World War IV
To the Editor:
It is not altogether pleasant to appear in my friend Norman Podhoretz’s latest rogues’ gallery [“The War Against World War IV,” February]. It is especially strange to find myself criticized, alongside Mark Helprin and Angelo M. Codevilla, for urging that the war against terrorism be prosecuted more vigorously. This makes us, in Mr. Podhoretz’s words, “superhawks” whose various prescriptions for “ruthlessness” in war are so extreme as to be “utopian.” These are, I would note, precisely the sort of criticisms usually directed at Mr. Podhoretz himself.
At any rate, immediately after 9/11 I commissioned for the Claremont Review of Books a series of “Victory Watch” essays by Codevilla because I was concerned that without a clear definition—and corresponding pursuit—of victory, the war effort would drift. It would degenerate into the pursuit of “shadowy” terrorist networks while leaving intact the regimes that inspired and sustained them. So far, the Bush administration has done better than I had feared, but not as well as I had hoped.
We missed our chance, at least our best chance, to destroy the regime in Iraq, and as a result the war goes on. The Baathists have been displaced and to some extent disgraced, which is a great achievement; but they and their terrorist allies have not been defeated. For reasons that Helprin and Codevilla have well explained, the choices now before us are harder than they need have been. Increasingly, it looks as if, rather than winning the war ourselves, we intend to hand it over to the Iraqis (or at least to the Shiites and Kurds) to win, lose, or draw.
Is it “utopian” to think that the U.S. might have done—might still do—better? And which is more utopian: to advise a more warlike prosecution of the war on terror, or, as Mr. Podhoretz advocates, “to push all the states in the greater Middle East—every last one of them—toward democracy”?
The Iraqis who voted in the recent election were indeed brave, but it should be remembered that their bravery manifested itself during a security crackdown that amounted almost to martial law. Perhaps it is “ruthless” to think that martial law can be necessary and useful, especially in a war zone, but who doubts that a little more order from the beginning of the American occupation would have been good for freedom in Iraq?
On the relation between democratization and the war, I think the Bush Doctrine is potentially in conflict with itself—certainly Mr. Podhoretz’s imagery is. He urges the U.S. to “sow the seeds” of democratization and “help to water them as they flower and grow.” At the same time, he wants America to “drain the swamps” of despotism that are “the breeding-grounds of terrorism” in the Middle East. But you cannot sow (and water!) seeds in an existing swamp, especially one crawling with alligators. Presumably Mr. Podhoretz wants the U.S. first to get rid of the tyrants and terrorists, and only then to get on with the Johnny Appleseed part.
But the attractions of gardening may prove more compelling than the rigors of swamp-clearing, even to the good men of the Bush administration. There is growing evidence that this is already happening in Iraq, and perhaps also with regard to American policy toward Iran. To put the dilemma in Mr. Podhoretz’s terms, why worry about fighting World War IV if everything in the Middle East will soon be coming up roses?
President Bush is correct to defend democracy’s moral, political, religious, and economic superiority to tyranny and terror. But between the best and the worst are many types of government that can be useful in an imperfect world. Even Woodrow Wilson distinguished, implicitly, between making the world safe for democracy and making the world democratic. The latter effort, especially if pursued under the illusion that history must be on our side, will distract from and eventually imperil the former.
Charles R. Kesler
Claremont Review of Books
To the Editor:
According to Norman Podhoretz, I do not imagine that a strategy like President Bush’s, “based on so many false premises and so much timidity and weakness, ever can or ever will succeed.” I am guilty as charged. Mr. Podhoretz supports the Bush Doctrine, but he does not explain its premises, its ends, or the means by which he believes it will succeed. He blames the shortcomings of the war on the constraints imposed on our elected leaders by the character of the American people or by the nature of democracies. But the American people have given Bush every tool he has asked for. Is Mr. Podhoretz suggesting that democracy is a handicap in waging war? If that were the case, it would be a suicide pact.
Mr. Podhoretz alleges that I consider “ruthlessness” to be “the only way to wage war.” But I argued that any and all weapons of war—from diplomacy to economic subversion to military action—are meaningful to the extent that they lead to victory. Violence or nonviolence should not be chosen for its own sake; each war requires its own particular combination of means. To choose a set of ends without also choosing the means to achieve them is to combine what Theodore Roosevelt called “the unbridled tongue” with “the unready hand.” Mr. Podhoretz agrees that the means I advocate would suppress terrorism. I wish he would explain how he thinks the Bush policies are doing that.
I have argued that we have the indefeasible need and right to demand that regimes end the incitement, eliminate the chiefs, stop the financing, and abandon the causes behind terror. If they do not do these things—as in fact many have not—we ought to use our military capacity to undo them. If we do not use this power, we deserve our troubles. But we have neither the need, nor the power, nor the right, to change foreign societies. Trying to and failing—or just talking about it and fumbling—discredits our power and our ideals, and multiplies our enemies.
A regime consists of more than just a government; it includes the larger group of collaborators, constituents, educators, enforcers, beneficiaries, and money men. Because the Bush team confuses regimes with governments, we only removed the topmost layer of Iraq’s Baathist ruling class. The Bush team has refilled top posts, especially in the military and intelligence apparatuses, with Baathist retreads. To the dismay of the Shiites and the Kurds, we have protected the regime’s remnants from the majority of Iraqis, even as those remnants were trying to delegitimize Iraq’s elections with guns and bombs. Eradicating regimes requires exposing their members and their friends to the tender mercies of their local enemies.
