Monday, July 17, 2006

World War III (or IV) ... It Depends

Neoconservative circles are buzzing over Newt Gingrich's recent essay in which he proclaims the current wave of Islamist terrorism directed against the US to be nothing less than World War III.

The recent attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel -- with the active political, financial and military support of Iran and Syria -- are just the latest acts in this war. It is a war that pits civilization and the rule of law against the dictatorships of Iran and Syria and the terrorist groups of Hezbollah and Hamas that they support. It is also a war that pits civilized nations against Islamic terrorist groups around the world, including, most significantly (but not exclusively), the al Qaeda network.

In the United States, we refer to this struggle as the "Global War on Terror". Yet, I believe this label fails to capture the nature and scale of the threat faced by civilization.

The nature of the threat -- with Iran at the epicenter -- is at its core ideological. The threat to the United States is an ideological wing of Islam that is irreconcilable to modern civilization as we know it throughout most of the world. The United States and her allies face a long war with this irreconcilable wing of Islam.

Actually, Norman Podhoretz can claim to have given birth to nearly the same idea a couple of years ago, though the considered the Cold War to be WWIII and thus enumerated the US vs. Islamic terrorism struggle WWIV.

The notion that the term World War can be applied to the confrontation between Islamism and the West demonstrates the sheer ridiculousness and puerility of neoconservative thinking, and the sort of reality-detached global strategizing that got the US mired in Iraq. The idea is so wrong, one scarcely knows where to begin.

Gingrich labels this struggle as an "ideological war," and draws a direct comparision between it and the Cold War. True enough, the Islamists would like to convert the world to Islam, but unlike the Cold War during which many Western intellectuals were swayed to communism's failed dogmas, few of today's Western intellectuals are apt to toss hijabs over their wives, forswear alcohol and start quoting the Koran. Some extreme leftists will sympathize with the Islamists out of their bitter resentment of Western ascendency and capitalism triumph over socialism, but very few will actually become Muslims. Nor is there any serious chance that entire Western populations will convert en masse to Islam. The Islamist terrorists who blow themselves to bits on crowded subways in the hopes of defeating Western nations are suffering from the grandiose delusions fostered by their atavistic, reality-divorced religion. They stand no chance of defeating the West. Indeed, bin Laden's attacks on the West are probably aimed more at improving his standing within the Islamic world than at affecting policies in the non-Muslim world.

This is where the poorly named "War on Terrorism" has gone completely off the tracks. A dangerous mix of political correctness, Wilsonian universalism, half-baked idealism and geopolitical incompetence has led the US to 1) improperly identify the enemy; 2) misunderstand the true nature of the threat; and 3) apply exactly the wrong solution to the problem.

First, we are at war with Islamism, the militant side of Islam whose respresentatives attacked us on September 11, and had been attacking the West for some time before that. Islamism arises from Islam. It is inextricably linked to the fundamental texts and doctrines of the faith. As such, it cannot be physically combatted, unless one wishes to invade, occupy and convert the entire Islamic world. This is far beyond the intention, wealth and power of the US. The best strategy is to isolate Islamism and allow it to consume itself, as all fanatical ideologies ultimately do. The US can undermine it covertly, can kill those Islamists who harm us, and can punish and isolate nations which permit Islamists to operate within their borders. Imposing democracy won't defeat the Islamists, who are all to happy to use the ballot box as well as the suicide vest (as in Palestine, Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, etc.) to gain power.

John Derbyshire voices a bit of reason against the Gingrich tirade at National Review's The Corner today:

Well, you know how I hate to be a party pooper, but I think this is all nuts. I do understand that our civilizational confidence is going through a rough patch — that the West is currently indulging itself, in the way that people and civilizations will indulge themselves when they believe they can afford to, in guilty agonizings about our past imperialism, colonialism, slavery, and so on. I am sure these pleasurable guilt-spasms will pass, as all things do pass. In the meantime, just look at us — at our wealth, our power, our capability. And look at them — the jihadis! This is war? Nonsense. This is war on the scale of WW1, WW2, or the Cold War? Nonsense on stilts.

Derbyshire recounts the mighty highly-industrialized nations that faced off during WWI, WWII and the Cold War, and then compares those situations with the current dilemma and comes to the very obvious conclusion:

In the current conflict, all the modern industrialized nations are opposed by a loose rabble of religious fanatics, whose sole claim on our attention so far has been (1) to conduct some sensational, but suicidal, and — by comparison with WWs 1, 2, and 3, trivial — raids into civilized territory, and (2) to seize control of some worthless countries (Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia) and, by misgovernment, make them even more worthless. This is not a war, and by calling it one, we flatter the jihadists far beyond their deserts. No jihadist nation — let alone any jihadist group — can field an army against us. We are frightening ourselves with bogeymen.

