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October 30, 2007

Podhoretz vs. Zakaria
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In six minutes of News Hour footage you can boil down the entire argument over Iran between the crazies (Podhoretz) and the sane people (Zakaria). Notice especially, Podhoretz's repeated references to Hitler.  The "what would Hitler do" argument, which is often accompanied by the classic "You are worse than Chamberlin argument" is the oldest rhetorical trick in the book.  Fortunately, I just don't think that a country with a GDP the size of Florida's represents the same threat as the industrial behemoth that was Germany. 

I wonder why the Neocons never reference WWI?  You know.  The one where all sides wanted to avoid a war but accidently ended up escalating to a point where they lost control and war became inevitable.  The one where all sides underestimated the difficulty and costs of war and expected the battle to be over in months.  The war where millions died for absolutely nothing.  Surely there is something we can also learn from that episode in history.


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There is nothing crazy about Norman Podhoretz. He is simply thinking, and speaking, as a Jew for whom the Holocaust will always be recent history and will always be just around the corner.

The tone of violent alarm he now takes when discussing Iran is not that different from that he, and his magazine, took toward the Soviet Union during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He overestimated Soviet strength and the attractiveness of Communism then, and underestimated the capacity of America and its allies to cope with it -- but his calculation of strength was based less on a comparison of the Soviets on one hand and the Americans on the other than on a comparison of the Soviets on one hand and the Jews on the other. Official Soviet anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel (hostility, incidentally, that was absolutely profitless from the standpoint of Soviet interests) was reason enough to inspire Podhoretz's alarm and feeling of dread.

Iran is a far less formidable threat. But on the other hand Podhoretz is an old man now, perhaps more easily frightened. And here again what matters for him is not the threat Iran poses to the United States, but the threat it poses to the Jews -- granted, a threat mostly under worst-case assumptions. From Podhoretz's point of view, the worst case has already happened, making the thought that it or something like it could happen again the opposite of crazy.

The viewer of the Newshour clip will notice that Zakaria's repeated invocation of the success of deterrence with respect to Mao's revolutionary Chinese government -- actually a somewhat dubious debating point -- was something Podhoretz didn't appear even to hear. It's not hard to see why. China doesn't have anything to do with the Jews as a people, and never did. Zakaria is thinking of the Iranian problem in a global context; Podhoretz just isn't.

It is tempting for people of limited experience and imagination to ascribe arguments based on assumptions radically different from those with which one is familiar to insanity or some other form of mental defect. This temptation is yielded to often these days, perhaps more often than in the past because a key point of American reference -- the policy judgment of the incumbent administration -- is one in which Americans have at the moment dramatically reduced confidence. Of course it is also true that basic assumptions are less easily compromised than analysis.

This is why Podhoretz sounds so unreasonable. It isn't that his analysis is flawed or his style of argument is grating, but that his assumptions as to what is most important are radically different than those of most people in this country. I am actually sympathetic to those assumptions, at least insofar as I can understand what they are based on. My own distance from his position is based on my own assumptions -- chief among these being the absolute priority American national interests should have over all other considerations where foreign policy is concerned -- and on these I'm no more inclined to compromise than he is.

Thank you, Zathras. There's a wide gulf between 'crazy' and 'operating on different goals.' But isn't it nice and easy to just elide whole arguments by waving the ad hominem wand instead of thinking about why someone might have a different world view?

Nobody's actually arguing that Podhoretz is clinically "crazy". This term and other like it are used figuratively: They gloss an American citizen who so loudly and brazenly wants to put his own country and the lives of his fellow citizens at risk for the sake of another country. After Iran, it will be Syria, Lebanon, etc.

Commenters are falling into the trap of referring to the Iran "threat" (Ilan and Zathras) and the Iran "problem" (Zathras). Iran is on good terms with all other countries in its region (except Israel) including especially the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other countries in Asia and elsewhere. So the only "problem" is one that Israel has concocted, and there is no "threat". The simple facts are that (1) there can be no valid comparison of Iran with Nazi Germany and (2) there is no threat to be deterred, and to suggest otherwise plays into the hands of the warmongers.

Zakaria's comparison of Iran to an expansionist China which supported Vietnam against the US is simply crazy on many counts. China has never been expansionist, and China and Vietnam have always been enemies. And then for Zakaria to propose that the US contain Iran as it supposedly did China is amusing, since China and Iran are now best friends.

All of this indicates that foreign policy dialogue is reaching the heights of fantasy, and blood will flow as a result. But think of the money to be made.

As I note upthread, basic assumptions are fairly important.

A significant number of Americans grounds its thinking on foreign policy on the assumption that their country is inherently virtuous, and must therefore be correct in whatever policy it is following at the moment. A considerably smaller number of Americans is sure that their country is inherently wicked, and is therefore prepared to wax enthusiastic toward any regime, movement or political figure willing to espouse hostility to the United States. This does not necessarily suggest their sympathy for Communism, say, or either the Sunni or Shiite variants of Islamist fanaticism. Neither would it have necessarily suggested their sympathy for Nazi ideology, though had they been around in the late 1930s they would certainly have denounced in righteousness the insanely corrupt and arrogant Roosevelt administration's undeniably hostile attitude toward the reasonable and inoffensive Mr. Hitler.

The United States is a very large, dynamic and constantly changing country. It is inevitable that such a country will produce in some of its citizens feelings of profound, personal and embittered alienation. These feelings will occasionally be reflected in public discussions of American foreign policy, but need not mislead or confuse us, any more than Norman Podhoretz's violent rhetoric, as long as we can recognize them for what they are.

It's funny you should mention how everyone wanted to avoid WW1 and that the neocons never mention it. Have you ever heard of a neocon wanting to avoid a war? You get the boot from the club for that one, like Francis Fukuyama did. He's still pretty much with them but tried to advocate a less militaristic for of it and pretty much got ostracized for it.

"It is inevitable that such a country will produce in some of its citizens feelings of profound, personal and embittered alienation"
Exactly! Just look at this alienated Podhoretz...
Is there any proof that Podhoretz cared at any time of this life about a) Israel b) Jews in general or c) the Holocaust? Podoretz is an mediocre man feeling always and by everybody snubbed. Negroes in his cildhood, later in sixties Norman Mailer and so on. His main literary output are books about himself, for Gods sake!
Murray effing Rothbard had his number decades ago and if even a libertarian can see through him I don't know there is the problem.

The guy is nattering about foreign policy because this gives him attention. He is choosing extremist positions and silly historical comparisons because this demands the least efort (even a lazy hack remenbers somewhat about Hitler).
No, P. doesn't thinks in terms like The Jews v. World but rather The World v. Norm P.

By the way during the Iraq/Iran war, when Iran was still led by charismatic revolution leader Chomenei and not his tired heirs, Israel supported Iran.
Why is Iran supposed a bigger danger to Israel now?

then he let his friends all have some runescape money

I hope i can get rf online gold in low price.
i buy rf money for you.

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