Since their other rationales for the Iraq war have been long-since discredited, the neocons have resorted to issuing dark warnings of calamity should America withdraw. Having created a nasty set of “facts on the ground,” they pepper antiwar pundits with a barrage of hostile questions whenever the issue arises: So what do you suggest we do? Won’t the situation get much worse if we leave Iraq? What about the global threat of “Islamofascism?”
Unlike many libertarians and paleoconservatives, I happen to agree with the neocons on one point. Specifically, I really do believe the world is experiencing what some have called “World War IV.”
The point on which I vigorously disagree concerns America’s role in this conflict.
The Islamic world is in the midst of a civilizational crisis. This crisis has its genesis in the revealed nature of the Muslim religion and was described most succinctly by Pope Benedict XVI during his annual academic confab at Castle Gandolfo (the papal summer residence in Italy).
The pope noted that the Koran, unlike the Bible, is considered by Muslims to be the literal word of God. Whereas Christians believe the Bible was written by fallible humans under divine inspiration, Muslims believe that the Koran was dictated directly to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel. The Koran’s words are thus not Muhammad’s – who functioned more or less as a stenographer – but are rather the verbatim words of the Almighty himself.
To further complicate matters, while ruling the early Muslim community, Muhammad handed down numerous judicial decisions concerning criminal and civil disputes. These decisions have survived the intervening centuries and form the basis of Islamic law.
As a result, much of Islamic culture is frozen in a 7th Century worldview that it can neither reject nor reform. After all, how could the very words of God be subjected to critical analysis? Who could overturn one of Muhammad’s verdicts?
With the world around Dar-al Islam changing rapidly, Islamic culture, as currently constituted, lacks the flexibility to change with it. This conundrum (and the numerous conflicts it has spawned) will be the central geopolitical challenge of the 21st Century.
In his now-infamous book The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington predicted that the 21st Century’s will not be defined by ideological conflicts, but will rather be plagued by warfare among the world’s major cultural zones. In particular, he noted that Islamic civilization is clashing with every one of its neighbors.
A quick look at Huntington’s map is revealing:
Islam is locked in conflict with Hindu civilization in Kashmir, with Chinese civilization in Xingjian, and with Orthodox Slavic culture in the Caucuses and the Balkans. To its south, Islam is waging bitter wars with African civilization in a horizontal band across Africa from Nigeria to Somalia.
As for Western Civilization, in what was perhaps the single most incomprehensible policy decision in the history of Western governance (a distinction that covers quite a bit of territory) Europe permitted the mass immigration of impoverished Muslims during the decades after World War II. These immigrant populations, who probably can not be peacefully assimilated, now threaten to demographically overwhelm their host nations and embroil Europe in widespread civil unrest or outright warfare.
While this map casts doubts on the prospects for world peace, it also reveals the central irony of America’s “War on Terror”: The United States of America is the only major world power that is not forced by geography into a conflict with Dar-al Islam.
America does not border the Islamic world. It has a statistically insignificant Muslim population that is better assimilated than that of any other Western nation. America is bounded on its east and west by vast oceans and to the north and south by two militarily weak and predominantly Christian nations.
The irony resides, of course, in the fact that despite these blessings, America is the nation doing most of the fighting against radical Islam.
When analyzing the likely course of these civilizational struggles – and plotting a strategy for America to deal with them – one must also recognize another important fact: The ultimate outcome of Islam’s civilizational wars has already been determined. Radical Islam is not a viable paradigm upon which a modern society can be built. It is destined, like communism before it, to collapse from within. The trajectory of political Islam can already be seen in Iran, where it first came to power. As a governing system, the Islamic Republic has been discredited in the eyes of the masses and survives mostly by repression and manipulation. Economically and culturally, it is an utter failure.
Furthermore, radical Islam is not now, nor will it ever be, a civilizational threat to America. Nor will it conquer the world or overturn modern civilization. These goals are simply beyond its capacity.
When these two ideas are considered together (i.e. the lack of geopolitical conflict between America and Islam, and the inevitable collapse of Islam as a political ideology), America’s most prudent path becomes obvious: The United States should withdraw from the Middle East and declare itself a non-belligerent in Islam’s civilizational wars. In so doing, America can avoid the casualties and ruinous costs of wars which have nothing to do with our national survival.
Given the immediate proximity of numerous, ancient enemies (and the many bloody divisions that exist within the body of Dar-al Islam itself), the Muslim combatants will not long bother themselves with a non-threatening nation on the other side of the planet. America’s tragic involvement in these wars was wholly the product of our wrong-headed, interventionist foreign policy. When that provocation is removed, so will the cause for enmity.
While obviously beneficial to America, this strategy leaves open the issue of what will happen in the aftermath of our withdrawal.
In all probability, the civilizational struggles between Islam and its neighbors will progress along their natural trajectories. While one must use caution in predicting the future, the course of these conflicts is nevertheless becoming visible in vague outlines:
Islam vs. Hindu Civilization:
This conflict has been bogged down in a stalemate for decades and will probably remain so for quite some time. Despite the occasional terrorist attack in Kashmir, India is a powerful and rapidly growing nation that is outdistancing Pakistan by the hour. While the possibility of a conventional war (or even a nuclear one) cannot be entirely discounted, it is remote. More likely than not, this civilizational “cold war” will drag on indefinitely and will remain cold.