Though military power can destroy regimes, it cannot build new ones. Much less can it change cultures. For Mr. Podhoretz (citing President Bush), the war should be about replacing current regimes with “elected governments that would work to fulfill the hopes of ‘the peoples of the Islamic nations [who] want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as peoples of every nation.’” Bush “refuse[s] to accept” that those in the region who want to live in what we call freedom and opportunity are a tiny minority. But what Bush refuses to accept is reality itself. Men are created equal. But their habits and yearnings are not, and the culture of the majority of people in the Middle East is alien to freedom. Denying this reality is evidence not of superior morality but of inferior integrity. The notion of liberating peoples from their own cultural identities is nuts. President Bush may not know that corruption, self-dealing, conspiracy, and ethnic hate are habits endemic to the region, but Mr. Podhoretz surely knows it.
For Mr. Podhoretz, those in favor of World War IV are right ipso facto, while all the others are defeatists—even those like myself who, through the study of what victory requires, try piercing the fog of war. I wish Bush every success. Perhaps Mr. Podhoretz can show me why I should expect it.
Angelo M. Codevilla
To the Editor:
I’m not grateful to Norman Podhoretz for attacking me, although I still like him and there’s no question that he’s adorable.
Just to set the record straight, however, I do not advocate “all-out war—total mobilization at home, total ruthlessness on the battlefield.” What does that mean, anyway? Nuclear weapons? Executing prisoners? Killing non-combatants? All-out war would have turned Baghdad into molten glass. Usually, it is the careless, “it-doesn’t-matter-what-your-position-actually-is,” loony Left that attributes such things to me.
As for ruthlessness, in my own military service I never violated, nor would I have violated, the laws of war, nor have I ever advocated their violation. Going armed among civilians, I was obliged to think about such things, and had decided that I would sacrifice my own life rather than kill an innocent. It was not an easy decision, and to this day I cannot be sure that I would have kept to it. But to cast me as a blood-thirsty, unthinking “superhawk” is inaccurate, especially when my public and private advice has been aimed at minimizing casualties among American soldiers and non-combatants (and, had it been followed, would have done so). I plead guilty to advocating the use of every sanctioned resource to kill an enemy who is actively seeking our destruction, but that does not make me a “superhawk” any more than it makes me a penguin.
Nor have I ever recommended “total mobilization.” In fact, in the piece from the Claremont Review of Books that Mr. Podhoretz cites, I said, specifically, of total mobilization,
I am not advocating any such thing. As pressing as our needs may be, we are not engaged in a war against a major power, and the intensity of engagement in World War II is far and above what is necessary. I point it out to show what we can do, and what actually we have done, if we concert our will.
What I have advised is that we raise defense spending from the Bush administration’s average of 3.3 percent of GNP from 2001 to 2003 (excluding “emergency” supplements) to at least the 5.7 percent the United States managed on average during the peacetime years of the period 1940-2000, something that would hardly break us and that is not even comparable to full mobilization, which during World War II meant spending as much as 38.5 percent of GNP (in 1945). You cannot fight a hawk’s war, whatever its object, with a dove’s budget, unless you want to get into the kind of trouble we are in now. Why would someone who posits that we are fighting something as grave as World War IV look so askance at total mobilization anyway—or is it “World War IV, Fat-Free”?
Which is not to say that I do not disagree with Mr. Podhoretz. I do. Implicit in my position, which I have made clear repeatedly on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and in National Review, is the charge that the President has made a mess of the war—preparing insufficiently; refusing the opportunity after September 11 to mobilize the country; sending troops into battle late and inadequately supported; squandering the military power that he has consistently failed properly to augment; seizing on aims, such as reforming the Islamic world, that are both impossible and impertinent; leaving the United States open on almost every flank; and failing to inspire, argue, judge, and lead as a war President, much less a World War IV President, should.
To the Editor:
In his forthright article, my friend Norman Podhoretz finds that I “misunderestimated” George W. Bush when I hazarded the prediction that, like other second-term Presidents, he would not persist with the more controversial foreign-policy ventures of his first term. My reasoning was that democracies tend to revert to the moderate mean instead of going off the rails.
Mr. Podhoretz, for his part, views the moderate policies that I favor as weak compromises, and he suggests that I fail to “recognize the exceptionally strong leader America has found in this President, or to take the measure of his boldness, his determination, and his stamina.” On the basis of his own assessment of the President’s character, he makes the opposite prediction of a steady course ahead.
Mr. Podhoretz may turn out to be right, but in that case I doubt he will rejoice in the outcome. I say this because in specific, material ways the policies of George W. Bush are not sustainable. Extremists believe that “boldness” and “determination” can overcome all constraints—indeed, that was the central Mussolinian theme—but democratic politicians cannot long ignore the numbers.
The administration has grossly overused the ground components of the U.S. armed forces, with severe consequences that cannot be willed away. From the start, the U.S. occupation of Iraq suffered from a severe manpower deficit. Our inability to police Iraq in such a way as to achieve a minimum standard of law and order—the chief responsibility of any occupying power—allowed looting and civil unrest to set back the reconstruction effort over a year before it was halted altogether by the pervasive insecurity that continues still.
The few Iraqis not pre-conditioned by religious mandate to hate America (the famously moderate Aya- tollah Sistani refuses to shake hands with infidels and has refused to meet any “Christian,” i.e., American, official), and even those who had participated in our occupation regime, became hostile to Americans. For once, they had good reason: many had family members who were robbed, injured, raped, or killed by bandits during the mayhem. The prestige of the United States has been damaged, and it is no consolation that tighter policing would have evoked accusations of an oppressive occupation.
