Showdown With Terror

‘Tis the season for murdering Westerners.

Last year, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to kill passengers by the plane-full above Detroit on Christmas Day through an underwear bomb. Three days before Christmas in 2001, Richard Reid hatched a similar plot in the skies with explosives in his shoes. Both failed. Both demonstrated that at the very time of the year that Americans take off Muslim terrorists work overtime. The suspected 2010 plot to poison salad bars and buffets suggests that terrorists didn’t plan on taking a holiday this holiday.

This is the world in which we live. It’s also the context of Jamie Glazov’s new collection of interviews, Showdown with Terror: Our Struggle against Tyranny and Terror. For more than a decade, Glazov has been talking to leading thinkers and allowing mere mortals to eavesdrop on the conversation at William F. Buckley, Richard Pipes, Victor Davis Hanson, and Christopher Hitchens are among the thirty discussants featured in Showdown with Terror.

Glazov is the son of Soviet dissidents, so freedom is neither taken for granted nor seen as an abstraction. The interviews he conducts invariably gravitate toward that subject. For the Moscow-born historian, the Cold War is a natural reference point for discussions about the War on Terror. The freedom/tyranny dichotomy that described the combatants of the Cold War is applied to the opposing camps of the War on Terror. So, too, is the notion of useful idiots.      

“There is no unifying agenda or theme that solidifies the current leftist movement,” David Horowitz tells Glazov. “What actually unifies them is their hatred for the United States as it exists in the present.” So why are we repeating history? “The hard Left sees history as infinitely malleable and remakes it to conform to whatever are its current concerns,” Cold War historian John Earl Hayes explains. “It can never learn from history because the past it ardently believes in is always one that ratifies its worldview.”

Alas, the Right-Left labels that foreshadowed one’s outlook on the Cold War do not remain terribly constructive for the War on Terror. The 9/12 Right, amply represented within the pages of Showdown with Terror, takes a muscular tack advancing human rights around the globe. Ascendant after 9/11, descendant in the wake of Iraq, the view peaked around the time of George W. Bush’s heady Second Inaugural. But in post-Tea Party America, where what matters is deficits and a return to the founding vision, the idea of using American foreign policy as a tool to spread human rights seems a throwback to a Bush presidency that many conservatives would like a do-over for.

The important foreign policy questions, then, won’t be settled through a Left-Right argument, but through an internecine debate on the Right. Consider the differences in the perspectives of Glazov’s interviewees.

Interviewee Phyllis Chesler calls for a “feminist foreign policy.” Advocating hawkish women’s liberation, Chesler contends that “we must peg every peace treaty and trade agreement to women’s rights…. And, we must consider the use of military force when all else has failed.” Interviewee Natan Sharansky likewise calls for a foreign policy predicated on advancing human rights. “We should embrace leaders who embrace democratic reforms and reject leaders who don’t,” the former Soviet refusenik explains. “The free world should be willing to use all its leverage—moral, political, financial, etc.—to promote freedom and democracy.”

Sharansky’s position is certainly dominant within Showdown with Terror. But there are glimpses of another approach. Ralph Peters, for instance, takes a more realpolitik look at foreign policy. “It bewilders me that we’re obsessed with ‘saving’ Afghanistan, a worthless piece of dirt in the middle of nowhere, when the crucial struggle is right on (and crossing) our southern border,” Peters tells Glazov. In other words, stick to what you can affect closer to home rather than what you cannot affect a half-a-world away.

Both positions argue for a strong national defense and see militant Islam as a menace. But even among hawks there are disagreements about how to counter the threat. Should we pursue a foreign policy based on the ideal of spreading human rights? Should we purse an interest-based foreign policy?

The experience of 9/11 suggests the wisdom of the former position to many conservatives. The experience of Iraq suggests the wisdom of the latter position to many conservatives.

With the Right on the outside of power looking in, this isn’t a debate likely to be settled anytime soon. But once conservatives take power, the differences illustrated in Showdown with Terror that now seem faint will become fierce.