And as for the United States, what if we have every tool at our disposal to win a war - every weapons system we could want manned by the most superbly trained military in history - except the ability to match or exceed our antagonists in ruthlessness?
Is this the horrifying paradox of 21st century warfare? If Israel and the United States cannot be defeated militarily in any conventional sense, have our foes discovered a new way to win? Are they seeking victory through demoralization alone - by daring us to match them in barbarity and knowing we will fail?
"YES!!!" was my mental shout. This is the very nature of insurgencies - you cannot defeat them militarily. The tactics they adopt are circumscribed by the reality that in any stand up fight, they would be destroyed. So they hide amongst civilian populations, building a common persecution syndrome with the civilians and thereby increasing their support. To wage an attempted total war against them only serves their goals. Remember, the Mujahadin and thereby Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan were created by the Russian attempt at unrestricted war. They declared free-fire zones, attacked civilian convoys, and basically leveled the entire country outside few larger cities. They engaged in exactly the type of quasi-genocide Podhoretz is advocating. Did they win? Of course not - they were Reds, after all. They created the conditions in which the Taliban was a natural and inevitable consequence.
The War on Terrorism is NOT World War II. It is not total war, because "terrorists" poses no existential threat to America beyond the inevitable over reaction to their attacks by our own politicians. This is anti-insurgency, and winning a war against guerrillas is an entirely different affair than winning one against a state and army.
This is the sort of misunderstanding that gets a person disqualified - not because they are too heartless to deserve a voice in the course of our foreign policy, but because their ideas are proven roads to failure. These are the misunderstandings about the reality of the war, and the strategy required to win it, that actively block our chances for victory. They are anti-historical.
Personally, I always first react strategically rather than morally, but an equally valid response to Podhoretz's column would be to illustrate similarities in the genocidal aspirations of the author and the actions of Pol Pot, the Russians in Afghanistan, and even Hitler himself.