At no point during the occupation, including the recent election build-up, did the total number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq exceed 150,000 or so, which translates into a “rifle strength” total of at most 75,000 that could guard, patrol, cordon-and-search, raid, counterstrike, or otherwise contain the Baathist revanchists, local and imported jihadists, and mindless resisters. That number is only about twice the manpower level of the New York City police department. A rifle strength of at least 200,000 (for a total of at least 400,000 personnel) would have been minimally adequate, but even the present grossly inadequate troop level exceeds the sustainable capacity of our active and reserve military forces when one considers their many deployments around the globe.
Inflexible arithmetic cannot be willed away. Instead it has been circumvented by injurious expedients. Uninterrupted one-year tours are far too long for healthy young soldiers to be deprived of rest and recreation and to be away from their families. Formations have been rotated back to Iraq without a proper interval for visits at home or for tactical regeneration by way of training. National Guard and Army Reserve units, which are essential to the military infrastructure at home but were never before deemed fit for deployment overseas, have been sent to the combat zone in Iraq.
Again, boldness and determination cannot mitigate the consequences: enlistments and re-enlistments are down sharply (except in the Marine Corps reserve) even though pay, benefits, and bonuses have increased. Promising young career officers are leaving the service because they do not want to return to Iraq for another year—something that never happened in the Vietnam war.
While I defer to Mr. Podhoretz’s superior knowledge of our President, it is my prediction nonetheless that shortages of money and of men will impose moderation on the second Bush administration in the form of disengagement from Iraq and non-engagement (at least by ground troops) elsewhere. It is fortunate, therefore, that the non-transport part of the Air Force is underemployed instead of overtaxed, allowing the President to revert to the mean by bombing the outrageously immoderate, as his more moderate predecessors were wont to do.
Edward N. Luttwak
Center for Strategic and International Studies
To the Editor:
Citing my essay, “A Dissenter’s Guide to Foreign Policy,” Norman Podhoretz charges me with two sins: that I “implicitly” place “the things America has done under George W. Bush on a par with the ‘iniquities’ of the Soviet Union under Stalin, from ‘the horrors of collectivization, the show trials, the devouring of the children of the Revolution in purges and assassinations’ and up through ‘the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939’”; and that I and like-minded critics are “rooting for an American defeat” in the war on terror. This grossly misrepresents what I wrote, and I am happy to repudiate both of the positions that Mr. Podhoretz imputes to me.
By using the word “implicitly,” Mr. Podhoretz attributes the Stalinist comparison to me even though I did not make it myself. In enumerating Soviet iniquities, I was describing how different enthusiasts of the Soviet experiment reached the moment when they felt the psychological need to repudiate the object of their beliefs. It was the character of these turning points, not some absurd comparison between Bush and the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, that I found interesting and instructive in considering the reaction of several writers (myself included) to the Bush revolution in American foreign policy.
I do think there is a legitimate parallel to be drawn between the Bush Doctrine and Trotskyism and other ideologies that support overturning illegitimate regimes through force, but the main emphasis in my writings, and especially in the essay Mr. Podhoretz cites, has been on the striking affinities between the Bush revolution and the French Revolution. The votaries of both had a universal creed, a declared willingness to liberate foreign peoples from tyranny, a strategic doctrine of preventive war, and armed forces (yesterday’s levE9e en masse, today’s “revolution in military affairs”) that represented a new order of military power. This complex of ideas and conditions does not signify totalitarianism, but it still constitutes a serious political malady.
Mr. Podhoretz writes that critics of the Bush Doctrine who insist that it will end in tears are “rooting for defeat.” He singles me out with mock admiration for candidly confessing to this sordid desire when in fact I did no such thing, and he imputes the same desire to many fellow critics, though without offering evidence. There is no older argument in politics than that such-and-such a course of action will end in trouble or disaster. A political opposition must be permitted to speculate on what will or will not conduce to the public good without being subjected to the ungracious charge that it cares nothing about it. Critics of the President’s policies are not rooting for defeat. We are hoping instead that Bush will back off from the ruinous prescription of endless war that Mr. Podhoretz has advanced in his recent essays.
David C. Hendrickson
Colorado Springs, Colorado
To the Editor:
In Norman Podhoretz’s world, everything is very simple. There are only two positions to take: uncritical praise of and obeisance toward the Bush administration, which places you on the side of all things good and virtuous, or opposition to the Bush Doctrine, in which case you are either French, an Iraqi insurgent, a right- or left-wing isolationist, a follower of Noam Chomsky, a superhawk, a liberal internationalist, a realist, or a member of the media, in which case you hate America and democracy.
For Mr. Podhoretz, the choice is clear. The rest of us may still have some hardheaded questions about what the Bush administration’s policies are doing for and to America.
What is the evidence for Mr. Podhoretz’s claim that “record levels of vituperation” were leveled against President Bush during the last election campaign; that Iraqi “insurgents were praying for the victory of John F. Kerry”; that the CIA is “hell-bent on sabotaging the Bush Doctrine”? Who are those people supposedly “in a position to know” that the State Department under Colin Powell was the most “insubordinate” in American history?
As evidence of the President’s belief in the righteousness of the Bush Doctrine, Mr. Podhoretz cites the fact that he has kept Donald Rumsfeld on as Secretary of Defense. But this tells us nothing more than that Bush is unable to admit to a mistake. As anyone only cursorily familiar with his record understands, and as Kitty Kelly documents in her recent book on the Bush family, this is a man who does not take responsibility for anything. This would also explain why he recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA director George Tenet, who said it was a “slam dunk” that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Podhoretz distorts reality when he writes of Abu Ghraib that “a half-dozen or so American guards had inflicted humiliation —mostly of a sexual nature— on a few Iraqi prisoners.” Even the military’s own investigations of Abu Ghraib have turned up evidence of egregious abuses by American troops. (The ACLU has catalogued hundreds of government documents detailing other instances of abuse and torture beyond Abu Ghraib.)
