World War IV

"Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen."

~ President George W. Bush

I know some people will dispute the fact that the Cold War was "World War III", but the neo-cons are referring to this whole deal as "World War IV", which is why this is noded here.

Some of you aren't listening to the President. This isn't about the economy. This isn't about oil. This isn't about the President's daddy. This is World War IV. You guys who want to stop it for whatever reason had better get clued up.

James Woolsey (former CIA director and a member of the Defence Policy Board) is notorious for saying that the U.S. is now engaged in World War IV. Paul Wolfowitz distanced himself from the remarks, but if we examine all the possible contingencies this could be just as bloody as World Wars I, II or III. There's a nuclear stand-off on the Indian subcontinent and another one brewing - if not already in existence - on the Korean peninsula. Tonnes of chemical and biological weapons are unaccounted for in South Africa, Russia and Iraq. What if nukes and bugs kill millions, and in decades people look back and say, "Yep, that was World War IV alright"? Says Dennis K. Mcbride of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies -

"We do not have to assume that a world war necessarily includes mobilization of millions of troops, exchange of millions of tons of explosives. . . . World War IV may end this way [but] it certainly might not germinate this way."

Already this war involves violent and nonviolent means, shifts in alliances, complacency in some quarters, and an ideological conflict. Sound familiar? So this is the first thing we have to acknowledge, and agree on: this is big. The President has always said it was going to be big, and everything points to it being big. This is not compatible with the claim made by some that the war on Iraq "aims for economic reinvigoration in time for the next elections". Nu-uh. This is going to be a drain on the economy and the American taxpayer1.

Pax Americana and the Bush Doctrine

American primacy in the world is not a fact anyone can dispute. With less than 5 per cent of the world's population, it has 30 per cent of the world's total economic product. Militarily (in terms of technology, doctrine2 and resources) their pre-eminence is even more remarkable. The only two entities that could possibly challenge the United States in a conventional way in the near future are the European Union or China. Jacques Chirac's dreams of a united Europe as a "seperate pole" to America have been dashed by his attempts to make this dream reality, and right now China has internal problems of its own3. So no-one can challenge the United States conventionally.

So what's to do? How can you cajole the United States into leaving you alone in your ambitions for regional hegemony? Well, you can always develop WMD and flirt with terrorist organizations. After all, isn't that how Syria and Hezbollah forced the United States out of Lebanon? Isn't that how North Korea secured the 1994 Agreed Framework? Provoking America isn't just a way of trying to achieve external ambitions, it's a way of satisfying internal pressure as well. In North Korea, the real enemy is the evil West - they must be driven away so that Korea can be gloriously reunified. Across the Arab World, the Great Satan must be driven from sacred soil, and he can take his evil doctrine of the seperation of Church and State with him.

So we've got a threat. Critics of the new war often assert that it's not a "war on terrorism" - what about FARC or the IRA or the ETA? And they're right. The "terrorism" aspect of this new war is mainly focused on radical Islamism, the extreme element represented by Osama bin Laden and those in Saudi Arabia who would finance him. After 9/11, there was a clear target to attack: Mohammad Omar's Taleban was hosting bin Laden and his terror camps, and was complicit in the attacks on America. So the war in Afghanistan could reasonably be portrayed as one with a cause that everyone could recognize. Even if they weren't sitting and taking it like Clinton, it was an easy case to understand. So that wasn't really the "Bush Doctrine."

The Bush Doctrine is about pre-emption, and this is what a lot of people don't like. Because then Uncle Sam can do what the hell he wants, right? Well, maybe, but then he always could. But why would he want to? The Bush Doctrine isn't about pre-emptive strikes so America can take control of places, it's about removing threats as they appear. To quote an example from an AEI publication, what if a radical regime overthrew the government in Pakistan? With its nuclear arsenal, that's a real threat to global security. Then the Bush Doctrine might come into play. Even Iraq wasn't really an example of the Bush Doctrine, because as e-hadj so eloquently pointed out, the United States was already at war with Iraq.

The Bush Doctrine is a departure from the Cold War era policies of containment and deterrence, but that's because the threat has demonstrably changed. The U.S.'s conventional military strength is still acting as a deterrence, especially now it has shown the will to use it, unilaterally if needs be. The Lord knows what he will eventually do, but for now Bashar al-Assad of Syria seems to have backed down. The threat of regime change is a potent one and can be used to force countries to back down over issues of WMD production and terrorist-supporting. Failure to heed this threat is why Iraq went down. The people dancing in the streets are just a potent warning to other Arab leaders as those 500,000 troops on Hussein's borders were to him.


"It is the right of every human being to have freedom, peace, and the right to pursue happiness."

Two democracies rarely war with each other. Successful democratic countries with capitalist economies have no need to direct their people's anger outwards when they can spend their lives in the pursuit of happiness and wealth. Let's not mince words over what Islamofascism is, what goes on in North Korean gulags, or how Hussein oppressed Iraq. Islam is a religion of peace. But Islamofascism is a force of malignant evil, the North Korean government is a force of malignant evil, and Saddam Hussein was a force of malignant evil.

