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Back in February 2005 I wrote about the fact that we are in a World War, and not World War 3 but number Six. As events unfold in the middle of this protracted conflict, there is already evidence of the nature and participation in the next campaign. But it is necessary to lay groundwork, to first discuss how we got here.
WORLD WAR ONE – 18th Century, Europe. A series of conflicts for the domination of Europe, primarily between the kingdoms of France and England, but included participation by Spain, Russia, the Netherlands, and proxy conflicts in North America.
WORLD WAR TWO – Early-to-mid 19th Century, North America and Europe. A series of conflicts to wipe out oceanic and open seas piracy. A factor in tensions leading to the U.S. Civil War, as well as trade agreements involving all major seafaring nations.
WORLD WAR THREE – 1914-1925, Europe and Southeast Asia. A significant sustained conflict between England and France on one side, and Germany and Austria on the other, with a number of intermittent allies, most notably the United States. Key events included first widespread battlefield use of WMD, economic warfare in combination with military action, and postwar territory conquest (Japan).
WORLD WAR FOUR – 1935-1947, Europe, Asia, North Africa, coastal North America, various Pacific islands. Nazis, Soviets, Empire of Japan.
WORLD WAR FIVE – 1947-1991, Planet Earth. USA versus the Evil Empire (USSR).
WORLD WAR SIX – 1973-present. USA versus Jihadism.
What each of these wars has in common, include the fact that each lasted longer than people seem to realize, left permanent effects which are still showing up today, and involved every major power of their time. And that’s important to understand the direction of where we are headed.
When WW6 began in 1973, the movement in Jihadism was basically to free the Arab world from domination by the secular powers in Washington and Moscow. This was the political impetus for OPEC, after all, and it should be understood that OPEC paid for terrorist operations to the end of reducing outsider influence in the Middle East. While public comments were restrained, American and Soviet officials were able to track the flow of money and key individuals, and on occasion actually cooperated to prevent the success of certain initiatives. Perhaps the best example of this is the 1981 Osirak raid in Iraq, where Israeli jets attacked a reactor producing weapons-grade plutonium for Saddam’s Nuclear program. While it cannot be proven, rumors have long suggested that U.S. Satellite imagery and Soviet HUMINT provided key data for the Israelis. Yassir Arafat also threw a wrench into the Jihadists’ plans, when he took the OPEC council hostage in 1974, demanding and getting a large ransom of undisclosed amount – the rogue move established the PLO as an independent actor in terrorism, and curtailed OPEC’s interest in funding terrorism. This meant, in practice, that individuals took up the practice, including Saddam Hussein, who saw the applied use of terror as a tool to gain power.
1979 was a watershed year for the Jihadists. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the revolution in Iran, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Saddam’s seizure of power in Iraq combined to radically alter the landscape in the Middle East. Jihadists saw a combination of threat and opportunity. Literally dozens of new terrorist organizations dedicated to Jihad sprang into existence.
Fast forward to 1991. To Jihadist eyes, the American intervention in Kuwait was abhorrent, as much for the display of U.S. power as for the notion of infidel boots in Saudi Arabia, never mind that we had been invited. A relatively minor pace of kidnappings, bombings and assassination against Americans became a focus of renewed interest, especially the desire to hurt Americans at home. It took time to plan and develop, but inexorably led to the 9/11 attacks.
So here we are. The significance of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was not only the destabilization of Al Qaeda’s network and a forceful response to an unprovoked attack, but Bush’s plain demand to choose a side played a card the Jihadists failed to consider; the Lying Mahdi.
Somewhere back in the 10th Century, a Muslim Imam of some repute vanished, with a legend born that he would one day return to establish a Caliphate of great power. The difference between Islam and the West, is that where we have outgrown fairy tales, the legend of the Mahdi is a strong and permanent theme in Islamic culture. And every so often, some nutcase pops up, declares himself the Mahdi and starts an insurrection. It happened several times under the British, and in Algeria under the French at least once. With the current madman in Iran torquing up hate speeches by the day, it would hardly be surprising to hear him claim the title himself. But that is also a weakness in the Islamic culture. That is, they know about the Mahdi legend, but also remember how many false Mahdis there have been, and that those false Mahdis always made things worse for Muslims; empires before the United States were not at all shy in putting down rebellions with as much force as they could bring to bear. Bush’s strong response has not only showed the lie to the Jihadists’ claim that the U.S. is only a paper lion, but hinted at the “false Mahdi” gambit to many in the Middle East. It’s not hard to look at Iraq, and wonder if a stable Iraq wouldn’t be much preferable to the strict and despotic regime in Iran. When businessmen in Saudi Arabia and students in Iran demonstrate for reform, the Jihadists are in trouble.
But the war is far from over, and observers have pointed to a likely future battlefield: Europe. The violence in France was unsettling, not least because the French government was clearly out of its depth in controlling it. One cannot help but wonder if, in 20 or 30 years, a patient but ruthless Muslim revolutionary might not be able to make France or Germany like another Iran or Syria. The impact on the world, in military, political, social, and economic terms, could be devastating.
It is here that the United States finds the potential of some unlikely allies. The governments of China and India have generally taken a wait-and-see attitude in response to U.S. actions, for the obvious reason that neither is keen to see the U.S. dominate the world overtly. Yet neither India nor China has any stomach for the kind of methodology employed by the Jihadists; if China cannot tolerate the practice of peaceful Falun Gong classes in public, one can scarcely imagine how they would like Muslim uprisings along their northern border. And India has enough on its hands watching Pakistan; imagine that threat multiplied by a Muslim power in Europe. So, while both nations prefer a pragmatic policy and will be likely to play both sides against the middle wherever they can, when the crisis point comes to bear, it is in both nations’ interest to work against the Jihadists, rather than with them. And this is again where the mind of George W. Bush comes to play.
Attacking the terrorists in the countries of their own base was the best way to work against another major attack on our own soil. Destroying their network was the best way to prove the lie to their bragging. Establishing democracies in place of the tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq was the best way to show hope in spite of fear. And Bush knows how to read a map, well enough to give India and China the out he knows they will need eventually, even if they themselves do not yet realize that fact.
That’s why we will win.