Also inaccurate is Mr. Podhoretz’s mention of “the approximately 1,000 [U.S. troops] killed in combat over the entire span of the battle of Iraq.” In fact, U.S. military fatalities reached 1,000 back around the beginning of September 2004, and as of this writing, over 25,000 members of the armed forces have suffered mental or physical injuries, including over 11,000 “seriously injured.” To date, nearly 1,500 soldiers and marines have died.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s belief that the President will hold firm to the Bush Doctrine disregards what is fundamental to any hope of its success: money. Great powers inevitably decline when they overextend themselves financially in the effort to control their empires. If Mr. Podhoretz gave any thought to the costs of pressing forward with the Bush Doctrine, he certainly kept it to himself.
To the Editor:
I agree with Norman Podhoretz that President Bush is unlikely to “retreat” from the Bush Doctrine during his second term, but nothing in his article puts to rest my suspicion that the resources at the President’s disposal do not match the level of his conviction. Perhaps Mr. Podhoretz’s next piece can address directly how the President gets to where he wants to go, and how much it will cost us in blood and treasure.
New York City
To the Editor:
President Bush has one factor working against his successful prosecution of World War IV: he has not asked for a declaration of war against radical Islam. Imagine if during World War II President Roosevelt had to go to Congress each time he wanted to open up a new front against the Axis powers. He would have had a distracting debate on his hands when, for example, he wanted to invade Italy. No world war can be fought successfully in such a piecemeal fashion.A0By now it should be clear that the provision for a declaration of war was put into the Constitution for a reason.
Kansas City, Missouri
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s stimulating articles about World War IV and the Bush Doctrine demonstrate such clarity of thought that I hope his words get through to the highest levels of the Bush administration. Here are the intellectual underpinnings of what the President is trying to do.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s article was exceptionally brilliant, and its timing—with the Iraqi elections taking place only days after its publication—was serendipitous.
To the Editor:
Thank you for Norman Podhoretz’s brilliant article on the Bush Doctrine and its detractors. The danger facing the West is clear, yet the opposition to the doctrine is overwhelming; it is invaluable to see its foundations argued with such thoroughness, clarity, and force.
Norman Podhoretz writes:
Let me begin by making it clear that no “rogue’s gallery” compiled by me could possibly include Charles R. Kesler, for the simple reason that I think the world of him, as a thinker, a writer, and an editor. But I also think that he is mistaken about World War IV and the Bush Doctrine. So, in my opinion, and even more profoundly, are his colleagues Angelo M. Codevilla and Mark Helprin, for both of whose intellectual powers I nevertheless have the greatest respect, and toward whom I have always felt, and still feel, great affection. The same goes for Edward N. Luttwak, even though, having drafted his brilliant mind into the service of one wild miscalculation after another in the run-up to the first Gulf War, he for some mysterious reason obdurately refuses to award it an honorable discharge so that it can return to doing the kind of invaluable work it did during World War III (a.k.a. the cold war).
Mr. Codevilla says of my comment about his attitude toward the Bush Doctrine that he is “guilty as charged,” and then goes on to restate that attitude in his letter. But since by his own account I have accurately represented his position, I see no point in repeating what I said about it in the first place. As for my own attitude toward the Bush Doctrine, I am puzzled by Mr. Codevilla’s allegation that I do not “explain its premises, its ends, or the means by which [I believe] it will succeed.” Since he apparently failed to notice that I did all those things in “The War Against World War IV,” and in three earlier articles in the pages of this magazine,* what good would a fifth iteration do?
With regard to Mr. Helprin, I take back “total mobilization,” but not “superhawk.” Surely anyone reading his litany of charges against the President’s conduct of the war would be justified in concluding that Mr. Helprin is much more hawkish than I am, and while he may find me “adorable,” I am (as Mr. Kesler notes) “usually” considered as hawkish as they come. Why not “superhawk” then?
Anyone reading that same litany would conclude that the Bush Doctrine has been discredited and that World War IV is a disaster; and so would anyone reading the indictments brought by Mr. Codevilla, Mr. Luttwak, and (to a lesser extent) Mr. Kesler. To most of the specific items they cite, my answers, again, were preemptively given not only in “The War Against World War IV,” but in the three articles that preceded it. A far better answer, however, has been given by “reality itself”—the very reality Mr. Codevilla accuses Bush of refusing to accept.
Contrary to what Bush’s critics so confidently predicted, and continue to assert, the use of American military power in Afghanistan and Iraq has indeed gone a long way toward draining the swamps and has already opened up a space in which the seeds of democratization are being sown and nourished (even as a few of Mr. Kesler’s “alligators” temporarily remain at large).
Contrary to what Bush’s critics so confidently predicted, and continue to assert, a benevolent domino effect, which is what some of us hoped for at the outset, has already begun taking political hold throughout the broader Middle East. Contrary to what Bush’s critics so confidently predicted, and continue to assert, the reformist wave he has let loose in the region has not only been sweeping over its polities but over its culture as well, and it has even seeped into the mosques. To Mr. Codevilla, “integrity” (no less) requires recognizing that “the culture of the majority of people in the Middle East is alien to freedom,” and that “the notion of liberating peoples from their own cultural identities is nuts.” Yet if he were to pay a visit to www.memri. org, he would find much evidence of just such nuttiness among the peoples of the region themselves. He might also wish to check out the streets of Beirut.
