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Observer Worldview (UK)
July 20, 2003
America and the western world are at war with 'fascist' Middle East governments and totalitarian Islamists. The freedoms we stand for are loathed and our vulnerable systems under attack. Liberty and security will be in conflict as we line up behind the new march of democracy.
This is about the war we are in, whom it is with, how we have to fight it inside our own countries and how we have to fight it abroad. The war is, essentially, similar to the Cold War. This is the origin of the phrase World War IV, which Professor Eliot Cohen came up with in America shortly after September 11 2001, to characterise the parallels between this war and what he called World War III - the Cold War.
Those parallels are: that it will last a very long time - decades; that it will sporadically involve the use of military force, as did the Cold War in Korea for example; but that an important component would be ideological. I would add that, just as we eventually won the Cold War - and when I say 'we' here, I always mean Britain, the United States, the democracies, our allies - it was in no small measure because, while containing the Soviet Union and its allies militarily and with nuclear deterrence, we undermined their ideology.
We undermined it over a long period by convincing the Lech Walesas, the Vaclav Havels, the Andrei Sakharovs, the Solidarities, that this was not a clash of civilisations, not even a clash of countries, but a war of freedom against tyranny, and that we were on their side.
To exactly the same degree, we will surely be successful in this long war if we convince the hundreds of millions of reasonable and decent Muslims around the world who do not want to be terrorists, who do not want to live in dictatorships, that we are on their side and they on ours.
Fascists and Islamists
There are really three movements in the Middle East that are essentially at war with the west, with modernity, with western Europe and the United States and our allies. They are, first of all, the fascists, a term that I use advisedly because the Arab nationalist movements of Syria - until recently Iraq and Syria - and Libya and other such groups in the Middle East are effectively modelled on the fascist parties of the 1920s and 1930s. They are structured like them, and are similarly anti-semitic. They are fascists and there is no reason to mince words.
The other two movements are both Islamist, and I use that term to denote precisely totalitarian movements masquerading as portions of a religion. The mullahs in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and those with him, and Al Qaeda and its supporters - one on the Shi'a side of the Islamic divide and the other on the Sunni side - are effectively totalitarian movements disguised as religions, in much the same way that Tomás Torquemada and the Dominicans around him who operated the Spanish Inquisition were a totalitarian movement in the guise of a portion of Christianity.
The Islamists on the Shi'a side of the divide, in Tehran, are massively unpopular in their own country. Even according to their official public opinion polls, a substantial majority of Iranians would like to have dealings with the US and, whenever given an opportunity to vote, have supported reformist candidates and President Mohammad Khatami.
From around 1996 to 1998 a number of us were optimistic about the possibility of internal reform in Iran as part of governmental procedures. However, beginning in 1998-1999, the murder of dissidents, and the imprisonment of newspaper editors and the rest, pushed the situation to one in which - though occasionally American spokesmen and those elsewhere call it a democracy - it is a democracy in exactly the same sense that the old Soviet Union was. Iran has a constitution, political parties, and elections; they just do not mean anything.
The struggle that is now going on is one in which the mullahs have lost the support of the students - and half of the country is aged nineteen and younger; the women; the reformers; the brave newspaper editors being tortured in prison; and, increasingly and importantly, their own clergy.
Ayatollah after ayatollah is turning against the mullahs who control the instruments of power; not only brave Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who has been opposed to them for years, but also conservatives, such as Ayatollah Jalaluddin Taheri, the prayer leader in Isfahan, who denounced them last year as un-Islamic for sponsoring terror, torture and the rest. And of course, he is absolutely right.
The third movement, the Islamists from the Sunni side of the divide - Al Qaeda and those who support them, fund them and provide their ideological fervour, which involves many who are encouraged by the Wahhabi religious conservatives in Saudi Arabia - is likely to be the longest lasting. In his new book, The Shield of Achilles, Philip Bobbit calls Al Qaeda a virtual state, and there is a good argument to that effect. It is a virtual state chiefly because of its access to resources. As long as it receives economic assistance from prosperous Saudis, from the wealth of the Gulf, and its intellectual sustenance from the Wahhabi sect, it will be with us for a long time.
If you put these three movements together, particularly the latter, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we will be in this war for many years, quite probably for decades. Eliot Cohen's original characterisation of this as World War IV - in the sense that it has certain parallels to the four and a half decade-long Cold War - is fair and accurate.
