwar coalition's take on Iraq, it does not qualify as "hard reality."
As I write these words, about a month before elections are scheduled to be held in Iraq, the insurgency is stepping up its murderous campaign to frighten people away from the polls and to force a postponement. My guess is that these terrorist attacks (which took the lives of more than 60 Iraqi civilians on a single day in December) will not succeed, and that even if they do, the postponement will not be indefinite and elections will take place sooner rather than later.
Suppose, then (as I do), that in a year or so, a duly elected coalition government is in place in Baghdad; that it is guided by a constitution guaranteeing political freedom and minority rights; that the economy is improving; that Iraqi soldiers and policemen have taken over most of the responsibility for dealing with a severely weakened insurgency; that the number of American troops has been reduced to the size of a backup force; and that fewer and fewer Americans are being killed or wounded. What then? Will the realists and their liberal allies bow to this reality? Will they be mugged by reality?
I think not. I think they will do unto a success in Iraq what they did when Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the president of Afghanistan this past December. In a powerful report on how the press chose to cover that story, Peter H. Wehner of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives reminds us of what the realists always said about Afghanistan: that it "was too backward; too fractious; too medieval and religiously fanatical; and too ungovernable to ever move toward democracy." Yet only three years after the war to liberate Afghanistan from the horrific Taliban regime, "a free election was held and a civilized, modern, pro-American president was sworn in." Wehner then describes how the press treated what he calls "this momentous event":
The New York Times carried the story on page A8. The Washington Post carried the story on page A13. USA Today had the briefest mention possible on page A5. The Los Angeles Times carried the story on page A3.
But merely burying the story was not good enough for the news pages of the Wall Street Journal (whose point of view is much closer to that of the New York Times and the Washington Post than to the conservative position of the Journal's own editorial page). The paper's coverage, carried in the "What's News" column, consisted entirely of a one-sentence mention that "Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan's president," immediately followed by this: "Taliban rebels attacked a military base near the Pakistani borders, killing four soldiers. U.S. troops killed two assailants." And the Los Angeles Times went the Journal one better by taking the occasion to dwell on how much opium is still being produced in Afghanistan....
During World War II there was scarcely any defeatist sentiment in the air, not even in response to actual defeats and we suffered many, especially in the early years. Nor was there a fixation on the mistakes made by Roosevelt and Churchill and, great men though they indubitably were, they made many. What is more, some of their mistakes were so large and consequential that by comparison those of which Bush and Rumsfeld stand accused seem insignificant, even if we stipulate for the sake of argument that the critics of today are right on every single point. Just think to cite only one example of the incredible blunders that cost some 20,000 American lives in the Battle of the Bulge. Yet the main thing everyone knew and remembered about that terrible episode was that the American commander responded to a German demand for surrender with the word "Nuts."
In World War III, by contrast, great bouts of defeatist sentiment did get aroused by critics of the Left and the Right alike. Defeatism was also reinforced by angry recriminations over whether and/or how this or that battle should have been fought. And the battles in dispute were not only military, as in Korea and (to a much larger extent) Vietnam; they were also political, as in the passionate debates over arms control and détente; and they were in addition ideological, as over the question of whether the enemy was Soviet expansionism in particular, or Communism in general, or our own paranoid delusions.
World War IV is already marked by its own version of all these features ("Why are we in Iraq?"; "Who, exactly, is the enemy?"; "Is there really a terrorist threat?"). But in the 24-hour-a-day TV coverage that now exists, the forces promoting defeatism have a far more potent weapon for magnifying everything that goes wrong, or only appears to have gone wrong. We who support World War IV can complain all we like about these conditions, but they are the ones under which it will have to be fought if it is to be fought at all. The bottom line is that we are up against even more defeatism in this war than there was in World War III.
Before we entered World War II, serious doubts were raised as to whether we were a match for such disciplined and fanatical enemies as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And in World War III, leading anti-Communists like Whittaker Chambers and James Burnham were sure that we lacked the stomach, the heart, the will, and the wit to stand effectively against the Soviet Union and its allies and sympathizers: to Chambers we were "the losing side," and to Burnham we were veritably suicidal in our weakness and folly. They turned out to be wrong because, as Charles Horner of the Hudson Institute once put it in speaking of Chambers, they, and not they alone, failed "to anticipate the resiliency of the American citizenry and its leadership." Today similar doubts and fears are once again all over the place, with even some of my fellow supporters of the Bush Doctrine murmuring that we have all grown too soft, too self-indulgent, and too self-absorbed to meet yet another daunting challenge.
Except for an occasional twinge brought on by paying too much attention to the antiwar forces, and to certain aspects of our culture, both low and high, I did not share these doubts and fears before the verdict of November 2, and they have been quite banished by what I am persuaded the American people were saying when they voted to keep George W. Bush in the White House for another four years.
Which is why I think (to say it one last time) that the amazing leader this President has amazingly turned out to be 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 not only to the people of this country, and not only to the people of the greater Middle East, but also to the people of Europe and beyond, in spite of the sorry fact that so many of them do not wish to know it yet.
See also Walter Cronkite Is No More.
Lane Core Jr. CIW P Tue. 01/18/05 07:29:35 PM
Categorized as Social/Cultural.