Islam vs Chinese Civilization:
This conflict is even more lopsided than the Hindu one. The Muslim population in Xingjian is minuscule compared to China’s, and the Chinese government is not known for subtlety when it feels threatened. Any significant Muslim uprising there would be an act of collective suicide.
Islam vs Orthodox Christendom:
In many ways, this is the most interesting of the civilizational clashes. Orthodoxy is crippled by falling populations and the dispiriting aftereffects of soulless communism. But despite these handicaps, there is a certain toughness and ruthlessness that persists in Orthodoxy (unlike the soft, materialistic culture of Western Europe). Orthodoxy is, after all, the civilization that gave the world leaders with names like “Ivan the Terrible” and “Vlad the Impaler.”
Russia, Orthodoxy’s leading nation, is currently trapped in a demographic nightmare. It is losing population because of its dismal birthrate and falling life expectancy. Russia also has a large and growing Muslim population that will, in the not-too-distant future, become the majority.
Long before this happens, I believe the situation will reach a crisis point. In this eventuality, I agree wholeheartedly with Spengler’s (the Asia Times columnist, not Oswald) incisive analysis:
“European Russia is dying, and Muslims will compose a majority of citizens of the Russian Federation by as early as 2040. But the successors of Imperial Russia, the Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople to Islam in 1453, refuse to slide without a struggle into the digestive tract of the House of Islam. Western Europe may go with a whimper rather than a bang as Muslim immigrants replace the shrinking local population, but the Russians have no such intention. Putin and his comrades will employ all the guile and violence at their command to delay the decline of European Russia. The Europeans are the emasculated remnant of a fallen civilization; for better or worse, the Russians still are real men.”
In addition to Russia’s drama, there are two additional fronts in this civilizational war. America’s interference in Bosnia and Kosovo froze each of those theaters in unstable ceasefires. Since the underlying issues remain unresolved, these wars will probably flare up again and progress to their natural conclusions.
Islam vs. Western European Civilization:
Sometime this century, Muslim immigrants will make up the majority of the population in most Western European nations. As far as I can tell, nothing like this has ever happened before. Never has a native population allowed itself to be peacefully displaced from its homeland by a neighboring people, especially one with which it has a long history of mutual hatred and warfare.
The peculiar thing about this impending crisis is that it is wholly of Europe’s doing. Their governments allowed the immigration wave to occur, and their own people voluntarily decided not to have children. It is as if sometime in the mid 20th Century, Europeans decided that their existence was no longer necessary or desirable.
Exactly how this plays out will be a fascinating thing to watch. It could end quietly, or with a bang, or anywhere in-between.
But either way, I believe that America should remain firmly on the sidelines. Whatever happens (and I believe that Europe’s demographic transition will be extremely violent – somewhere between a continent-sized Belfast and a continent-sized Srebrenica), America should not involve itself in another European war. Three times in the past century, American mothers have sent their sons across the ocean to intervene in a European war that was not of our creation. Our reward for those efforts is a still-imperiled Europe dotted with American graveyards. I admire European culture and civilization (it is the homeland of all of my ancestors), but the time has come for Europe to sink or swim. However it chooses to manage its impending demographic transition is entirely its own affair. The Europeans must regain their “will to permanence,” or take a final bow and exit from the stage of History.
Either way, enough is enough. America can do no more.
Despite many admirable traits I observed while living in the Middle East, the Islamic world is trapped in a profound civilizational crisis. This crisis has its roots in the peculiarities of the Muslim religion and is complicated by numerous economic and demographic factors. The major consequence of this crisis is the proliferation of violent clashes between Islam and neighboring civilizations.
The roughly triangular region between Londonistan, the Hindu-Kush, and central Africa will be the scene of a brutal, Hobbesian conflict that will take decades to play itself out and may ultimately claim the lives of millions of people. (And if Islam’s external wars were not enough, one can expect numerous internal ones as well – Turks vs Kurds, Sunnis vs Shiites, Arabs vs Persians, etc.). This conflict was not started by America, cannot be prevented by America, and will progress according to its own internal logic regardless of American action (or inaction). In truth, our interventions up to now have only served to make things demonstrably worse.
But even if America had the ability to effectively intervene in these conflicts, we will soon lack both the means and the motivation. Decades of reckless deficit spending and profligate monetary policy have brought America to the doorstep of economic disaster. We are facing a collapsing currency, runaway inflation, and economic stagnation.
Since the Islamic wars are not directly relevant to America’s national survival, and since radical Islam will not emerge victorious as a world-conquering ideology anyhow, America’s involvement in the Middle East is an intolerable and unnecessary distraction from our own serious domestic problems. The time has come for America to discard its disastrous interventionist foreign policy, to withdraw from the Middle East, and to expend our energies addressing our impending economic crisis.
I believe America’s adoption of this strategy is inevitable, since the American people will not accept the casualties and expenses of fighting absurd foreign wars while our economy enters a steep decline.
The only remaining question is how much blood and treasure we will expend in the meantime.
Steven LaTulippe was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years. He currently practices medicine in Ohio.