Hated for freedoms
If that is whom we are at war with, why? There are two reasons, an underlying one and a temporal one. The underlying one was best stated to me a little over a year ago by a taxi driver in the District of Columbia. I absolutely hate reading articles about public opinion polls, which I find intensely boring and a waste of time. Instead, since I spend a lot of time in taxis, I talk to the drivers, which in America at least I find a much better finger on the pulse of the country than opinion polls.
I was in a taxi a year ago last February, the day after former President Bill Clinton gave a speech in Washington in which he said that September 11 was a payback in part for American slavery and the treatment of the American Indian. I saw right away that the newspaper on the front seat was open at that article and that the driver was one of my favourite substitutes for polls - a black citizen of the District, wearing his Redskins cap, a guy of about my age, who had probably been driving a cab for a long time.
So I asked him what he thought about Clinton's speech. He said: 'Those people don't hate us for what we've done wrong; they hate us for what we do right.' I would submit that is the essence of the matter.
We and you are cordially loathed for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, open economies, equal - or almost equal - treatment of women, and so on. It is not what we have done wrong that is creating the problem; it is what we do right.
If that is true, then this is not a war that will end with an Al Qaeda Gorbachev; it will not end with an arms control agreement. It is a war to the death, like the war with the Nazis, and we should understand that it will have to be fought that way.
The other side of this is why, temporally? Why did they choose to do this now? I cannot speak for Britain or other countries but in the case of America, for something like a quarter of a century, for all practical purposes we hung a 'kick me' sign on our backs in the Middle East.
First, we convinced many people there that we did not give a damn about the people in the region and that we cared principally about its oil; that it was a filling station for our large sport utility vehicles. Secondly, we convinced them that we were a wealthy, feckless country that would not fight.
Starting in 1979, when our hostages were seized in Tehran, we tied yellow ribbons around trees. In 1982-1983, our embassy and marine barracks were blown up in Beirut and we left. Throughout the rest of the eighties, there were various terrorist attacks against us, mainly sponsored by Iran, and we prosecuted a few terrorists here and there - we sent the lawyers, basically - and we would occasionally lob in a bomb or a cruise missile from afar.
In 1991 in the course of the Gulf war, we encouraged the Kurds and the Shi'a to rebel against President Saddam Hussein, then we signed a ceasefire agreement which left the Republican Guard and their armed helicopters intact, and the bridges intact. We stood back and watched the Republican Guard massacre the Kurds and Shi'a whom we had encouraged, thereby convincing all and sundry that once the Americans and their allies had secured the oil of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, they did not give a damn about the people of the Middle East.
In 1993, Saddam tried to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait. The best response that Clinton could come up with was to launch two dozen cruise missiles into an empty Iraqi intelligence headquarters in the middle of the night, thereby presumably responding effectively to Iraqi cleaning women and nightwatchmen, but not particularly effectively to Saddam.
In 1993, our helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu, our rangers were killed and again, as a decade earlier in Beirut, we left. Throughout the rest of the nineties, with the USS Cole and East Africa embassy bombings and the like, again we prosecuted a few terrorists and occasionally launched a cruise missile or a bomb at a tank or a surface-to-air missile site.
No doubt if you were in al-Qaeda, in Iraqi intelligence, or one of Khamenei's advisers assessing things at the end of the twentieth century, you would have had to say that the Americans - from this wealthy, feckless, spoiled country - would not fight. You would have had some evidence for that. Now, just as that was the assessment of us by the Japanese at the beginning of the 1940s, and just as they were somewhat surprised after Pearl Harbour, after September 11 both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and now the Ba'athists in Iraq, are somewhat surprised. However, there is still a long way to go.
Liberty and security
If that is who is at war with us and why, what do we need to do about it, both inside our own countries and in the Middle East? Inside the US, during the Cold War and the decade of the 1990s after it, we became very used to the proposition that liberty and security do not conflict, that we do not need to worry about that. Liberty we had plenty of, or as much as almost any reasonable, modern society could, and security was something that the navy, the Central Intelligence Agency and so on dealt with overseas. September 11 rather changed that.
The US at least has to understand that for a number of years we will have to face conflicts between liberty and security that did not occur before. We really did have people who were legally in the United States training in aircraft simulators to work out how to kill thousands of Americans. There really were terrorist cells in places like Lackawanna, Pennsylvania.
