In the Arena

It’s Raining Nazis–Continued

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When a column starts off like this:

The details of who did what to precipitate Russia’s war against Georgia are not very important. Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama.

The events of the past week will be remembered that way, too.

…the author has got to be a neoconservative pushing for the next war. In this case, it’s Robert Kagan, girding for a new twilight struggle with the Sovi…uh, sorry: that was a couple of twilight struggles ago…Russia. Kagan is smart and modulated in this case. He carefully lays out the U.S. and European Union initiatives in Eastern Europe that have led to the Russian pushback. Most of the western actions have been morally justified support for the new democracies–and Georgia may be the most heart-warming example–in the region; others, including the costly and technologically untenable missile defense system fantasized by Bush, have been unnecessarily provocative. And Kagan’s (right)wingman, Bill Kristol, is similarly modulated in the NY Times:

The good news is that today we don’t face threats of the magnitude of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Each of those regimes combined ruthless internal control, a willingness to engage in external aggression, and fervent adherence to an extreme ideology. Today these elements don’t coexist in one place. Russia is aggressive, China despotic and Iran messianic — but none is as dangerous as the 20th-century totalitarian states.

But don’t let that fool ya. With Word War IV–Norman Podhoretz’s ridiculous oversell of the struggle against jihadi extremism–on a slow burn for the moment, Kagan et al are showing renewed interest in the golden oldies of enemies, Russia and China. This larval neo-crusade has influenced the campaign of John McCain, with his comic book proposal for a League of Democracies and his untenable proposal to kick the Russians out of the G8.

To be sure, Russia’s assault on Georgia is an outrage. We should use all the diplomatic leverage we have (not all that much, truthfully) to end this invasion, and–as Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus argue in this more reasonable take–help Georgia to recover when it’s over. And, to be sure, neither Russia nor China are going to be our good buddies, as many of us hoped in the afterglow of the fall of communism. They will be a significant diplomat challenge.

But it is important, yet again, to call out the endless neoconservative search for new enemies, mini-Hitlers. It is the product of an abstract over-intellectualizing of the world, the classic defect of ideologues. It is, as we have seen the last eight years, a dangerous way to behave internationally. And it has severely damaged our moral authority in the world…I mean, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, after Abu Ghraib, after our blithe rubbishing of the Geneva Accords, why should anyone listen to us when we criticize the Russians for their aggression in the Caucasus?

Matt Yglesias picks up on the same neoconservative Naziphilia at his new blog site.