In sum, contrary to what Bush’s critics so confidently predicted, and continue to assert, the mistakes made in Iraq (if mistakes they actually were rather than reasonable judgment calls as between equally problematic alternatives) have not prevented what with every passing day looks more and more like a great victory. Moreover, the signs now pointing toward successes in other countries in the region, beginning with Lebanon and Syria, suggest that at least in some cases they can be achieved without the ground troops whose numbers Mr. Luttwak, along with a thousand other experts, tirelessly assure us have been insufficient to accomplish what by some inexplicable process is in fact being accomplished in Iraq.
Mr. Kesler asks: Could we have done better? Of course; it is always possible to do better in any enterprise. But considering that in a mere three years we have toppled vicious despotisms in Afghanistan and Iraq and set those two countries on the road to democratization; given that, by comparison with almost any military campaigns David Isenberg and Sean Drew could name, we have paid an amazingly low price in blood and treasure for doing this; and factoring in the social and political constraints under which (pace Mr. Codevilla) both campaigns had to be fought—with all this in mind, I seriously wonder how much better we could have done. Reading these letters, I again get the impression that—their disclaimers not-withstanding—the standard against which they measure the performance of the war is not a different set of (untested) tactics or policies, but perfection. Which is why the word “utopian” seems appropriate. And since that word means “nowhere,” Mr. Kesler is just plain wrong in trying to turn the tables on me by applying it to the Bush Doctrine, whose effects are visible in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries of the Middle East, which is to say somewhere.
John Murphy and Mr. Drew raise the issue of whether the war is worth the cost. In doing so, they talk as though we are in it because we have chosen to be, and that we can by the same token just walk away if we decide that it is too expensive to fight. But this is not a war of choice; it is a war into which we were bombed on 9/11. Neither I nor Mr. Helprin nor Mr. Luttwak nor anyone else can determine how much it will, or should, cost to win. But of one thing we can be certain: the price of defeat will be much higher—both in blood and treasure—than the price of victory, whatever that may turn out to be.
Speaking of defeat, the admiration I expressed for David Hendrickson’s candor in rooting for it was not “mocking” at all. Evidently, however, I was wrong about the candor, though not, I hasten to add, about his position and that of many of his colleagues. In his article, he rooted for defeat by expressing the hope that the Bush Doctrine would “end in tears.” Now he roots for the same outcome by hoping that its author will “back off”—in other words, that Bush will surrender before he is beaten. God save us all from such tenderly solicitous concern for “the public good.”
As to the other charge I made against him, Mr. Hendrickson does not deny that he likened opponents of the Bush Doctrine (who no longer think that America is a “force for good in the world”) with the ex-Communists who came to feel the same way about the Soviet Union because of the horrors of Stalinism. In drawing this monstrous comparison, he did not repudiate the inescapable implication of a correlative parallel between the “iniquities” to which the two disillusioned groups were responding. Having been called on it, he now throws in a belated disavowal, but all this accomplishes is to turn an implication into an insinuation. He also introduces a new comparison—between the Bush Doctrine and Trotskyism. This, I guess, is less virulent than the comparison with Stalinism, or with the French Revolution, and yet even here Mr. Hendrickson cannot resist a sly resort to another repellent smear by bringing up totalitarianism. To be sure, having learned his lesson, he now provides himself with rhetorical cover (“This complex of ideas and conditions does not signify totalitarianism.85”). But the noxious insinuation remains in the air. No wonder, then—with America in the grip of so many dangerous ideas and policies—that Mr. Hendrickson and his like-minded colleagues are, yes, rooting for its defeat.
Mr. Isenberg imagines that he is asking “hardheaded questions about what the Bush administration’s policies are doing for and to America.” But these questions are about as hardheaded as John Kerry’s positions in his run for the presidency were nuanced. Does Mr. Isenberg really need “evidence” that the President—who in a Google search I have just this minute done turns up linked to Hitler nearly one-and-a-half million times—was subjected to “record levels of vituperation,” or that the insurgents in Iraq were praying for a Kerry victory, etc. etc. etc.? Give me a break.
I disagree with Douglas Boggs’s idea that Bush should have asked for a declaration of war against radical Islam. That would have been like asking for a declaration of war against Communism in 1947. Besides (and pace Mr. Kesler this time), the strategy Bush has adopted for fighting radical Islam is to topple the despotic regimes from which it receives nourishment, sanctuary, and a terrorist armory, and then to replace them with political systems committed to building free institutions instead of waging jihad. In a nutshell, and as opposed to Mr. Kesler’s use of the Wilsonian slogan, we are fighting to make the Middle East safe for America by making it safe for democracy.
Finally, my thanks to Thomas Burk, John McCarthy, and Don McPherson—and also to the many readers who communicated privately with me—for their generous words.
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin asserts that the Bible, as a sacred book, “remains stubbornly resistant” to being read as literature, “despite its literary brilliance” [“Doing Justice to the Bible,” February]. But to believe that the Bible is God’s word does not preclude believing that God revealed Himself through literary devices. The rabbis were undoubtedly drawn to the literary beauty of the Song of Songs even as they struggled to understand the religious significance of a book containing many erotic passages. To read the Bible mainly as literature is to read it not with “bad faith” (as Mr. Halkin puts it), but rather with imperfect faith or, in many cases, with developing faith.