So we are going to do things that are effective against terrorism, and which may involve steps like special scrutiny of Wahhabi-backed charities, for example, that would not have happened prior to September 11. We also have to realise who we are. We are not a race or a culture or a language. We are creatures of fourth US President James Madison's Constitution and his Bill of Rights. We can never forget that.
These two conflicting concerns - security and liberty - are going to be with us for a long time. They will conflict in ways they did not appear to before September 11. We have to choose wisely and remember both. We cannot forget the need to be effective, not just politically correct, in the way we deal with the real threats to us. We also cannot forget the Bill of Rights.
In addition - and this is what I spend most of my day job working on - we have to start looking at all the networks that serve our modern society so effectively: electricity grids, oil and gas pipelines, the Internet, food production and delivery, and so on. We have to realise that in the post-September 11 world, these networks have been put together - in Britain, Japan, Australia, the United States - by very bright and able people, business people, sometimes government regulators, engineers. They are constructed to be responsive to the public, to be open, easily accessed, easily maintained, fully utilised to spread overheads, and the like. All these characteristics are quite reasonable in the context of peace.
In the context of war on one's own soil, however, things look very different. Take 'just in time' delivery: many American factories have components for four or five days' work, which is fine in most circumstances. It means you do not have to maintain big inventories. You can change model characteristics quickly, whether manufacturing computers, cars or whatever. It saves costs.
It is an excellent idea, until someone puts a dirty bomb - say caesium or strontium packed around high explosives - inside a container shipped in from somewhere in South Asia, for instance. With a simple detonator it goes off in an American city and makes a large portion of that city effectively uninhabitable for a long time, because of the increased risk of cancer. This would not be a nuclear explosion but one that spreads radioactive material.
Then the fifty thousand containers a day that cross American borders will start having to be inspected. We now inspect two per cent. If we inspect them all, it will not be long before those four or five days' worth of components in factories are no longer there and they will have to begin shutting down.
The whole set of networks that we have constructed has the functional equivalent of flimsy cockpit doors. The flimsy doors made it possible for aeroplanes to be taken over and turned into giant cruise missiles to be flown into buildings killing thousands of Americans, rather than 'merely' blown up or crashed causing the death of the people on board.
Because of the doors, thousands more could be killed. There was a network vulnerability that could be exploited to turn a portion of it into a weapon. With respect to our electricity grids, oil and gas pipelines, food production and delivery, there are many such weak points that we need to work together to fix.
Democracy on the march
My most controversial point may be about what needs to be done to fight this war in the Middle East. We will have great difficulty bringing peace to the region without changing the nature of governments there - without bringing democracy.
If one starts out from the proposition that this is a task for America, Britain or others to accomplish principally with military forces, we will fail. We have to take a much longer view, and, for example, pay attention to the brave newspaper editors - such as one in Saudi Arabia who recently took on the religious police and got himself fired by the Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz. There are similar brave reformers in Egypt and other countries who are effectively the green shoots springing up through the pavement, indicative of a growing approach, a growing openness in much of the Muslim world to democracy and liberty.
Some people seem to think that this is a hopeless task. Two points: first, the substantial majority of the world's Muslims live in democracies - Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Turkey, Mali, the Balkans. They may not be perfect democracies but they are democracies nonetheless. I am the Chairman of Freedom House, the oldest human rights organisation in America. Freedom House says that there are a hundred and twenty one democracies, eighty nine of them free - that is, they have parliamentary elections plus the rule of law. Another thirty two are partly free, like Russia or Indonesia, say, with substantial difficulties with respect to the rule of law, but nonetheless regular elections.
In the eighty-nine years since the guns of August 1914, the world has gone from ten or twelve democracies to over a hundred and twenty, and those ten or twelve in 1914 were democracies only for the male portion of the populations. Nothing like that has happened within a single lifetime in world history before. Anyone eighty nine years old has seen democracies multiply tenfold.
Most of those came about not through military force, but in all sorts of ways. During and after the Cold War, for example, in Iberia, the role of the German Social Democrats was important in working with their socialist colleagues to steer Spain and Portugal away from communism and totalitarianism and towards democracy. In the Philippines, it was people power. In Mongolia, Mali and countries all over the world, democracy has become a way of life.
