« Le blog drzz » is a French website promoting pro-american and pro-israeli views.
Previous guests for interview included M. Norman Podhoretz, M. Daniel Pipes, Mrs Laurie Mylroie, Mrs Bat Ye’or, and a Minister of the State of Israel, M. Effi Eitam, and others…
Mr. Norman Podhoretz is a Graduate of Columbia and Cambridge, senior fellow at Hudson Institute, Mr. Podhoretz is a former State Departement analyst and notorious author. Former editor of “Commentary magazine”, he is considered as one of the two founding fathers of the “neoconservative” movement.
Interview made by phone on May 14, 2008 and later translated into French by the author.
The presidency of George W. Bush will end next January. How do you judge it ?
Norman Podhoretz : I think President Bush will someday be regarded as a great President because he recognized the threat of “islamo-fascism” and elaborated a strategy to fight it.
Do you mean the Iraq war ?
NM: Iraq war is only one battlefield of a larger conflict I called “World War IV”. It includes several fronts such as Afghanistan and Iran.
If I understand you well, are you saying the best success of the Bush presidency is the “Bush doctrine” itself?
NM: Yes, that’s exactly right. The doctrine itself and the way the President kept working on it despite many attacks both aboard and at home.
You wrote extensively about “islamo-fascism”. How would you define this notion ?
NM: “Islamo-fascism” is a beast with two heads. One head is largely secular and the other is religious. One side was represented by Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the other by the Talibans’s regime, now by the “mollahcracy” in Iran. These two voices have created a de facto alliance against the free world. They intent to use whatever they can to impose Islamic rules and undermine the values of our own civilizations, especially freedom.
It seems the President’s first term was driven by “neoconservatives” and the second by “realists”. Do you agree with that judgement?
NM : Well, not entirely. Let me put it this way : I don’t think the first term was as “neoconservative” as some says or that the second one was as “realist” as some says. They were both mixtures of elements. Some “neoconservatives” ideas that are embodied in the “Bush doctrine” had to be applied in the real world. Like where to use force, how to use force, when not to use force… These were tactical move people think of it as “realist” but exist in every policy. During the Cold War, Ronald Reagan made tactical moves without changing his main strategy.
You are one of the two founding fathers of “neoconservatism” ? This movement is still misunderstood in America and largely ignored in Europe. How would you define this revolution in America’s history of ideas ?
NM : The true meaning of “neoconservatism” lies in its prefix “neo”, which means new. We were a relatively small group of intellectuals who started somewhere in the left and began moving to the right because of the deterioration of the left all over the world in the late sixties. We rethought our own ideas and finally ended up somewhere between the center and the right. We were “neo” because we were new to conservatives and we brought new ideas to conservatives, which is a slightly difference of emphasis. Our main theme was that America represented a power of good in the world and that anti-Americanism was an irrational sentiment. We defended America from critics of the left and we encouraged our country to spread freedom, democracy and prosperity everywhere it might be possible to do so.
A lot of people who are said to be “neoconservatives” are not “neoconservatives” at all. I mean, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld have been conservatives all their lives. The youngest generation, Bill Kristol, my son John Podhoretz, David Brooks, David Frum have never been on the left. They’ve been conservatives all their lives. They aren’t strictly speaking “neoconservatives”.
On your opinion, where is the keystone of Iraq war when the United States will be able to claim victory ? Did America already reach it ?
NM : I have from the beginning believed in the success of democracy in Iraq and it is clearly on the way to succeed. Both politically and military speaking. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is nearly defeated, the Sadrists have been weakened and the Iraqi army is taking on. Recently, it did an unexpected good job in Basra. Iraq has a government, a constitution, and the country moves quietly and gradually to national reconciliation. At the end, this nation will be democratic and will join the War on Terror as an ally of the West – especially of the United States. These were changes impossible to achieve when the country was ruled by Saddam Hussein.
It’s a question directly linked with Iraq. You have supported – and still support – military strikes against Iran. Didn’t the December 2007 NIE report ruin this possibility?
NM : I encouraged the President to order military bombings against Iran. It is still possible he would do so but it’s less and less likely. It is largely because of this disgraceful NIE report. It misinformed the world about the Iranian threat. I have said this many times : Iran is not willing to stop its nuclear program by negotiations. The only way to stop them is through air strikes. I suspect Israelis to train for bombings. Ahmedinejad repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Israelis simply cannot sit by. It would be bad consequences but consequences of Iran get the bomb would be far worse.
In may 2007, you talked with President Bush during a private meeting…
NM : I think it was in April. Anyway.
… do you think the NIE report was a rebuttal to your work ?
NM : Well, I don’t find myself that important! I know that the intelligence community is undermining the “Bush doctrine” almost from the beginning, even when its role is only to help the President to take decisions based on neutral analysis. The CIA and other intelligence agencies leaked confidential material to the press in order to embarrass the President. The NIE report was thought to be an act of sabotage, an ambush to prevent Bush from listening to people like me who warn him of the Iranian threat. I fear they succeeded.
I couldn’t conclude without speaking of the upcoming presidential elections. How do you consider Democratic hopeful Barack Obama ?
NM : Frankly, I could be wrong but I don’t believe that a person as far on the left as Barack Obama could be elected. I don’t think such a person could become President of the United States. If he is elected, I would have to admit I don’t any longer understand my country. The America I know won’t elect Obama.
About John McCain ?
NM : John McCain is a so-called “Maverick”. Nobody knows what he is going to do next. But there is a field he is good at : war. That’s why I support him. McCain understands the nature of the conflict we are in and he called “islamo-fascism” the “transcendent challenge of our times”.
Norman Podhoretz, thank you for having answered my questions. Have a great week in New York City.
NM : You are most welcome. Your questions are well commented. Have a great week in Europe.