None of this is to deny that Islamism represents a threat to the West. Just not a military threat in the mold of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or Imperial Japan. Militant Islam would very much like to obliterate American cities, but it does not have the capacity to do so. The only conceivably manner in which it could acquire the capacity to do so is by purchasing or stealing that capability from another non-Islamic nation (as Pakistan did, and as Iran is trying to do). But nuclear weapons are costly to maintain, and require serious brainpower to design, two constraints that would conspire to keep Islamic nuclear arsenals very small.

The serious threat posed by Islamism - and by Islam in general - comes through immigration. Large numbers of Muslims have come and settled in the West, where they are having families and growing in numbers. In Europe, their populations have grown so large that they can influence European culture and politics by sheer population size alone. Worse, due to the tiny birthrates of native Europeans, Muslims will only continue to grow as a percentage of European national populations. This is the only way in which Islam can harm the West - by out-reproducing Westerners in their own lands, thus handing over cultural control to Muslims in the long term. But this can only happen with Western acquiesence.

Consider Gingrich and the neo-conservatives and their solutions for a moment:

I think the answer is clear. The duty of civilized, law-abiding nations is to win this war. Anything less than victory sends the message that our terrorist enemies and their state sponsors have the time to develop the strength to do us incalculable harm. Anything less than victory threatens the very survival of the rule of law and freedom as we have known it.

Winning four arguments are essential to winning this Third World War. I urge each of you to take the time to make these points to your friends and neighbors who may not yet recognize the nature and scale of this war, or who are tempted by the dangerous allure of appeasement.

1. It's Us Versus Them: The American people and free people everywhere must come to recognize that we are in a world war that pits civilization against terrorists and their state sponsors who wish to impose a new dark age -- with them in charge. Everything our leaders do must be judged by whether it helps or hurts us in defeating terrorists and their state sponsors.

2. Connect the Dots, Then Connect Them Again: We must consistently emphasize that the deadly attacks and threats of destruction we see worldwide are connected.

The bombings in India relate to attacks on Israel. Iran's erecting a statue of the favorite hero (Simon Bolivar) of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez -- in a gesture of alliance -- is linked to the Chavez-Castro efforts to weaken America. Suicide bombings in Iraq are linked to efforts to kill thousands of innocent civilians in Canada and New York City.

And on and on it goes.

3. Stand and Deliver: We must take every possible opportunity to engage in arguments and efforts that educate people about the nature of the war and the enormous challenge it will be to defeat terrorists and their state sponsors who are committed to our destruction.

4. Be Honest About the Challenges Ahead: Many things in this Third World War will be very hard. When there have been more than 800 suicide bombers in Iraq alone and several thousand over the last decade worldwide, there is a serious crisis of civilization. We must convince the American people and our allies across the world that fighting this fight is hard but necessary and unavoidable. Losing to the murderous terrorists and their state sponsors who threaten us would be far harder.

Notice that Gingrich casts his war broadly enough to now include Venezuela and Cuba! Is a second Bay of Pigs in the offing? But also notice what Gingrich does not advocate. Nothing about closing the borders. Not a word about limiting immigration and tourism from the Middle East. Apparently, in the Gingrich model of WWIII, America's blood and treasury are to be devoted to planting democracy in soil fundamentally hostile to it and insisting on shoveling more and more blood and treasure into failed efforts.


At 10:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real "Islamist" war is in Europe, which has a long history of conflict with Muslims. Indeed, attempted Islamist expansion into Europe is almost as old as Islam itself. But Islam has no natural enemy in the United States. The Islamist nations are not located near us and have no history of animosity with us. We have no history of colonization in the Islamist world. Even as a "superpower" in the first couple of decades after WWII we had no conflict with Islamist nations. Not until the 1970's have those conflict began -- with oil embargos and the Iran hostage taking. So what changed at that time? What could possible create animosity with a people we have virtually no contact with? Do Islamist all the sudden, after over 200 years of American history, suddenly find our "freedom" annoying? The answer is simple and has been expressed numerous times by Islamist leaders themselves. Osama bin Laden, both before and after 9/11, expressed it. Islamists attacks against the United States were originally motivated by one thing only: our support of a militaristic, Middle East expasionist Isreal. An Isreal that we didn't begin supporting in earnest until its late 1960, early 1970s, wars. That is our only connection with the Islamist world and the only reason for Islamist acts of terror against the United States. Why doesn't anyone talk about it?


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