These are not "cultural differences". No "cultural difference" justifies the brutal suppression of free speech, the forced labour of dissidents or racist murder. Freedom is not a Western value, it is a Universal one. And the West has to hope that eventually the Arab World is going to stop listening to its rulers' lies and accept this. They don't even have to like us (but the democracies in the area, Turkey and Israel, do) but once the people are in charge and their countries are no longer rogue states, things will (America hopes) be different. It doesn't matter if the Arab street doesn't like America much - parts of the European street doesn't seem to be that keen either. What matters is that right now totalitarian rulers feed their people lies that amplify hate and encourage them to express it. Westerners, Jews, whatever. Infidel. They're the problem, not the gangs of thugs and murderers running the country. We stand for Arab solidarity.

Solidarity against who and for what, brother? It's certainly not for the right of Muslim peoples to prosper and be free. People can debate the policy of American intervention in other countries until the cows come home, but it's hard to regard a dictator as being a legitimate ruler whose national sovereignty is something so sacred it can't be violated. By that logic, if America were to "take control" of these places and start exploiting them, then they would have the "sovereign" right to do so. The argument from force went out of fashion a long time ago. Just think on.

American Empire?

A common claim. America wants "an Empire" - whatever that means. But this is paradoxical with the other claim often made by the left (and one which has some merit to it) - that Arab resentment is fueled by intervention in the Middle East. So how exactly would America stop the problem of terrorism by "colonizing" the Middle East? I can only assume proponents of this view think that either America is too stupid to realize this (preposterous) or that terrorism isn't a real threat, rather an invented one (flying in the face of all empirical evidence.) It's typical kneejerk liberalism at its worse. It's impossible to draw any sort of historical analogy either - certainly not to the British Empire, which was run on the cheap and was about forcefully "enslaving" nations (which is precisely the opposite of what's going on in Iraq so far.)

Democratic nations, as noted above, do not tend to war with each other. Successful countries seek peace wherever possible - failed states are the ones that project their people's aggression outwards. It is the mentality of the downtrodden that straps explosives to itself and blows this life away for a promise of a better one in the next. As the National Security Strategy of the United States notes, this problem can be diminished by helping people develop and grow prosperous themselves. It suits the rulers of the Arab world to feed their people propaganda while they steal the wealth that rightfully belongs to those people. It suits America to give the wealth back to those people, to let them trade it on a free market, and to pull troops out of the Middle East. Look at the government that's currently sat on 25% of the World's oil reserves. Look like a good thing for civilization to you?

And yet, this is "Empire", apparently. By not interfering with these countries we leave them free, apparently. By letting their rulers lie to them as they rape their countries we're leaving their culture strong, apparently. By not interfering militarily we're leaving them in peace, apparently.

Tell it to someone else. The people of Iraq were at war every day of their lives.

1. Iraq has some $200 to $300 billion in debts. The American taxpayer might end up paying for this (Iraqi oil revenues are around $15 billion a year, and I can't see France, Germany et al. writing off Iraq's debts.)

2. "Many Russian generals truly believe that a bombing campaign that leaves some buildings still standing is ineffective. Precision-guided munitions are widely considered to be costly pranks -- not real weapons," reports The Moscow Times. In Basra, citizens realized they could safely wander the streets so long as they stayed away from government buildings after a few days.

3. Ok, eventually this is going to change. I don't know when, and when it does we're just going to have to see what happens. Right now, China has no interest in provoking the United States.


American Enterprise Institute

Project for a New American Century

The Moscow Times

"The War on Terrorism: a Strategic Survey" by Arnold Kling

The Washington Post


Sorry, I'm not relenting. I'm not listening to Bush and neo-conservative analysts because this isn't World War IV. Lemme tell ya why...

1. No enemies

Exactly who are we fighting in this purported world war? We certainly aren't fighting Islam, as Mr. Bush would be the first to tell you. We aren't fighting fundamentalist Islamic fascism, either, because then we would be invading Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, states we support. We're fighting North Korea (on bad days, at least), but not authoritarian communism, because Hu Jintao and Fidel Castro aren't making a peep.

In both world wars, as well as the Cold War, we knew who we were fighting. It was the Central Powers, or the Axis, or the Warsaw Pact. It wasn't an Axis of Evil that turned out to be incomplete and that included an enemy of questionable enemy status. Thus, you can hardly lump all of this together and call it a war.

2. Not a world war

Unless you consider the "world" to start in Tel Aviv and end in Lahore, this isn't a world war. Latin America, Africa, and East Asia are almost completely uninvolved, and all of the battles are taking place in the Middle East. In fact, the only Western Hemisphere state taking part in this war is the good ol' USA: not even Canada, our age-old ally, wants a part of the action, and the few countries in Europe that support us have done so at the expense of native popular support.

