On May 15, 1953, George Kennan, speaking at the University of Notre Dame about a month before leaving government service for permanent exile at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, observed:
There are forces at large in our society today . . . too diffuse to be described by their association with the name of any one man or any one political concept…. They all march, in one way or another, under the banner of an alarmed and exercised anti-communism—but an anti-communism of a quite special variety, bearing an air of excited discovery and proprietorship, as though no one had ever known before that there was a communist danger.
At the time of these remarks, the influence of the crusading anti-communist senator Joseph McCarthy was at its height, and Kennan’s Washington colleagues, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, were opting not to challenge the Wisconsin demagogue.
Today, the United States is confronted by a seemingly similar scenario, in which the anxieties of millions of Americans have been aroused by adversaries who threaten them at home as well as overseas. And once again, a U.S. senator is pandering to those anxieties. On January 10, 2017, Ted Cruz (R.-Tex.) introduced legislation, the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act, that would require the U.S. secretary of state to investigate and report back to Congress as to why the Brotherhood should not be designated a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). Meanwhile, the Trump White House is reported to be considering punitive executive action against activities and organizations within the United States deemed to be tied to the Brotherhood.
From a foreign-policy perspective, any such efforts would undoubtedly be ill advised. But their repercussions within the United States would also be disastrous. Worse, although these are bad ideas, they are bad ideas whose time may have come. For they are responding to the failure of U.S. intellectual and political elites not only to address the Brotherhood’s ties to terrorism but even to acknowledge the organization’s long and enduring
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