Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ross Douthat asks what year is it

(Update, August 31, 2007. Actually, the one date that Douthat is missing here is 1968. In some sense, the rising tide of very young Muslims across different societies, different places in the world has the feel of the rise of the baby boom generation in 1968 in the West, in the United States and Britain, in France, in Prague - the self-confidence of youth, the belief in extraordinarily simple, indeed simplistic solutions, the inspiration of slogans, the belief that the world could and would be made anew, the Age of Aquarius. 1968?)

The Atlantic Monthly's Ross Douthat has emerged as one of the wittiest voices around - and this piece is both witty and smart at the same time, in the WSJ, Tuesday, August 15, 2006. The only thing I might add to the argument is how Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri, and the Islamofacists see it - 1683, perhaps, early in the year, sometime before the Ottoman defeat at the gates of Vienna? Excerpts:

What Year Is It? 1938? 1972?Or 1914?

August 15, 2006;
WSJ Page A12

Foreign-policy debates are usually easy to follow: Liberals battle conservatives, realists feud with idealists, doves vie with hawks. But well into the second Bush term, traditional categories are in a state of collapse. On issue after issue, the Republicans and Democrats are divided against themselves, and every pundit seems determined to play George Kennan and found an intellectual party of one. We suffer from a surfeit of baffling labels -- "progressive realism," "realistic Wilsonianism," "progressive internationalism," "democratic globalism" -- that require a scorecard to keep straight. But perhaps there's a simpler way. For the moment at least, where you line up on any foreign-policy question has less to do with whether you're Republican or Democrat, isolationist or internationalist -- and more to do with what year you think it is.

There are five major schools of thought on this question, beginning with the "1942ists," who believe that we stand in Iraq today where the U.S. stood shortly after Pearl Harbor: bogged down against a fascist enemy and duty-bound to carry on the fight to victory. To the 1942ist, Iraq is Europe and the Pacific rolled into one, Saddam and Zarqawi are the Hitlers and Tojos of our era, suicide-bombers are the equivalent of kamikazes -- and George Bush is Churchill, or maybe Truman. The most prominent exponent of 1942ism is Mr. Bush himself. His speech on last year's V-J Day anniversary, for instance, was a long meditation on the similarities between the Iraq war and the challenges faced by FDR. But Mr. Bush hasn't been alone in his invocation of World War II. For much of the post-9/11 period, '42ism has been the position of most mainstream conservatives (and many liberals as well), embraced by realists as well as idealists, and inspiring everything from the term "Islamofascism" to calls for Manzanar-style internment camps for disloyal Muslim-Americans.

Over the last year, though, many conservatives have been peeling away from '42ism, joining the "1938ists" instead, for whom Iran's march toward nuclear power is the equivalent of Hitler's 1930s brinkmanship. While most '38ists still support the decision to invade Iraq, they increasingly see that struggle as the prelude to a broader regional conflict, and worry that we're engaged in Munich-esque appeasement. This camp's leading spokesmen include Michael Ledeen, Bill Kristol and Newt Gingrich. If you hear someone compare Ahmadinejad to Hitler, demand a pre-emptive strike on Iran, or suggest that the Hezbollah-Israel battle is a necessary overture to a larger confrontation, you're listening to a 1938ist.

Liberals, too, have been abandoning '42ism of late. The once-sizable bloc of left-of-center Iraq project supporters has shrunk to include Joe Lieberman, Christopher Hitchens and almost nobody else. Most of the liberal ex-'42ists have joined up with the "1948ists," who share the '42ist and '38ist view of the war on terror as a major generational challenge, but insist that we should think about it in terms of Cold War-style containment and multilateralism, not Iraq-style pre-emption. 1948ism is a broad church: It includes politicians who still technically support the Iraq war (but not really), pundits who opposed it from the beginning, chastened liberal hawks like Peter Beinart and chastened neocons like Francis Fukuyama. What unites them all is a skepticism about military interventions, a fear of hubris, and an abiding faith in the ability of diplomacy, international institutions and "soft power" to win out in a long struggle with militant Islamism.

What unites the '48ists, too, is a desire to avoid being tarred as antiwar leftists. This is precisely the position that the "1972ists" embrace. '72ism has few mainstream politicians behind it, but a great many Americans, and it holds that George Bush is Nixon, Iraq is Vietnam, and that any attack on Iran or Syria would be equivalent to bombing Cambodia. Where 1948ists compare themselves to Dean Acheson and Reinhold Niebuhr, '72ists suggest that the greater danger is repression at home and blowback from imperialist ventures abroad. '72ism is the worldview of Michael Moore, the makers of "Syriana," and the editors of the Nation -- and its power is growing.

As 1972ists are to mainstream liberalism, the "1919ists" are to the political right: The old-guard faction that damns its own party's leaders as sellouts to the other side. For '19ists, Mr. Bush is Woodrow Wilson, a feckless idealist bent on sacrificing U.S. interests and global stability on the altar of messianic liberalism. 1919ism was marginal three years ago, confined to figures like Pat Buchanan who (like the '72ists) saw Zionist fingerprints all over U.S. foreign policy. But of late, many traditional conservatives have migrated in this direction, including William F. Buckley and George Will. As the administration flirts with '38ism, rattling its sabers at Syria and Iran, the '19ers have become convinced that the only thing more dangerous than an incautious '42ism is a still more reckless belief that the year is 1938.

The '19ist-versus-'38ist struggle in the conservative ranks is just one example of how this new alignment creates odd bedfellows and unexpected fissures. Right-wing intellectuals like Andrew Bacevich pen 1919ist essays in the Nation as well as the American Conservative, while a '42ist liberal like Mr. Lieberman bonds with a conservative president and suffers for it at the hands of '48ist and '72ist primary voters. The Democrats' chances of winning in 2008 depend on whether a '42ist or '48ist candidate can get through the primary season without being forced to pander to the party's '72ist base (as John Kerry did, fatally, in 2004). The GOP primaries, meanwhile, may turn on whether a '42ist candidate like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani takes up Iran-hawk themes to fend off '38ist criticism -- and whether this provokes a revolt among disgruntled '19ists, who for now remain a movement in search of a leader.

And yet. A few voices have spoken up of late for the most disquieting possibility of all. This possibility lacks heroes and villains (Bush/Wilson, Ahmadinejad/Hitler) and obvious lessons (impeach Bush, stay the course in Iraq). But as our crisis deepens, it's worth considering 1914ism, and with it the possibility that all of us, whatever year we think it is, are poised on the edge of an abyss that nobody saw coming.

Mr. Douthat is an associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly.

1 comment:

Sildenafil said...

Age of Aquarius, my astrological sign is Aquarius and I like to read my horoscope every day and I thin that last year or two years ago was the year of Aquarius