Norman Podhoretz, the silliest living neoconartist since the late Irving Kristol left this Earth for the fiery fink tank of hell, recently sat down with Peter Robinson and Bernard Lewis for a chat aboard the post-election National Review Cruise of Resentment. One thing to know about Poddy is that he hasn’t changed since the 1970s; every piece he writes or interview he gives will convey the following themes: America and Israel are beseiged by a monolithic foe, liberals within the West always backstab the virtuous neocons who want to send other people’s children overseas to fight the enemy, and that Poddy has personally suffered deeply for his courageous advocacy through the years at the hands of liberals who’ve said mean things about him but history will prove him right in the end.
Transcript and snark below the fold; I apologize for the length; especially insane Pod phrases in bold to ease skimming.
Robinson brings up an irksome topic, Obama’s famous speech in Cairo. Poddy sourly replies (brackets and bolding are mine):
Many of the [American] misdeeds [Obama cited in the Cairo speech] were imaginary….if you want to draw up a balance sheet….Kosovo….Iraq and Afghanistan had the effect of liberating millions of Muslims from local tyrannies. Of course the local consequences, of course the local consequences aren’t so promising as they might have been….The so-called Arab spring…..has turned out to be an Arab winter….The fact that there have been free elections….is no great consolation….since it brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a far worse regime — or at least adversary of the United States — than the Mubarak regime was….and [in] Syria, if and when Assad falls, a similar group will take over.
Democracy sucks! Robinson again quotes the wicked Obama on the subject of American exceptionalism, to which Poddy replies:
Corruption of the culture is what happened. The educational system….starting from kindergarten….has inculcated a view of the United states which was very different. American history is generally seen as a series of oppressions of one group or another. This has led to what we call multiculturalist perspective: all cultures are equal except ours. We are exceptional in the sense of being exceptionally bad…
This is the ex-Trotskyist’s sour grapes version of American history which Poddy shares with the late Christopher Hitchens (they hated each other, by the way, even after Hitch went full-on neocon). Anyway, Pod and Lewis blather on this subject for a while, then Pod insincerely affects a degree of fairness:
There’s no question that we have a history of discrimination against various groups, but that history is also marked by efforts — powerful efforts — to overcome those defects….Thomas jefferson, who owned slaves, said that…”I tremble for my country when I reflect that god is just.” Take that as a prescient or prophetic statement about what was to come….the bloodiest war the United States had ever fought and still has ever fought, the Civil War….
This, by the way, is the same Poddy who told Gore Vidal that the Civil War was to him as remote and meaningless as the Wars of the Roses. Poddy’s appreciation of American history is also so great that he has dismissed our best historian, Henry Adams’s, work as totally worthless because of Adams’s more or less closeted Victorian antisemitism.
This is a measure of the extent to which this country has struggled to overcome some of the defects, slavery being the most serious, but you could point to other fields….
So says the sensitive author of “My Negro Problem — and Ours.” Even fakey discussion of American racism is too much for Robinson, who shifts the conversation to imperialism. Lewis denies America is imperialist in the Middle East or indeed anywhere, a nice bit of propaganda made possible by narrowly defining imperialism to mean forced annexation of territory. Predictably, this lights a fire under Poddy:
You bring up that meeting [of FDR and King Saud]. It’s astonishing to realize that Roosevelt was more worried about British imperialism than about Soviet imperialism.
Have liberals ever not been traitors?
This is a measure of the American attitude toward imperialism. I mean, here was a WASP aristocrat you would expect to be Anglophile, passionate about defending England…
A Pod Person (Norman, Midge Decter, John, Rachel, and ex-con son-in-law Elliott “Mr. Kenilworth” Abrams) always thinks first in terms of tribe, expects others to as well (though it’s a given that other tribes, not Chosen by G-d, have an objectively lower value), and considers them perverse at best when they don’t.
