Editor Calls for ‘Troops’ to Sustain War of Ideas

As conservative thinker Norman Podhoretz vociferously defended the Bush Doctrine, in addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some members of the Center City audience he was addressing shook their heads, laughed or even heckled the man. When he then went on to advocate a pre-emptive strike against Iran to thwart the regime's nuclear capabilities, one woman called out, "With what troops?"

"With airplanes," replied Podhoretz in exasperation.

Yet by the time the Sept. 18 talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia's main branch on Vine Street had concluded, many in the crowd stood and applauded.

Podhoretz, author of the recently published World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofacism, is used to the divisive tone politics can take — especially when it comes to matters of war — and he seemed to relish the chance to field questions from some of his detractors. (He dubs the Cold War "World War III.")

In fact, his focus during the talk and a subsequent question-and-answer period was less about Islamic radicalism in the Middle East than about the domestic ideological debate over how to meet that threat, and how much the current climate reminds him of the early days of the Cold War, before containment became the agreed-upon American policy.

"Do we, the American people of this generation, have it in us to beat back the implacable challenge of Islamofacism?

"In spite of how bleak the prospects look six years after 9/11, I persist in thinking that we do," said Podhoretz. "But only if those of us, who see the struggle against Islamofacism as a world war against the latest mutation of the totalitarian challenge to our civilization, can prevail in the war of ideas here at home."

Podhoretz currently serves as an adviser to Republican GOP hopeful and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who, perhaps more than other candidates, has made the threat posed by Islamic radicalism a central theme of his campaign.

Born in 1930 and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Podhoretz had become, by the 1950s, an influential literary critic aligned with the emerging New Left and the New York elite. But by the 1970s, he had broken with his old comrades. Along with other Jewish intellectuals, such as Irving Kristol, he helped forge the staunchly anti-Communist neoconservative mode of thought.

From 1960 to 1995, he was the editor in chief of Commentary, a leading intellectual journal that shifted from left to right under his guidance and, until last year, was published by the American Jewish Committee. Podhoretz maintains the portfolio of editor at large for the magazine.

Of the unpopular war in Iraq, Podhoretz was asked how the toppling of Saddam Hussein played into the war on terror.

"The reason that we went into Iraq — and the reason that I believe we were right to go into Iraq — is that if the long-range strategy of draining the swamps in which Islamofacism breeds were to succeed, it was necessary to topple the leading fascist despotism of that de facto alliance," he answered.

Joe Haro, a 68-year-old who lives near Cherry Hill, N.J., said that, as a self-described liberal, he often likes to hear opposing arguments, but left the program feeling dissatisfied.

"I don't believe there is always a black and white, and he seemed to be all about black and white," he said. "Some of the statements just blew my mind," Haro added, referring, in part, to the speaker's claim that the situation in Afghanistan was not in decline.

Meanwhile, Sheldon Plam, a 67-year-old Bucks County resident, waited to have a book autographed. Plam noted that he's read Commentary since 1961 and considers Podhoretz a major influence on his own thinking.

"He was very good," stated Plam, who called some of the outbursts from the crowd "leftist rants."



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