These are places where, year after year, the smart, self-appointed experts have said, 'X will never be a democracy'. They said that the Germans would never be able to run a democracy, the Japanese would not, Catholic countries would not - because in the 1970s, Iberia and Latin America were non-democratic. They said it about people from a Chinese cultural background, yet the Taiwanese seem to have figured it out; maybe China will too. They said it about the Russians; after all, they missed the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment - how could they run a democracy? But they seem to be getting started.
All along, the smart money has been wrong on this subject. It is not that there are no retrograde steps. There are in Venezuela and elsewhere, and in the Arab world, a portion of the Muslim world, there are some two hundred-plus million Arabs who live without democracy. This is an area where the transition will be difficult for a series of historical, cultural and religious reasons, many to do with the influence of the Wahhabis.
Nonetheless, it is not hopeless. It is the best path to peace, since democracies do not fight one another. They fight dictatorships and dictatorships fight each other, and democracies sometimes preempt against dictatorships, but they do not fight one another.
If we want to be successful in this long war, we will have to take on this issue of democracy in the Arab world. We will have to take on the - and I would use the word 'racist' - view that Arabs cannot operate democracies. We will need to make some people uncomfortable.
As we undertake these efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere, occasionally by force of arms but generally not, generally by influence, by standing up for brave students in the streets of Tehran, we will hear people say, from President Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt or from the Saudi royal family, that we are making them very nervous. And our response should be, 'Good. We want you nervous. We want you to change, but realise that now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, the democracies are on the march. And we are on the side of those whom you most fear: your own people.'
James Woolsey is former Director of Central Intelligence. This is an edited version of his address to the Political Risk conference at Chatham House last month.
Interesting to say the least.
Pretty good analysis, I thought. Although I don't know about all this "They hate us because we are free" stuff - there may be something deeper to it with some cases, but overall I think the way it is most commonly argued is invalid.
I think one thing that needs to be stressed that in this period of human society, the establishment of democracy has to be separated from the desire of industrial concerns to retain or increase profitability. For example, look how Bush tainted the whole "Iraqi Oil For The Iraqi People" thing with that executive order that makes anything to do with the production, exportation and use of Iraqi petroleum immune from lawsuits, which means that if say, Unocal or some other oil company has a nice little petroleum refining plant on the coast and it happens to have a major accident that inflicts major environmental damage, perhaps ruining the livilihoods of local fishermen, Unocal could not be sued by those fishermen. Even if it was something that was completely the fault of the company. Another example, speaking of Unocal, is the whole Transafghanistan pipeline deal.
It's exactly this type of shenanigans that causes us to lose integrity in the eyes of the world, especially in the cases of those who would benefit the most from democracy.
But the Bush folks have already demonstrated their desire to only have democracy on their terms, as witnessed in that abortive coup attempt in Venezuela.
Who said the balance of power was too far in the legislative branch?
The founders didnt incorporate corporate protections into the Constitution for a reason.
While there are most likely other causes, I do believe that the hatred for freedom argument IS valid.
Look, the extremists find most "freedoms" to be an afront to God.
They beleive God's laws should rule man, not freedoms. Seriously.
And you have to admit, most of western society today hisses at the idea of being governed by what they see to be an outdated, irrelevent, morally based, government.
They want "rights" not "right".
I realize you think that religion is just a cover that these terrorists use, but I tell you that it is at the HEART of what they do.
Hamas is angry at isreal because they occupy "holy land" that they will defend to the death.
They perceive our government as vile, because we tolerate what they concider to be sins. And they see it in our culture, our music we export, our literature, our "entertainment" etc.
It is PRECISELY our culture, which is a product of our liberty and freedoms, that they despise.
We offer the right to choose. The freedom to either go with your conscience, go with God's word, or go with the flow.
The argument I have heard is "jealousy". that is wrong. It is loathing and moral outrage.
Something you should understand quite well.
Although if they decided they hated us because we are responsible for Christina Aguilera, then you could hardly blame them.:P
"I realize you think that religion is just a cover that these terrorists use, but I tell you that it is at the HEART of what they do."
No, that's what you think I think, which is pretty far from the truth. Although I think a similar argument can be made for modern western governments, if you replace "economics" for "religion."
"Look, the extremists find most "freedoms" to be an afront to God.
They beleive God's laws should rule man, not freedoms. Seriously."
Sounds like Ashcroft to me!
Aw, come on! You, of all people, should understand loathing amd moral outrage.