3. Unilateral military action

Calling this a "war" is hardly proper anyway. The precipitating attack on September 11, 2001 and the terrorist acts in Israel have been the limit of the actions against the Coalition of the Willing. While 9/11 was a highly visible and largely unanticipated attack, it pales in comparison to the amount of damage done in Baghdad and Kabul in retaliation. In World War II, on the other hand, you had London going up in flames, Paris living under the banner of the Nazis, and Singapore overrun by Japanese tanks, not to mention the death camps, the POW massacres, and the biowarfare experiments. Even Nam and the past Arab-Israeli wars were more two-sided. I don't know about you guys, but this war reminds me of cops beating up Rodney King more than it reminds me of a true global conflict.

Yes, our men and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Largely from friendly fire, of course, and at the expense of about a hundred times as many enemy soldiers. But still, we call this smackdown a "war." Indeed.

Now, here's what I have to say to Noung's points. They're well-argued, but I have to disagree with them.

Pax Americana and the Bush Doctrine

First of all, let's make one thing clear. Either there never was a Pax Americana, or there was a Pax Americana from 1865 to 2001. The fact of the matter is that aside from Pearl Harbor (DASTARDLY JAPS ATTACK COLONIALLY OCCUPIED U.S. NON-STATE) and the World Trade Center, Americans haven't seen an outside attack in their homeland in anything approaching recent history. And the other side of this is that there hasn't been anything approaching world peace, ever. And I mean EVER. Basically, the Pax Americana is nothing more than an illusion we created in the wake of the Cold War. You remember the days of irrational exuberance, don't you? We made up a lot of illusions back then, while people in Yugoslavia and Rwanda and Colombia were being slaughtered for absolutely ridiculous reasons.

Which brings us to the Bush Doctrine. Bill Clinton was, and is, not a fool. Ignoring the ethics of non-intervention in foreign conflicts for a moment, his policy was to approach such problems from afar, only sending in the Marines when an international agreement was set up. Yes, people died as a result of this policy, but American interests were upheld. There was only minimal resentment from abroad, and most of it was from people like Osama bin Laden who were opposed to American support of Zionism. The Bush Doctrine, however, turns this policy on its head. If you believe in stopping cruelties overseas with military might, then it looks like a good policy on paper. At the same time, you're losing the part of Clinton's policy that kept America from being burned before: staying out of other people's business.

Our military strength, sadly, is not a deterrence to terrorists. It's a deterrence to hostile states. Since we still don't know where bin Laden is, we can't even begin to claim that terrorists will feel threatened by our military structure. Give me a CIA that's as good as the Mossad, and I might call that a deterrence. Shooting the bad guy's best friend, however, is not really a deterrent to the bad guy.


China is on a financial intravenous from the US right now, and they wouldn't even dream of going to war with us. If North Korea had its own special economic zones, as Kim Il Sung had planned in the seventies, they wouldn't want to go to war with us, either. The fact is that you don't have to have popular rule or a free economy to feel the security harness of interdependence: what you need is a great deal of foreign trade. For our halfhearted friends around the Persian Gulf, most of whom are nothing approaching democratic, the oil trade they'd lose in a war on America far outweighs any desire to attack.

"Freedom is not a Western value," you say. I can buy this. After all, Japan got it to work. However, find a good example of "freedom" outside of the West and Japan (and maybe South Korea, given the last few years), and I'll give you a cookie. It just ain't there. You're either dealing with a single-party oligarchy with rigged elections, or an outright junta, or a combination of the two. Some countries happen to be socially malleable, but I would wager that most countries aren't.

Not even Westerners agree that freedom is a good thing. Remember Thomas Hobbes? I've heard hardcore American neocons and hardcore European liberals argue that Hobbes is the way to go. And while I disagree with the idea of authoritarianism, I don't think it's our place, or anyone's place, to go around smacking it down in selected points.

American Empire

No, America isn't an empire in the traditional sense. It's more like a giant squid. The US, Europe, China, and perhaps Japan are all giant squids, with big, goopy tentacles of trade agreements, daughter corporations, and supply lines stretching out and latching on with giant suckers of capitalism. Rome and Britain were not giant squids: they were big gobs of color on the map. This is why some people don't want to call America an empire.

However, checking Webster for a second, you can see that an empire doesn't have to be a big sovereign entity. It can also mean any arrangement where a central person, family, or corporation controls an entire social or economic organization. Given this definition, how can you not characterize the United States as the emperor of the international economic and political order? Granted, it's not some sort of statal superstructure dictating commands... but it's damned close, and the nuclear navy and the air force both help to keep that status alive.

Colonization is not the name of the game here. Dosh is. America might not be the British Empire, but it's definitely a corporate empire that wants all it can get from everyone it can get it from. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing, until the big guns roll out and people start dying for their countries.

Yes, the people of Iraq were at war. They're still at war. They're gonna be at war for a while. Once they get their fill of Starbucks and Britney Spears, their state of war will subside. They'll get rose-colored glasses like ours, and then decide to take out the terrorists in Tehran.

And as Shirley Bassey once said, it's all just a little bit of history repeating.

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