Sunday, August 20, 2006

What Year Is It?

Ross Douthat in a recent op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal (8/15/06) created a cute way of sorting out the various positions on foreign policy. There is a need for some such gimmick because in the next election, there is going to be so many slogans we will not be able to keep track. Labels that have already been proposed are “progressive realism,” “realistic Wilsonian,” “progressive internationalism,” “democratic globalism.” His proposal is that where you line up on any foreign policy question depends on your answer to the question “What year do you think it is?” He offers five schools of thought.

President Bush believes it’s 1942. We are in the middle of World War III. We have a duty to fight until victory, Saddam and Zarquawi are our Hitlers and Tojos, and as in time of war, there is ample justification for the suspension of some civil liberties.

The second school is the 1938ists. They believe that the second Lebanon war was our Spanish Civil War, Iran’s march towards nuclear power is equivalent to Hitler’s brinkmanship. We are in the beginning of a much larger conflict with Iran and radical Islam. People that don’t see it are no different than the followers of Neville Chamberlain and his politics of appeasement in the 1930’s. We should have killed Hitler before he got going, and we should have a preemptive strike against Iran. Leading spokesmen are William Kristol, Newt Gingrich, Michael Ledeen, and most neo-Conservatives. Some neoconservatives, however, like Norman Podhoretz, with his forthcoming book on World War IV, are 42ists.

The third school, mostly Democrats, think we are in a Truman era. These 1948ists insist that the relevant historical analogy is the Cold War with its emphasis on containment and multilateralism. The ‘48ers are sometimes ‘38ists who repented and are now skeptical about military intervention. They emphasize the importance of ideas and diplomacy in the long struggle against militant Islam.

Then there are those who believe that George Bush is Nixon, Iraq is Vietnam, and that invading Iran and Syria would be like bombing Cambodia. These anti-war leftists, one might call them the 1972ists, have not been successful in American electoral politics, though they are quite popular in Europe. After all, McGovern is not considered by anyone as a shrewd or successful politician. It doesn’t help much that the leading spokesmen for this view are Michael Moore of Bowling for Columbine fame and the editors of The Nation, a magazine that has seen better days.

On the far-right of the spectrum we have those who feel that President Bush is a Woodrow Wilson figure, an idealist who is going to sacrifice U.S. interest and global stability on the alter of messianic liberalism. These are the 1919ists, the people who believe we never should have entered World War I. A lot of people are migrating to this Patrick Buchanan view, including William F. Buckley and George Will.

Having introduced this nomenclature, it is easy to see how the Democratic far-left and the Republican far-right are bedfellows of sorts. We also can understand how a liberal like Lieberman is an ally of Bush… they are both ‘42ists. So is John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. The Democrats can run as a 38ist, 42ist, or 48ist; their choice. They can not run as a 1972ist if they want to win and they know it.

My view is that the appropriate historical analogy, if any, for Israel and the Jewish people, is the period of the Second Temple. Then as now there are three groups, the Zealots, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. Most Israelis are Zealots. They disagree only on minor points. Most everyone in Israel is agreed about the necessity of fighting radical Islam and defending the state. The majority of Americans are Sadducees. They have bought into assimilation and the integration of secular culture into their life, while nominally organizing around temples and federations. They love Israel and would like it to succeed. They are staying in America for many reasons including the not unimportant consideration that Israel is situated in a bad neighborhood. The last group is the Orthodox adherents of the rabbis who, as we all know, are the successors of the Pharisees. Diaspora Modern Orthodox have internalized many zealot views, but in general their commitments to the Zealots does not extend beyond monetary support.

There is another very important analogy with the Second Temple times. When the Temple was destroyed, the Sadducees, no longer having the Temple as their anchor and having internalized Hellenistic culture, eventually disappeared. The Zealots were successful in removing the heavy hand of the Seleucids on Jewish national life. A century later, when they forced the Jewish people into a war with Rome, the Jews lost and the Zealots were discredited. They also disappeared. The rabbis picked up the pieces and established hegemony over the Jewish people that lasted close to eighteen hundred years.

I would think the lesson to be drawn from Second Temple life is that Jewish life works best if no single group gains the upper-hand. Second, don’t pick a fight you can’t win.


At 3:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked his article and went looking for it. Here;s a link to the full article

At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

for some reason it's not showing up well


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