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Who's Counting? Bush and Giuliani on the Next World War

October 18, 2007

President Bush's disturbingly flip comment Wednesday about Iran and World War III not only revealed his apparent comfort when discussing global conflagration. Bush's gaffe also showed the common vision between himself, the man most likely to succeed him as head of the Republican Party and those who advise them both. For George Bush, Rudy Giuliani and the likes of Norman Podhoretz, the only dispute about "world war" is whether we're already fighting it and what number we're on.
For President Bush, ever ready in the past to seek false parallels between his Iraq adventure and the World War II, a nuclear armed Iran would be the next real deal:

"We got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Rudy Giuliani and his top foreign policy adviser Norman Podhoretz couldn't agree more. On Tuesday, Giuliani talked tough on Tehran, declaring, "If I'm president of the United States, I guarantee you we will never find out what they will do if they get nuclear weapons, because they're not going to get nuclear weapons."
But it is Podhoretz who helps provide the world war vision to both the current and would-be next GOP occupant of the White House. His latest pro-war screed from June, "The Case for Bombing Iran," is required reading in both the Bush and Giuliani camps. In his book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Podhoretz argues that with the conflict against Al Qaeda, Iraq and Iran, Sunni and Shiite, and other Islamic foes real or imagined, the next world war is already underway. As he told Newsweek:

"I decided to join Giuliani's team because his view of the war - what I call World War IV - is very close to my own," Podhoretz tells NEWSWEEK. (World War III, in his view, was the cold war.) "And also because he has the qualities of a wartime leader, including a fighting spirit and a determination to win."

The difference between Bush and Giuliani on framing the war on terror and looming conflict with Iran is essentially a digit. Both appropriate the Second World War, fascist analogies and the sacrifices of the "Greatest Generation" to help sell this "good war." (Both men learned their lesson and quickly dropped their problematic Iraq-as-Vietnam analogies.) Their only apparent disagreement is whether or not to give the Cold War, in which their shared conservative legend tells us Ronald Reagan single-handedly triumphed over the Soviet Union, its own lofty World War title.
So is it World War III or World War IV? George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani would no doubt quote Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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