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin is right to be skeptical of Robert Alter’s claim that “in biblical dialogue all the characters speak proper literary Hebrew, with no intimations of slang.” What was slang or vernacular Hebrew to the original readers of the Bible could have subsequently become “proper literary Hebrew” by virtue of the Bible’s place in religious tradition.
We cannot be certain about the exact nuances of words and forms from three millennia ago, but the Hebrew Bible shows the same kinds of linguistic variation found in modern languages. In a verse Mr. Halkin happens to mention, Joseph is derided by his brothers as “ba’al ha-halomot ha-lazeh” (that master of dreams). “Ha-lazeh” is a very unusual form of the word for “that,” and it might well have been drawn from slang to indicate deprecatory force.
San Diego State University
San Diego, California
To the Editor:
In his excellent article, Hillel Halkin refers to the Hebrew letter vav, when deployed as a prefix, as the Bible’s “ubiquitous ‘and’ that links phrases and sentences.” It should be pointed out, however, that vav has more often a second, distinct meaning. When prefixed to a verb in the perfect (which normally indicates past action) or imperfect (which normally indicates future action), vav has the effect of reversing the tense. Early and classical grammarians called this usage the “vav conversive” or “vav consecutive,” but the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem has named it, quite simply, “vav marking the past/future.”
Many translations conflate the two usages. A passage from the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis is rendered by the King James Version as follows: “And his brethren envied him. . . . And his brethren went to feed. . . . And Israel said unto Joseph. . . . And he said to him. . . .” The “ubiquitous ‘and’” gives the text the air of a child’s breathless patter, and misses the dramatic quality of the Hebrew narrative. To convey the effect of the vav conversive, judicious literary license is always called for. The Jewish Publication Society’s translation is more fluent and agreeable: “So his brothers. . . . One time, when his brothers had gone. . . . Israel said to Joseph. . . . He answered. . . .”
Corrales, New Mexico
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin errs when he writes that, “apart from the Aramaic Targum, no Jewish Bible translation has ever been venerated or regarded as more than a useful study aid.” The Septuagint was produced in Hellenistic Egypt by and for Jews, and it was greatly valued. Philo of Alexandria, who some scholars think knew no Hebrew at all, treated its Greek wording as sacrosanct. Indeed, most Bible translations in the ancient world were undertaken by Jews in order to answer the needs of their non-Hebrew-speaking brethren. The rise of Christianity encouraged Jews to re-familiarize themselves with Hebrew, but for many centuries the Jewish Bible was for all intents and purposes a Greek text.
Mr. Halkin makes mention of Jerome’s Vulgate as the first Latin Bible, but long before it came into being in the 4th century C.E., Latin-speaking Jews and Gentiles used the edition known as the “Old Latin.” It took many centuries for the Vulgate to supplant this much-beloved work; Saint Augustine reports that a bishop who tried using Jerome’s newfangled version of Jonah was almost lynched by his congregation.
To the Editor:
Hillel Halkin’s article provides us with the best review to date of Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses. But it is difficult to accept Mr. Halkin’s speculation that an edition of Alter’s translation of the Pentateuch designed for the synagogue “could compete advantageously” with popular editions like the JPS or the Soncino. Mr. Halkin does not mention what Alter stipulates in his introduction, namely, that his translation occasionally varies from the Masoretic text of the Bible, the traditional Hebrew edition that sets down the Bible’s words, vowels, accents, and sentence and section units. Synagogues have been using the Masoretic text since at least 930 C.E. when it was codified by Aaron ben Asher in Tiberias.
Brooklyn, New York
To the Editor:
The subtle penetration and delightful provocation that are characteristic of Commentary are nowhere more perfectly manifested than in Hillel Halkin’s “Doing Justice to the Bible.” Thank you.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Hillel Halkin writes:
Doron Becker’s reasoning puzzles me. The fact that a divinely revealed Bible can also be read as literature does not mean that a Bible read as literature must also be divinely revealed—and reading the Bible “just” as literature is reading the Bible as it does not wish to be read. If, however, by reading it with “imperfect” or “developing” faith Mr. Becker means reading it in the hope or suspicion that it might be more than just literature, I would agree that this is a different matter.
I agree, too, with Zev bar-Lev about “ha-lazeh.” It is entirely possible that when Joseph’s brothers say to one another, “Hineh ba’al ha-halomot ha-lazeh ba,” this would have sounded to an ancient Hebrew very much like “Hey, here comes that there dream-master.”
The question of the “vav conversive” is too complex to be dealt with adequately in this space. Yet surely even Shlomo Karni would concede that frequently in the Bible (in fact, wherever it occurs in mid-sentence) this vav functions both as a tense-reverser and as a conjunction—that is, the two usages are conflated by the rules of biblical prose itself. Thus, for example, in the verse from the first chapter of Genesis, “Va-yevarekh Elohim et yom ha-shevi’i va-yekadesh oto”—“[And] God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it”—there can be no doubt that the second “va-” means “and” at the same time that it changes yekadesh from a present/future-tense verb to a past-tense one. Does the “vav conversive” do such double duty at the beginning of sentences as well? My own sense of the matter, as well as that of most Bible translators, is that it does.
I stand corrected by Isaac Meyers on the subject of Jerome’s Vulgate. Whatever Philo may have thought of the Septuagint, however, rabbinic tradition is at best ambivalent toward it and even states in the tractate of Soferim that the day the Bible was translated into Greek was “as intolerable for Israel as the day the golden calf was made.” This falls somewhat short of veneration.
Heshey Zelcer can rest assured that the Alter translation departs from the Masoretic text in only a few places, which could easily be adjusted for synagogue use.
I thank Carl Cohen for his appreciative remarks.
