Ross Douthat has a characteristically sharp piece in The Wall Street Journal arguing that the dividing line in foreign policy isn't between left and right, hawk and dove, idealist and realist. Nor, for that matter, is it between neoconservatives, democratic globalists, progressive realists, democratic realists, or anything else so neoteric.
Instead, Ross argues that we are divided by history. Some believe that it is 1919, that Bush is Woodrow Wilson, and that we are tying ourselves to a world we don't understand; other believe it's 1938, our enemy is Hitler-esque, and we have to choose between being Churchill or being Chamberlain; still others think it's 1972, that America is exaggerating the threat it faces, and that we are the source of our own problems; still others believe it's 1942 and that, although we didn't want this fight, we are duty-bound to end it. And so on...
It's an interesting thought experiment. Still, the flaws in Ross' methodology are obvious. History doesn't repeat itself, it only appears to to those unfamiliar with its details. Also, why should we confine ourselves to history from the past century? Why not reach further back into our collective experience - say, to the 30 Years' War, which in many ways is a more relevant historical analogy? Indeed, for more reasons that can be explained in a blog post, Ross' analogies obscure more than they clarify.
Ross directs considerable anger at the so-called 1938ers. Several weeks ago, the 1938 glitterati - everyone from Newt Gingrich to Sean Hannity to Bill O'Reilly - said we were fighting World War 3. Not to be outdone, Michael Ledeen and Norman Podhoretz claim we are in the middle of World War 4.
Ross may recoil at this, as will others who think the Bush administration is reenacting Wagner's Götterdämmerung. The sad reality, however, is that all we're doing is taking our enemies at their word.