… and he thought the great danger we faced in the postwar period was British imperialism. [Robinson interjects that Eisenhower scotched the Suez invasion and Pod finishes his sentence] for the same reason. There’s an anti-imperialist streak in American political culture that is much deeper than anything you could legitimately describe as imperialism. We invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Now if we had been engaged in an imperialist adventure at that point we would have settled in permanently and run the country, exploited it, as many opponents of the invasion said we were there for the oil! [Robinson gestures exasperatedly at the thought of such stupid people.] Well, not only were we not there for the oil, we helped them restore their production of oil…
Bill Kristol recently blarged the same sort of pathetic denial of imperial venality, which inspired Michael Moore to helpfully list quotes of many neoconservatives explicitly stating that America was indeed in Iraq for the oil. Among those cited was Midge Decter, who is also known as Mrs. Norman Podhoretz.
….and you could almost say that the United States in its adventures abroad was more exploited than exploiter — from an economic point of view, certainly.
As J.A. Hobson proved over a hundred years ago, the losses for the imperial power are unequally distributed and this is a feature not a bug of the imperial system. The average taxpayer is robbed to pay for a war the elites make out like bandits on, a fact from the time of snot-nosed British public school graduates cronying-up the civil service in India to neocon larvae like Simone Ledeen (daughter of Michael) and Michael Fleischer (brother of Ari) feasting on the carcass of Iraq.
Robinson asks Lewis about Islamic goals; Poddy soon takes over:
[It's] absolutely clear [that the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to restore a caliphate within the boundaries of the old Ottoman Empire.] They say it all the time. If I’ve acquired any wisdom at all it consists of taking at face value the threats of one’s enemies. There’s a kind of pathology at work in the world that refuses to believe….somebody says “I wanna kill you” well he can’t possibly mean that…..right [Robinson excitedly says "like Mein Kampf]….We can do business with Herr Hitler — I forget who said it — Chamberlain as a matter of fact said [it]. So you have a country like Iran which of course is Muslim which repeatedly declares its intention to wipe Israel off the map, and many people still refuse to take that — they say it’s rhetoric. I remember the late Hannah Arendt describe the rhetoric of Eichmann — who said he’d go to his grave happy at the thought of having massacred millions of Jews — and she said this was sheer rodomontade, a fancy word which means exaggerated rhetoric — red meat for the base. Well, he meant it and Hitler meant it and Ahmadinejad means it and I think the Muslim Brotherhood means it and not just towards Israel.
….let me quote Bernard Lewis at himself: “The modern political Islamic radicalism owes as much to both Communism and Naziism as it does to the traditions of Islam.” He points out that the Germans came into the Middle East during World War II and its political program and organization had a lot to do, for example, with the founding of the Baath party; and when the war was over the Communists moved in and the Islamic political forces also learned a lot of lessons from the Communists on how to operate politically. So you had these two major totalitarian forces of the 20th century basically invading the seventh century culture of the Islamic world and it led to what I like to call Islamofascism.
Christopher Hitchens actually invented this stupid and needlessly inflammatory word but, typically, Poddy takes all the credit and, just as typically (as we shall see), overuses it; but then it’s irresistible to him and to other neoconartists who want to scare the shit out of people and there’s no better way of doing that than pretending Islamic radicalism, like Serpentor, is consciously made from all the worst pieces of every horrible thing in the historical catalog.
Some discussion follows of Gaddafi and King Hussein of Jordan, the latter of whom Poddy especially hates. Then Robinson asks about Iran and nuclear weapons.
Mutual assured destruction can’t work in relation to Iran because these are people who you might say are in love with [easeful? I can't quite make out what he says here] death. Those 72 virgins beckon. Now, my answer to the question is to imagine a scenario which most people are horrified — I try this in speeches all the time and people are horrified of it — imagine that Iran gets the bomb, ok? And the Israelis are sitting there and asking themselves, “do we wait for them to hit us and then retaliate out of the rubble or do we pre-empt and hit them first?” The Iranians are asking themselves the same question. We’ve never had a hair-trigger situation like that since the invention of nuclear weapons. Just imagine: somebody is gonna beat the other to the punch. I can’t see that unstable situation lasting for very long….maybe even as long as a few weeks or months.
But we have had a hair-trigger situation like that, as even Robinson said, for 45 years during the Cold War. But for Pod now (not so much then which one can see when reading his archive) in hindsight the Russians were rational, unlike modern Islamic Persians who nihilistically love death and will welcome nuclear incineration if only just to spite those poor plucky underdog Israelis who actually have an illegal arsenal of nukes.
