Monday, December 10, 2007

The Fallacy of "World War IV"

Peter Beinart refutes a frequent neocon talking point:

Prominent conservative intellectuals repeatedly demanded that America ditch containment in favor of rollback and urged U.S. leaders to consider preventive war -- especially in the late 1940s, when the U.S. had a nuclear weapon and Moscow did not. The most important of those intellectuals was the National Review's James Burnham, who wrote a long-running column titled "The Third World War." He chose that title for a reason: He believed America's struggle against communism was the great conflict of his time, and he didn't want it to stay cold. He believed that unless America fought directly and aggressively against its Soviet (and later Chinese) enemies, communism would take over the globe.

Whether they recognize it or not, the conservatives who today invoke World War IV are Burnham's successors. They are altering the past to make it appear that we took his advice and defeated the Soviet Union on the battlefield. But that's exactly what America did not do. We defeated Moscow because of the strength of our economic and political system, and because of our success in rehabilitating Western Europe and Japan so they served as both natural buffers to communism's spread and powerful magnets to people living under the Soviet boot. We won because we contained and deterred the Soviet Union rather than confronting it. America fought the Cold War, not World War III, and thank goodness we did.

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