February 4, 2008

An Allergy to Analogies

Of all the neocon ideologues at Commentary, Abe Greenwald is perhaps the crudest.

These folks cling desperately to two themes, among others: it's always 1938, and the enemy of the week (lately Iran, mostly) is a Nazi, or at least a fascist. For many reasons, both of these propositions are erroneous. In a comment on Mr. Greenwald's latest post, I point out some reasons why this view is mistaken:

1. Fascism and authoritarianism or dictatorship aren’t the same thing. Indeed, if Saddam, for example, had a mentor, it was Stalin, not Hitler. Mere unlovability and authoritarianism does not fascism make. Ahmadinejad is not Iran’s dictator, and its régime is not even a dictatorship, but what Sukarno called a “guided democracy.”

2. None of the contemporary dictators Greenwald mentions threatens to dominate a continent, and none represents an existential threat to Europe or the United States.

3. If “fascist” is an analytical term rather than mere invective, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are hardly fascist in any meaningful sense.

4. The various species of jihadis are a problem for many, but the analogies to fascism and the notion that 2008 is 1938 is singularly unhelpful for strategic analysis. Indeed, immigration and energy policy are probably more significant than military policy for the West’s present situation.

All of this is true enough, with the footnote that the founders of the Ba'ath, like the Lebanese Kataeb (Phalange) and Jabotinsky (spiritual grandfather of the Israeli Likud), were intrigued by Mussolini.

What's interesting is the why. I think there are a couple of reasons. The hyperventilating interventionist stance requires both a moral imperative and a dangerous enemy. While dabbling in redemonizing Russia and China, the neocons' hearts are really in the Middle East. In the moral calculus of right-wing Zionism, every Jewish adversary is a "self-hater" and every Gentile adversary an antisemite. To make the crisis as stark as possible, and to exact a high moral toll for refusing to join them in their obsession, the enemies of Israel must be modern-day Hitlers. Otherwise, instead of chiliasm, Israel, and we, would face not Armageddon and Auschwitz and a call to histrionic prophecy, but the normal challenges of statecraft.

Life would be more complex, and somehow duller.

I'd like to think that the best analogy for 2008 is not 1938, but 1823, the year the Monroe Doctrine was promulgated. The Napoleonic challenge was over, Metternich was establishing the basis for nearly a century of relative stability in Europe. The new Republic could simply tell Europe to stay out of our hemisphere, and avoid sticking its nose in theirs, except to trade.

I like the concept, to which I would add energy independence and immigration restriction. Instead we are offered perpetual war for perpetual peace, globalization, multiculturalism, and the circus of consumption financed by public and private debt.

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