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It took more than 30 years for the achievements of the World War II generation to come completely into focus, and the appreciation of their valor grew steadily for the next 20 years. Herman Wouk and Stephen Ambrose were among those who captured the drama and the sacrifice, the bravery and the stubborn determination of the men who fought and won the battle against fascism. Those who came of age shortly after those epic battles have lived in their shadows, and the enormity of the threat and the evil of the ’40s eclipsed even the enormous courage of the men who fought the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The passage of time and events has also reduced the reputations of the leaders who shrank from confronting the evil in those times, and there is no way to redeem the indecision and craven timidity they displayed then.

We have entered another era of epic events, and we are on the cusp of a year that almost certainly will be as consequential for the world’s future as any of the early years in the struggle with fascism. Iraq will be invaded, North Korea confronted and al-Qaida pursued throughout 2003. If the resolution of free peoples to follow these three courses flags in any significant way, the results will be as serious as the consequences that flowed when the French and the British did nothing when Hitler first began to re-arm, then sent troops into the Rhineland in 1936 and then absorbed Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938. The various peace caucuses sputter at such obvious comparisons because of the undeniable instruction they provide.

The awful toll of World War II was not inevitable. It could have been prevented. But the people who would have prevented it were not in power. They were backbenchers, and they were widely derided by the powerful forces of appeasement, which in those days was not a pejorative term. Those who warned against Hitler and who counseled re-armament and blunt opposition to Germany’s many provocations were mocked and scolded. Only the horrible results of their being ignored would prove them right – the sort of comfort no decent man ever covets.

Which brings me to Joshua Micah Marshall, rising star of the left, and a recent convert (June 2002, by his own admission) to the necessity of toppling Saddam, though still trying hard to make the Clinton gang other than the total dupes they turned out to be on North Korea. Marshall is a bright fellow and very witty. As is usually the case with the left, witty is mistaken for wise, clever arguments are mistaken for persuasive arguments and wishful thinking is mistaken for hard facts.

It is tough, after all, to be a defender of positions and people exposed as terribly incompetent and foolish.

I don’t mind Marshall trying his best to cover for the foreign-policy sins of eight years of Clinton fecklessness. To assess the effort as “threadbare” would be generous. It is a lot like the dilemma faced by the friends of Chamberlain, Baldwin and MacDonald: There are some political decisions that cannot be defended, and silence is the best tactic.

Marshall and others, however, have decided that the best defense is a good offense, and are trying to pin the perfidy of North Korea – abetted by the see-no-evil resoluteness of the Clinton team – on the Bush administration. In doing so, Marshall uses an absolutely childish tactic of attributing psychological defects to the people who were correct about North Korea and most other matters all along. Marshall wrote just this week that:

It’s one thing to be a hawk and have your hawkishness rooted in a cold-eyed realism and a willingness to use force, quite another to have it stem from emotional impulses arising from the fact that you grew up as a pencil neck and constantly had your lunch money stolen from you by the cool kids.

I can’t give you precise lunch-money victimization statistics for various civilian political appointees at the Pentagon, for staffers in the Office of the Vice-President, Richard Perle or even Frank Gaffney. But I suspect most folks who are familiar with these guys will know what I’m getting at.

I do know some of these guys, and I do know what Marshall is getting at: He’s getting at the fact that for eight long years of Clinton amateurism, these guys were right on every major foreign-policy issue. To be specific on just one issue: When the sands of the hourglass were running out on Clinton, just prior to the orgy of parties and pardons, the great legacy hunt was leading to a Clinton visit to North Korea and “normalization” of relations with the despot who was cheating us then, even as he starved his own people.

It was Gaffney, Perle and a few others who raised the alarms and prevented another massive, self-inflicted wound. In short, what Marshall is “getting at” is that there are experts who have been right for so long that they deserve to be listened to, and will be listened to unless the media is schooled in ignoring them. Thus the mockery. Marshall and the others who cheered the Clinton team then and now have no credibility on North Korea. They are bitter. And the bitterness shows in such taunts as the Web makes easy to dispense.

It can’t work, of course, because the events are too serious and the record too clear. You can’t blame 9-11 and the growth of al-Qaida, or North Korea’s permission slip to cheat, or Iran going nuclear on the Bush administration any more than the invasion of Poland can be laid at Churchill’s feet. To even try is to reveal either an intellectual desperation or a fundamental incoherence so extreme as to disqualify the writer even from areas where he or she might actually have some insight.

2003 will be a momentous year, and those who want to comment on its events would do well to prepare to do so by reading the second volume in William Manchester’s biography of Churchill, “Alone.” Clinton’s presidency, like the governments of Baldwin and Chamberlain, cannot be redeemed by attacks on the Bush administration, and the foreign policy “elites” of the left cannot have their tattered credibility restored via attacks on the experts who were first right about the Soviets and who have now been shown to be right about our current set of enemies.

In fact, given the record of Gaffney and his colleagues, Marshall might want to link to the Center For Security Policy and start reading. Talent is a terrible thing to waste.

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