Islam, I believe, means submission. So I, contrary to what a lot of people now feel, believe that George W. Bush was a great president. But one of the things wrong with him, that compromised his greatness, was his fear of seeming to be at war with the whole Muslim world when he only wanted to be at war with the radical Islamists who are, again, what I insist on calling Islamofascism. And he bent over backwards to dispel any possible impression that the enemy was Islam, which is why he continually praised Islam as a religion of peace and various other characterizations. And there was a short period where he began or tried to name the enemy as Islamist radicalism and the roof fell in on him and he retreated from that thereafter. So we were in the position — and still are by the way — of fighting a war — we’ve had two fronts, really three — one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and the cold war with Iran — against an enemy which has remained nameless. [Robinson tells him to name it] Islamofascism. and I’ll tell you what I mean by….partly what i learned from Bernard about the influence of Naziism and Communism on the politics of the Islamist groups of the twentieth century….but I think this is an enemy with — a two-headed enemy. One is religious and one is political, secular. The religious element is Islamist, and the expectations that Bernard described, that religious Muslims hold. and the other was the secular face which could be summarized or epitomized by Saddam Hussein. And when we went to war after 9/11 we went to war against one of these heads, that is the religious one in Afghanistan, and then the secular head, the fascist part. When I say I think that George W. Bush was a great president, I think he properly understood the nature of the threat that had been posing even before 9/11 but we recognized or woke to after 9/11 and designed a strategy to contend with it, much as Harry Truman did in 1948 in the face of the threat of Soviet totalitarianism. And we are still fighting this war, only nobody wants to recognize it… it was hardly mentioned in the presidential campaign that we’ve just concluded.
As always with neoconservatives, Poddy insists that every ideological enemy is monolithic if perhaps multifaceted. The moronic decision to attack the Baathists in Iraq for what al-Qaeda from Afghanistan did to us on 9/11 makes perverse sense because for him they are basically the same — and so themselves must think they are the same, to the point of collusion. There’s the Saddam-bin Laden link, in his imagination. It was the same during the Cold War, when idiots like Poddy insisted that since Mao and Khrushchev-then-Brezhnev and Ho Chih Minh and their respective countries were all communist, they must inevitably and perpetually <3 each other. Nixon, student of De Gaulle and nationalism (and no neocon), knew better.
[On the dubious wisdom of American support for dictatorships during the Cold War] You always have to ask the question, “compared to what?” I remember the Shah of Iran who was a modernizer, was eager to grant equal rights to women and who was hated by the Muslims for what we would consider his virtues. And we sat by and allowed Khomeini to overthrow him and everybody said “wonderful, wonderful.” Well the Khomeini regime turned out to be far worse for the people living under it and certainly for our interests than the Shah and worst of all for the Iranians, so you always have to ask what the alternatives are.
Of course if we hadn’t toppled Mossadegh, there would have been no Shah nor Ayatollah Assahollah. But Poddy chooses to ignore that as well as the “wonderful” Shah’s flaws — SAVAK, for instance.
There are those who keep telling us that there are these hidden liberals in the Arab world that we should support — I’ve been hearing that for twenty years now. Where are they hiding, one asks. I’m sure there are such people there but they are not very numerous, not very vocal, and now we are faced with that dilemma in Syria. We’re told to give arms to the opposition, and now we know the opposition has been infiltrated by al-Qaeda. Nobody knows who the good guys are, if any, in that opposition.
I read this to imply Poddy would be comfortable with some Great Force For Good wiping out the essentially worthless populations of all these countries.
It’s highly ironic. What has turned out to be the great defect in the strategy that led to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is that we are not imperialistic enough. If we had been prepared to assume the responsibility that an imperial power like Britain in its heyday would have done, which is to actually nurture the creation of a new kind of government in both those countries…[Robinson says "run the country unambiguously." Pod nods his agreement.]….up to a certain point, but that’s a responsibility that we were not willing to take upon ourselves, which may turn out to mean the sacrifice was wasted. But I don’t think it was destined to be wasted, unless you show that we should have recognized — I should have recognized, Bush should have recognized, that the American people don’t have it in them — don’t have the willingness — to do what an imperial power would necessarily have to do in those circumstances in the aftermath of those wars.
