07/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

William Kristol Advises Obama On Iraq

Usually, William Kristol deploys his New York Times column to try and provide John McCain with some extra intellectual firepower. But today he leaps into the breach to assist Obama. Or so he would have it. Kristol urges Obama to declare that nothing less than victory will do in the war against terrorism when he speaks before the Victory Column in Berlin. According to Kristol, " Perhaps Obama -- with the Victory Column at his back -- will also challenge those who think it impossible to imagine victory today. Perhaps Obama will also warn of the temptation of assuming we can somehow avoid confronting the terrorists and jihadists, and those who support them."
Yikes! In fact, it's possible to draw the very opposite lesson from German history -- hubris and megalomania, already during World War I, led Germany to ruin. Slap on an aggrieved nationalism and you've really got problems. No, American history doesn't really bear comparison with Germany's.

Kristol's more serious sin, is to liken the war on terrorism to the cold war: "The front lines are elsewhere today, in a struggle against a different enemy. We don't know whether jihadism will turn out to be a less or more formidable foe than Communism." Actually, we do. There is no comparison between the two. The cold war was a far more serious conflict with an actual superpower that possessed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Having missed much of the cold war, Kristol and Co. are eager to fight their own version of it. But nostalgia for those frosty days won't defeat terrorism. Quite the contrary. It's the very cold war triumphalism that suffuses Kristol's op-ed that helped lead America into its current pickle. The lessons from history that Kristol is pointing to are fictitious. As the British historian AJP Taylor once observed, the problem isn't that we pay too little attention to the past, but too much.