Monday, July 31, 2006

Bueller? Bueller?

One hopes, maybe against hope, that this absurd strain of thinking stays where it belongs: under John Podhoretz's thankfully infrequent byline. That the last piece of his to be archived by the prestigious and always dead-on National Review Online is this paean to Will Smith's cinematic career is instructive.

What to make of the litany of questions that comprise the editorial? Are they to be understood as rhetorical? I can't see how any thinking person would assume so, so I'll try to answer a few (with an occasional rhetorical question, of course):

"What if liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?"

Is Podhoretz holding that what is really making this long war so difficult to win is a burdensome excess of "humanitarian concern?" In light of the recent tragedy at Qana (which ought for now only to be called that), could this be any less prescient as a framework for comprehending these incomprehensible things?

"What if the universalist idea of liberal democracy - the idea that all people are created equal - has sunk in so deeply that we no longer assign special value to the lives and interests of our own people as opposed to those in other countries?"

In other words, the root cause of our plight is that because the equal rights of all people has become axiomatic, it's becoming increasingly difficult for us not to mind killing each other? This is what makes fighting long wars against despicable enemies so excruciating? Of course, claims Podhoretz:

"Didn't the willingness of their leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and the back of their enemies? Didn't that singleness of purpose extend down to the populations in those countries in those days, who would have and did support almost any action at any time that would lead to the deaths of Germans and Japanese?

What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?"

There you have it - the "singleness of purpose" which enabled us to triumph in previous major wars never was derived from strategic ingenuity, or from the constancy of our commitment to defending the nation against an impending, amassing threat of global violence and coercion. It came from the ephemeral decisions, at the bleakest moments of these wars, that impelled us to kill rather indiscriminately. Because, after all, better safe than sorry.

Podhoretz asks but one truly useful question: "Where do these questions lead us?"

He seems to think he knows.

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