I agree that “World War IV” is an accurate characterization of our war against Islamist totalitarianism. But although what the term denotes is sound—a lengthy world-wide struggle against a totalitarian enemy that is analogous to, especially, World War II and the cold war (World War III)—its connotation creates a problem. Hearing “world war,” most people will think of D-Day, Iwo Jima, Stalingrad, etc. and thus quickly conclude that the speaker advocates principally large-scale military operations.

When I begin a conversation by calling the current struggle World War IV, I find that until the second glass of wine I am generally not successful in persuading a friend that I really do not want to invade all our enemies—especially since, like Norman Podhoretz, I supported the invasion of Iraq. So I lean toward “The Long War of the 21st Century,” which, yes, has its own connotation problems. In any case, his point—that we confront a sweeping, ideologically rooted, worldwide, determined enemy whom it will take years to defeat—is the crux of the matter.

Iraq threatens our success in this long World War IV. It is vital for us to prevail there, else we will leave a vacuum for both Sunni and Shiite Islamists to fill. But the current fighting there is, in my view, not an “early theater” in the overall war. We in the U.S. have been at war with the Middle East’s Islamist totalitarians for nearly three decades —at least since our embassy hostages were seized in Tehran in 1979. It is just that, until quite recently, only our enemies have been fighting. We should look at the Sunni and Shiite totalitarians together, since they cooperate with one another (and with secular totalitarians like Iraqi and Syrian Baathists) far more than our press, our diplomats, and our intelligence analysts have generally wanted to admit. These pundits and government officials have served us exactly as well as their grandfathers in the same professions who confidently told the world in the 1930’s that Nazis and Communists would never cooperate.

Beginning with the Carter administration’s dithering, we have done our best for a long time to convince the Islamist totalitarians that we are the “weak horse” that bin Laden rightly says will be disdained by all. In Lebanon, our embassy and our Marine barracks were blown up—and we left. Americans were thereafter kidnapped, tortured, and killed in the 1980’s—and we looked to law enforcement and tried to trade arms for hostages. In 1991 we had a half-million troops in Iraq and encouraged the Kurds and Shiites to rebel—and we then stood aside and watched them be massacred. There was an attempt to murder former President Bush in 1993—and we fired two dozen cruise missiles into an empty Iraqi intelligence headquarters at night, dealing decisively with Iraqi cleaning women and night watchmen. Our helicopters were shot down in Somalia in 1993—and we left. Our World Trade Center was bombed in 1993—and we ignored the fact that one of the leading perpetrators took refuge in Iraq. Our East African embassies, our military barracks in Saudi Arabia, and an American warship were all bombed in the 1990’s—and we fired a few more cruise missiles ineffectually into the sands of Sudan and Afghanistan.

Now we have at least noticed that we are at war, and in Afghanistan and Iraq have begun to fight back. But in the latter case, until nearly four years into the war, we repeated the same ineffective search-and-destroy tactics used by General William Westmoreland for almost exactly the same stretch of years in Vietnam. General David Petraeus has finally been allowed to fight (clear-hold-protect) like General Creighton Abrams and the Marines. It is crucial that he be allowed to succeed. If he does, much else will go well in the overall war. If he does not, the consequences could be disastrous.

_____________

 

As for our progress: the President made a huge mistake after 9/11 by telling us to “shop” instead of rallying us to a long struggle. One rallying point could have been to move us away from oil’s dominance (96 percent) of the world’s transportation market. The Saudi billionaires who fund al Qaeda, the Wahhabi imams who inspire suicide bombers to go to Iraq, the Iranian mullahs who pay for the explosive devices to kill our troops in Iraq—all get their resources from oil. We are late and are only now beginning to support real technologies—unlike such pipe dreams as hydrogen fuel cells for the family car—that can help this transition.

Our broadcasting to the Middle East has been inept and ineffective. The nation that invented Radio Free Europe forgot for years why it was so successful.

In this connection, although I agree with the Bush Doctrine’s emphasis on democratization, balloting may not come first. Instead, in many societies, one should often begin (following John Rawls and Amartya Sen) by building on existing “institutions of public reason” such as the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan. History and ownership of institutions matter. In Iraq, for example, we should have given back to the Iraqis their own 1925 constitution instead of drafting one for them, especially since in doing so we set up a copy of Weimar Germany’s historically disastrous structure of proportional representation and party lists—an electoral system that encourages factions instead of a more stable system based on single-member constituencies that encourage two parties to compete for the center.

But it is certainly true that democracies very rarely fight one another. Since 1945, when there were about 20 democracies, Freedom House indicates that nearly 100 have been added. (Of these, admittedly, some 30 have serious problems like substantial corruption.) Those who said Japan and Germany could never be democracies have been proved wrong, as have those in years past who said the same thing of Asians, of Catholics, and of others. Mongolia, for example, is a well-functioning democracy.

However difficult the transition, giving up on any nation or people by assuming that because of their culture they will ultimately prefer tyranny to freedom is both dangerous and racist. Many of those who sign on to this assumption call themselves “realists”; they are the exact opposite.

+ A A -
Share via
Copy link