To the Editor:
I do not know how old Jay Lefkowitz is, but he certainly could not have been relying on memory when he categorized President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a Jewish favorite because he “seemed most likely to support Israel, with military force if necessary” [“The Election and the Jewish Vote,” February]. Who among those old enough to have voted in the 1950’s can forget Eisenhower’s blunt threat to take away the United Jewish Appeal’s tax-exempt status as he marched ten Jewish leaders into the White House and demanded that Israel vacate the territory it had conquered in the 1956 Suez crisis?
Mr. Lefkowitz mentions Jimmy Carter’s unremarkable call in 1977 for a “Palestinian homeland,” but it would have been fair also to note that Carter was the first President to describe Israel as a “strategic asset.” Mr. Lefkowitz also shades the story a bit when he describes the relationship between George H.W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir as “frigid.” It is doubtful that any American president could have had a warm relationship with an old-line Irgun/Lehi Revisionist who made his stated policy of foot-dragging into a political art.
Mr. Lefkowitz never actually spells out that 75 percent of Jewish voters went against Bush last November. He is probably correct to say that the percentages will not change. The quip that Jews live like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans remains accurate, and is a sign that most Jews continue to take the message of Isaiah to heart.
Shaker Heights, Ohio
To the Editor:
A few footnotes should be added to Jay Lefkowitz’s survey of the Jewish vote. One of the main reasons for the 1928 swing in Jewish voting toward Al Smith and the Democrats was that Smith was a decisive voice in beating back the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was a major force in the Democratic party during the 1920’s, and Smith became a champion in Jewish eyes for opposing it. Then came FDR’s appeal to brotherhood and helping the poor, and Jewish voters were hooked. Today, Jews over the age of sixty are still mesmerized by the aura of FDR, and continue to punch the Democratic ticket.
On the other hand, it now appears that younger Jews are becoming more aware of the intrusion of government into their lives, and they are more willing to consider which party represents their views on issues like taxes and educational choice. It seems to me that the Orthodox Jewish constituency, which leaned toward George W. Bush and the Republicans in the last election, has a good sense of what Jewish interests are in a country that has always granted maximum freedom to Jews.
Still, Milton Friedman summed things up accurately when he wrote: “The basic beliefs of Judaism are one thing; the way Jews vote is very different. Jews and Judaism prosper in a world of economic and human freedom. The Jews in the United States overwhelmingly vote for measures designed to limit economic and human freedom.” I continue to hope that more Jews will begin to connect the dots that link the principles of Judaism with conservative philosophies that promote freedom.
Larry F. Sternberg
Santa Ana, California
To the Editor:
I am in my seventies and live in a retirement village in New Jersey, where in the year leading up to the election the display of bitterness toward George W. Bush was unbelievable. Dennis Prager once said that liberalism is the true religion of the majority of Jews in America. Among members of my own generation, I would be more tolerated if I were to declare myself an atheist or a Marxist than if I were to declare myself a Republican. It is a bad sign for Judaism when Jews care more about their liberalism than about the war on terror and the survival of Israel.
Monroe Township, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Jay Lefkowitz’s article broke out the Jewish vote in the 2004 Presidential election in terms of its Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and even Russian components, but he did not focus on the Sephardic vote. I have to guess that at least 5 to 10 percent of Jews in the U.S. have origins in Arab lands, where Jews were subjected to abuse, intimidation, and mistreatment. They support Bush’s waging of the war on terror because they understand the culture of hate created by the despotic regimes of the Middle East.
Jay Lefkowitz writes:
Harold Ticktin strives mightily to understate the importance of Jimmy Carter’s call in 1977 for a Palestinian homeland, less than four years after Arab nations tried to drive Israel into the sea in the Yom Kippur war. But American Jews were, on the whole, under no illusions about Carter. While he may have paid some lip service to the notion that Israel was a “strategic asset,” his actions betrayed his true feelings. Then, as now, Carter thought that the U.S. role in the Middle East was to serve as a mediator between two morally equivalent sides. In the 1980 presidential election, despite the support he may have received from people like Mr. Ticktin, Carter got less than 50 percent of the Jewish vote—the poorest showing for a Democrat since the 1920’s.
Mr. Ticktin correctly notes that Eisenhower put great pressure on Israel to withdraw from territory it had captured in the 1956 Sinai war and even threatened to take away the tax-exempt status of the United Jewish Appeal. Still, the fact remains that Eisenhower received sizable percentages of the Jewish vote in both of his elections. Indeed, whatever ill will he may have generated in the Jewish community probably redounded more to the electoral detriment of his Vice President, Richard Nixon, in the 1960 campaign. The Sinai war itself was fought less than two weeks before the 1956 election, and probably had little impact on the vote.
I appreciate the sentiments of Larry F. Sternberg and Irwin Davis, both of whom are concerned that American Jews often embrace political liberalism at the expense of certain Jewish values. Secular humanism, the philosophical underpinning of liberalism, is clearly in conflict with the Jewish belief in divine moral authority. Mr. Sternberg is right that Jews benefit enormously from the economic and political freedoms that America stands for and that President Bush is trying to promote; Mr. Davis is equally correct that among older Jews, being a Republican is still seen as a badge of shame. Unfortunately, many older American Jews have a hard time seeing beyond FDR, whose party they believed was squarely in their corner.
Mr. Sternberg points out that Al Smith’s strength in the Jewish community was due in part to his strong stance against bigotry at a time when anti-Semitism (largely from the political Right) was a problem in the United States. Today, the Jewish community needs to recognize that it is mainly liberals with “nonjudgmental” approaches to matters like the Middle East conflict who encourage political anti-Semitism.
