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Rollback and Preventive War

Dan McCarthy describes the influence of ideological anti-communism on the right:

The point of anti-Communist-cum-neoconservative ideology was that America must take a pro-active military approach to dealing with enemies.

Dan is emphasizing this “proactive” military approach to identify the continuity between the original proponents of rollback in the Cold War and their successors in recent decades. That seems right, but I’d like to add a few observations. The “proactive” military approach Dan describes is informed by a set of dubious assumptions. The first assumption is that the U.S. has been and will continue to be locked in grand, world-spanning struggles against opponents that are in conflict with the U.S. principally because of their ideology. This was what was behind the ludicrous notion of “Islamofascism” as a catch-all term to refer to various U.S. foes in the 2000s and the related obsession of some pro-war ideologues to define the “war on terror” as World War IV. According to the same kind of thinking, the U.S. must wage a global war against its latest totalitarian foes, and containment of those foes represents an unacceptable compromise with evil. Accordingly, the only acceptable response must involve “prevention” and regime change. These are the modern equivalent of rollback, except that there has been no expansion of anything that needs to be rolled back. Anything less than this has to be condemned as weakness and “appeasement.” The Bush Doctrine is just the latest idol of what Dan calls the “cult of rollback.” It’s almost inevitable that adherents of that cult exaggerate and inflate threats, since it is only through greatly exaggerating the strength of U.S. foes that their reckless and confrontational policies can be sold to the public.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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