World War IV by Norman Podhoretz

Jewish intellectual, Norman Podhoretz, has left interested readers a rich legacy of material in the fields of foreign policy and international studies. From his 30+ year career at Commentary magazine, to four decades worth of extraordinary book authorships, Podhoretz has time and time again provided his readers insightful studies of moral nuances in foreign policy. His perspectives have infuriated his critics, educated his readers, and challenged international agnostics to better understand the nature of the enemies with whom America has often been engaged, and to better consider the aggressive solutions needed to secure peace and prosperity, stability and safety.

His retirement from Commentary magazine did not result in the end of Podhoretz from public life. Not only does he presently serve as a key member of the Rudy Guiliani foreign policy team (a massive endorsement for the Guiliani campaign, I might add), but his 2007 release, World War IV, has perhaps best popularized a lifetime of work from Podhoretz. And the plethora of merits to the book begins with the very title itself.

When I purchased the book, I expected a fine piece by a fine “neoconservative” writer, capably arguing the case for Democratic regimes in the Middle East, and insisting upon an aggressive posture from American leadership in the face of the Islamic Fascist enemies who would destroy her. The title, I wrongly presumed, was mere gimmicking, an attempt at marketing from those of us who hold to these basic ideological precepts. Instead, what I found in reading the book, is that World War IV is not mere semantics, and certainly not gimmicky, but rather the only appropriate phraseology in describing the post-9/11 era in which we live. While many may concur that we live in dangerous times, and may even acknowledge the tremendous vigilance required from America if the West is to be defended from this Jihadist enemy, I doubt that the historical significance of World War IV has properly been understood by even the most hawkish amongst us. Of course, before Podhoretz could rationalize describing the present conflict as “World War IV”, he had to first explain what happened to “World War III”. He argues that Newt Gingrich and others have wrongly labeled the conflict against the Islamic Jihadist attackers as “World War III”, not because it is not a “world war” (he obviously believes it is), but because it ignores the fact that World War III is behind us (the generation-long struggle to defeat Soviet Communism in the Cold War). The claim that World War III and World War IV can not possibly be considered “world wars”, because no participant in the war has claimed it as such, embarrassingly ignores two realities: (1) No antagonist in the first two world wars used such vernacular then, either; and (2) In this case, our enemy most certainly has labeled this a “world war”, swearing Jihad upon all global forces who do not take on Islam. But beyond hiding behind the subjective definitions given by our own enemies, Podhoretz provides an objective criteria for calling this a “world war”: It is global, it involves a mixture of violent and nonviolent efforts, it requires mobilization of skill, expertise, and resources, it involves a vast number of soldiers, it may go on for a long time, and it has ideological roots. Podhoretz argues from the outset of the book that the lack of clarity and focus that this terminology would have provided has cost the Bush administration dearly in setting the stage for the American people as to what the task at hand truly is. It is important to note that Podhoretz is not merely referring to political opportunity cost, but above all else, ideological and military characterization. Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, Podhoretz persuasively argues that we face a decade-long battle with the enemies of the west that are Islamic Fascists, and that our own moral compass will be found lacking apart from a proper historical contextualization of the war in which we find ourselves. The term, “World War IV”, is not only accurate and eerie, but it also is the only description full enough to communicate the severity of the conflict in which we are engaged, and the patience that will be required to win it.

And this patience (or fortitude) required to winning World War IV is the real subject of this book. Podhoretz provides historical anecdote after historical anecdote of left wing opposition to the resolve required to win past global conflicts. He rebuffs in fantastic detail the ideological flaws of moral egalitarianism so prevalent in opponents of American foreign policy. His book is a pleading for patience and determination, not only from American leaders, but primarily from the American people, whose patience and resolve will be the key ingredients to a successful preservation of American way of life. The book is admittedly long on rhetoric, but it is long on content and ideas as well. It is a history reader for those interested, detailing the progression of American foreign policy from World War II to the current era. It is a non-partisan work, sharply (and rightly) critical of the détente approach of Nixon and Kissinger, and even occasionally critical of the Right’s hero, Ronald Reagan, who Podhoretz believes was so [understandably] focused on the Soviet threat, that he often gave Islamicists a pass. The book provides praise and commendation to the legacy of Harry Truman (a Democrat, yet surely one who would be loathed in today’s Democratic party), and yet provides a blistering critique of the foreign impotence found in the policy and practices of Jimmy Carter. The book does not aim to align Podhoretz with all shapes and sizes of the conservative movement, as he provides abundant defense against criticisms waged by such conservative stalwarts as William Buckley and George Will. In short, this book is hard to categorize in terms of who will like it, and who will not like it.

But what the book abundantly succeeds in doing is this: It defines what the foremost issue facing Western civilization is today, and it contextualizes it for what it is – a violent effort from a radical and ideologically driven enemy who has become capable of unleashing massive pain and suffering to those it opposes. My review need not provide the apologetic for what Podhoretz and his like-minded co-laborers are arguing (I include here Kirpatrick, Wilson, Bennett, Hanson, Kristol, Kagan, and other distinguished Jewish, and non-Jewish, leaders and intellectuals). The simplicity of his underlying thesis is remarkable – that we, as the world’s leader, have the responsibility to see Islamic Fascism defeated, lest it live to attack another day, and take with it innumerable human lives. As in the Cold War, “history ‘plainly intended’ for us to bear this responsibility”, and Podhoretz argues with moral authority and ideological depth that today, we must “beat back the implacable challenge of Islamofascism as the greatest generation of World War II in taking on the Nazis … and as its children and grandchildren ultimately managed to do in confronting the Soviet Union”. World War IV is clear as can be as to what the task ahead is; it is not so clear in predicting the outcome:

“I persist in thinking that we do, and that we will [beat back the challenge of Islamofascism], but the jury is still out, and it will not return a verdict for some time to come”.