I know of no exit-poll data on the voting trends of Sephardic Jews in America, but my own experience from giving speeches in Sephardic communities confirms what Albert Algazi says.
To the Editor:
As a former editor of the Cumberland Law Review who worked on the article by Ali Khan that Daveed Gartenstein-Ross criticizes [“When Muslims Convert,” February], I want to address his complaint that Khan “was able to use an American law review as a soapbox from which to advocate the licensed punishment of apostates—and that his grossly illiberal views were never rebutted in its pages.”
In fact, Khan’s article was part of a symposium on religious proselytizing in which he was the odd man out. The first two papers presented the standard Western, libertarianA0view that proselytizing is a form of free speech. Khan presented the alternative view about as well as it could be presented to an American audience. Another scholar presented a moderate argument—that the right to argue freely about religion is a blessing, but that Americans ought to understand that the grossness of our popular culture does not make our libertarian ideals an easy sell in other parts of the world, and that we should make better use of our liberty if we want it to spread.
The symposium was what a symposium ought to be, with contrasting views presented by articulate speakers and writers. No one was immune from criticism.
Joseph D. Wilkinson, II
An Nasiriyah, Iraq
To the Editor:
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s commendable essay discusses some of the problems faced by apostates from Islam to other religions, but it reads as though apostasy from Islam to atheism or agnosticism did not exist. The omission is puzzling in light of the recent publication of Leaving Islam, a collection of essays by Muslim apostates edited by Ibn Warraq, author of the classic Why I Am Not a Muslim.
As it happens, the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society, which was founded by Ibn Warraq and which I currently direct, has been dealing with the issues that Mr. Gartenstein-Ross cogently describes since 1998. As our mission statement puts it, we stand for “freedom of expression, freedom of thought and belief, freedom of intellectual and scientific inquiry, freedom of conscience and religion—including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief—and freedom from religion: the freedom not to believe in any deity.”
In the minds of certain Muslims, this rather mild declaration expresses the intent to commit a crime. It is crucial that those of us who uphold freedom of conscience stand together against such zealots, regardless of our other doctrinal commitments.
Ewing, New Jersey
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes:
Joseph D. Wilkinson II’s letter reflects the tendency of many within the academy to avert their eyes from Islamist brutalities. The fact is that Ali Khan used an American law review as a platform from which to advocate the licensed punishment of apostates. He wrote that “Muslims of all nations and all times are under an irrevocable obligation” to enforce the integrity of Islam, of which the punishment of apostates is a part.
Not only is Mr. Wilkinson unable to recognize the repugnance of this view—which would make it a crime to convert out of Islam even in the liberal West—he cannot even speak frankly of it. He explains that Khan’s article was part of a symposium on “religious proselytizing,” which is true, but irrelevant considering that Khan’s prescriptions extend to the offense of apostasy. In any case, both proselytism and apostasy (the subject of my article) bear upon the bedrock rights of freedom of speech and belief. That either should be punishable—as is the case in so many contemporary nation-states—is an affront to human dignity.
Mr. Wilkinson states, rather lamely, that Khan “presented the alternative view [that there is no right to proselytism] about as well as it could be presented to an American audience.” But even on his own relativistic terms, I fail to see how arguing that Muslims have the irrevocable obligation to punish apostates makes for effective advocacy against proselytism.
While I agree with Mr. Wilkinson that symposia ought to contain “contrasting views presented by articulate speakers and writers,” I find it axiomatic that not all views are worth airing. Should Holocaust denial be included in a symposium on the Holocaust? The white supremacist view in a symposium about slavery? Mr. Wilkinson might bear in mind that the legal status of apostasy is not an inconsequential academic issue. Many individuals are killed for leaving Islam, many more are physically assaulted, and thousands are driven underground in the practice of their new faiths.
This fact is understood and appreciated by Irfan Khawaja, who notes my lack of attention to the less common phenomenon of Muslims leaving Islam for atheism or agnosticism. Ibn Warraq has indeed shown tremendous courage in speaking frankly about his own apostasy from Islam, and in forcefully advocating the right of others to do the same. Irfan Khawaja is of course right that those who believe in freedom of conscience should stand together against Islamists who believe that apostates from Islam deserve death. I would add that we should also not hesitate to refute Western apologists for this view.
To the Editor:
Writing in the “Letters” section of the April Commentary, in response to Algis Valiunas’s “Sartre vs. Camus” [January], Neil Ford cites a figure of 100,000 civilian casualties in the war in Iraq. With this horrific number in mind, he suggests that Albert Camus’s admonition against “mass murder on behalf of noble ideas” should be applied to the American “adventure” in that country. In his reply, Mr. Valiunas rightly notes that many more civilians—perhaps a half-million in all—perished under the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Valiunas might have added that the figure of 100,000 adduced by Mr. Ford has itself been thoroughly debunked. It originated in a 2004 study published in the British medical journal Lancet, which employed statistical sampling techniques to generate an “estimate” of 98,000 civilian deaths. Buried in the study, however, is a startling caveat about the “confidence interval” assigned to this estimate. Translated into plain English, the Lancet study asserts a 95-percent probability that the casualty range falls somewhere between a low of 8,000 and a high of 194,000 deaths. The oft-cited 100,000 is merely a random midpoint between these two wildly separated extremes. Most observers, including even officials of the left-wing Human Rights Watch, believe that figure to be seriously inflated. Before the Lancet study was released, no reputable estimate of civilian deaths from the Iraq war exceeded 16,000.
Brooklyn, New York