- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008


If, indeed, as George Weigel asserts, Westerners and Islamic jihadists are engaged in “an unavoidable contest to define the human future,” wouldn’t that compel some special effort on our part? You know — given that the war started years ago, even before the slaughter at the World Trade Center?

Not the least nutty feature of the demonstrably nutty era we live in is the compelling need for the bucket of ice water Mr. Weigel dumps over the collective head of a society more zealously at war with itself than with its sworn enemies.

“[W]e are now confronted,” this discerning author makes clear in 150 brisk pages, “by an existential enemy, that is, one for whom a greater share in the world’s wealth or power may be a subsidiary goal, but whose primary motivation is the overthrow of our very way of life — our civilization.”

Nor, much as it might like to, can the United States duck the challenge of leading the struggle, Mr. Weigel affirms: bad news for the ever-more-numerous kind of American who just wants, apparently, to take a vacation from history.

A debate of sorts takes place daily on bestseller lists and op-ed pages concerning prospects for washing our hands of the whole sordid mess in Iraq and getting on with things we like better. Such as rebating tax money?

It’s Mr. Weigel’s self-imposed task — the book amplifies the content of a lecture he gave last year — to make polarized Americans see the undeclared war on Islamic jihadists as inescapable, and potentially calamitous, reality.

He does a capable job of it, notwithstanding that you’ll have read many of the arguments previously; e.g., the jihadists hate the West and see even the most peaceful place as battlefields; a self-critical West undermines its own cause; the United States really did kind of blow the aftermath of the Iraq war.

Mr. Weigel, given his premises, can’t understand why Americans won’t keep their heads in the game, when there’s so much to be done. For instance, he says, we have to break our dependency not just on Middle Eastern oil but on oil, period. He strongly supports efforts to develop alternative fuels and thus “defund global jihadism.”

He similarly wants American politicians to grow up and quit playing games. Why can’t they form — for foreign policy purposes — “a new bipartisan Coalition of Those Who Understand,” redolent of the foreign policy realism that tended to unite Democrats and Republicans in opposition to the Soviet threat?

He can’t see (as, really, how many other Americans can?) the utility of perpetually tying ourselves in legal knots over telephonic eavesdropping and the like. There’s no mention here of waterboarding, which wasn’t a national obsession when Mr. Weigel wrote the book. I’d infer that his sympathy for the “victims” of intense interrogation would be eclipsed by compassion for those they mean to mow down or blow up.

Mr. Weigel urges more creative and effective U.S. government propaganda to counter the distortive power of the Internet and Al Jazeera. As to what we’re doing now, “The mindlessness is truly staggering,” given the profound need for “assertive public diplomacy.”

This caustic little book won’t be mistaken by anyone as an apologia for the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on terror. At least the administration is trying, Mr. Weigel notes — in contrast with “realists” in the State Department and the media who get more worked up about America’s putative sins and missteps than about the horrors promised, and sometimes conspicuously delivered, by the enemy.

Underestimation of religion as a focus for action is a characteristic modern defect that Mr. Weigel — a respected student of Roman Catholicism and its place in the civic order — sees as ripe for repair. Curiously, it’s the only factor he downplays in a book fiercely focused on questions of public policy. Of course there arises the question, how do you engineer, in a Western context, a religious revival that gives Westerners motives even better than the political kind for the defense of what’s theirs? The desacralized, morally depleted West of the 21st century is in many ways an obvious target for the wrath and ambitions of outsiders — not only godless but weak. Mr. Weigel has written of these matters in “The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God.” Which is where I think he gets it even righter than he gets it here. What he does here, nonetheless, is as stirring as it is chilling — the way ice water, properly applied, always is.

William Murchison is a syndicated columnist.

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