More imperialism! What is required is a triumph of will!
[Lewis floors Robinson by saying the Middle East no longer matters all that much; Pod nods agreement.] Because of fracking, because of oil shale.
I thought oil had nothing to do with it! Keep your lies straight, Poddy!
[Lewis says the Middle East will sink into insignificance; here Poddy chooses to demur.] Would that it were so. We have to remind ourselves that we were not secure in our own borders as 9/11 proved. Neither the Communists nor the Nazis hit us where we lived, never succeeded, not Hitler, not Stalin ever hit us in our home territory. These people did. They will continue to do so wherever they have a chance. Now the Bush strategy, which I still basically believe in, said, well, they have been coming to us so we had better go to them and prevent that area from becoming a seedbed, a nurturing ground, a swamp in which these monsters are bred. I still think that’s true. The problem is in order for that policy to succeed again we would have had to assume the responsibility of being there.
And much as I would like to agree with Bernard that we can basically get away with minimal involvement, I fear that, you know, what happened in Benghazi is only a small taste of what we would face — and here at home, not just at some American consulate.
[Robinson asks where should Republicans get foreign policy counsel.] The policy debate has gone dead. Modesty forbids my referring to certain books and articles. Well, all right, I wrote a book called World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism — World War IV because I regard along with Eliot Cohen and others that the Cold War is World War Three. There’s an illusion now that there was a perfect consensus during the Cold War, the nature of the enemy, what we had to do about it. That’s nonsense and some of us have the scars to prove it.
There’s the self-pity.
There was always a powerful opposition to the policy of resisting Soviet expansionism, it goes on to this very day. We have books coming out by the week saying the whole thing was an illusion, the Soviets weren’t a threat, Reagan didn’t win the Cold war, Gorbachev ended it, etc. That genera–
He almost said “generation.” Yes, Poddy is inclined to blame the 1960s for everything.
That group in the political culture [which] opposed our resistance to Soviet imperialism, I would call it, now sits in the White House. And it is pursuing a policy within the culture that grows directly out of the anti-anti-communist political culture of the Cold War. That, I think, is the tragedy. There is no debate because those who want to fight the war haven’t been able to name it or those of us who have named it have been ignored. And also because the dominant faction now, in the culture, unlike what happened in 1947-48, is opposed to doing anything, doesn’t think there is a war, thinks the whole thing is a figment of neoconservative imagination.
And there’s an example of one of the neoconartist’s major requisite creations (every one of them does it eventually; it’s part of the identity): the dolchstosslegende.
[Lewis and Poddy blather about MEMRI, then are asked about the future.] I am incorrigibly optimistic about America. I don’t think we are an empire in decline, though no empire lasts forever. We are not an empire so both premises are false — we are not an empire, we are not in decline. I think that despite the blow in my faith…the American public has taken in this last election — it was that close — but I continue to believe that there is health and vitality and good sense in this nation, especially if we eliminate the left and right coasts where I often say I live as plague central [????] which is in Manhattan of course, so I continue to believe in American exceptionalism, I continue to believe that in the end — I think Churchill said after we do all the wrong things, we finally do the right thing. I take consolation from the fact that during the Cold War, some of the great figures, thinkers, were not only pessimistic but believed that we were doomed. Whitaker Chambers said when he left the communist party “I’ve left the winning side, I’ve joined the losing side.” James Burnham….wrote a book called Suicide of the West which was very plausible. They turned out to be wrong, thank God. I think that in the end this country will do the right thing and will prevail, not in the sense of the triumphant conquest of the world …but a benevolent force…[blah blah blah in that vain, then fin].
I have listened several times but still can’t quite make out exactly what he’s saying about the coasts, though I take from the context it’s a Sullivanesque reference to the geographical location of the American fifth column (liberals, lefties) which Pod thinks has totally ruined his dream of the perpetual brutal occupation of all Arabs and Persians in the Middle East.