So what is to follow Dunkirk? There is a furious debate in Washington
between two schools of political and military experts. If we imagine
ourselves back in June 1940, one side is demanding that the bloodstained
regime of Churchill (Bush) should confess its errors and crimes,
surrender, and try to involve in the regulating of Europe such really
rather moderate politicians as the chancellor of Germany and the prime
minister of Italy. They too, after all, have an interest in the
stability of the whole region.
Their opponents, fulminating at the cowardly amoralism of such a
position, demand that we should fight to the end, throwing into Dunkirk
more and more units of the British (American) Army until we achieve
Some 70 percent of the American establishment belongs to the first
school. They are a very mixed bunch. On the one hand, there are the
left-wing intellectuals that predominate today in the American mass
media, universities, think tanks, and the movie industry. Their hearts
are always ready to be filled with ideological sympathy for any monster
that can be classified as belonging to a national liberation movement or
the struggle against imperialism.
On the same side, but with a different perspective, are the Baker
realists, still operating with such concepts as the "balance of power,"
"containment," a hypothetical "stability" that lost all meaning with the
disappearance of a bipolar world back in the late 1980s, and are totally
inapplicable to today's world of asymmetrical challenges.
All of them are effectively proposing that America should pull out of
the Middle East and pretend, presumably only until the next act of
mega-terrorism, that Islamic radicalism is not a challenge to Western
civilization, that this notion is a fruit of the sick imagination of the
neo-conservatives, and that with the withdrawal of the West most of the
problems which today so irritate progressive Islamic society will
disappear of their own accord.
Some 20 percent of those participating in the debates in Washington know
only too well that this is a course of surrender by the West which, in a
short period of time, will lead to a geopolitical catastrophe in the
Middle East and Central Asia, and leave the road clear for sleeper cells
of al Qaeda and kindred organizations in Europe and the United States
Most of the members of this minority, however, including a hero of the
Vietnam War and the most probable presidential candidate of the
Republican Party in the 2008 elections, Sen. John McCain, are calling
for "victory" in Iraq without defining what they mean, or formulating a
clear mission for the additional troops they propose sending to Iraq.
Initially, victory was defined as bringing democracy to Iraq. Nobody is
talking about that nowadays. Today's definition of victory is only to
avert a civil war and ensure Iraq has a functioning central government.
Unfortunately, no such victory is in the cards. America does not have
the ability to change the dynamics of a conflict underpinned by 14
centuries of sectarian feuding and the shared memory of the "friendship
of the peoples" in Saddam's Iraq, which was a concentration camp for the
Shiites and Kurds.
Even if it were feasible, this aspiration, although undoubtedly very
noble, is quite unrelated to the existential problem facing the West in
the Fourth World War, which is how to resist a ruthless attack on
several fronts by a radical Islam that denies "Satanic" Western
civilization the right even to exist.
It is too late for us to dwell on old errors and miscalculations, or the
complacent arrogance of the United States in 2003. We are now in 2007,
and what we have primarily to concern ourselves with is not Iraq but the
West, which is currently losing a different war. More precisely, the
United States is losing it while Europe and Russia, sitting in the same
boat, continue with malicious glee to savor the spectacle of America's
failures and humiliations, and decline to recognize what resultant
dangers threaten them in the very near future.
Reconciling the Sunnis and Shiites is not a goal for the West in the
large-scale and probably very protracted war in the Middle East. Let
the Sunnis and Shiites, and Saudi Arabia and Iran who are their backers,
concern themselves with this. It would have been equally absurd if,
during the Third World War (the Cold War), the West had busied itself
with trying to reconcile the Soviet Union and China. In Iraq, the
Shiite and Sunni militias are unquestionably committing atrocious crimes
against their own civilian populations. They, however, are not the
enemy that directly threatens the United States and the West. That
enemy is the sub-divisions of al Qaeda operating in Sunni regions.
Given effective intelligence, it would be much easier for the Americans
to deal with these sub-divisions from a distance, without getting under
the feet of competing militias. Incidentally, the Shiite militias,
unencumbered with the bourgeois prejudices of the Geneva Convention, are
likely to sort out the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq far more mercilessly
and effectively than the troops of the coalition.
When Senator McCain was asked in a recent television interview what
mission he would propose for the additional American troops the Bush
administration is planning to send to Iraq, he replied that it was
essential to defeat the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr. When his
interviewer protested that the majority of Shiites see al-Sadr as their
only defense against Sunni death squads, the senator conceded that, in
order to allay the fears of the Shiites, the United States should first
come down heavily on Sunni insurgents, and only after that on al-Sadr.
It seems to me that this interview demonstrated the absurdity of
defining victory as averting a civil war in Iraq. In just the same way,
a famous NBC interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in early
August showed up the absurdity of attempting to define victory as the
establishment of democracy in Iraq. In terms of the situation in 1940,
Mr. McCain's strategy would be to throw the remnants of the British Army
into the furnace of doomed Dunkirk.
In Iraq, the U.S. is confronted not by a military problem but
principally by a semantic problem. Two erroneous definitions of victory
have led to a psychology of defeat that threatens to turn into a real
defeat in the global war against Islamic radicalism.
Other than the Kurds, the United States has no ally in Iraq that it is
obliged to defend on either moral or pragmatic grounds; and it has no
foe that it should destroy other than the organizations of al Qaeda.
Both these aims could be attained far more effectively and with
immeasurably fewer losses by redeploying American troops to Kurdistan,
and possibly Kuwait, and dissociating from the Sunni-Shiite conflict.
If we look at the longer-term strategic aims of the West in the Fourth
World War, they should exclude overly ambitious and fanciful plans to
transform the Islamic world through democratization or to overcome a
The limited resources of the besieged West should be concentrated on the
more modest task of protecting its own identity as a civilization from
aggressive penetration by radical Islam. Military priorities in the
Middle East should be given to USSOCOM forces that are provided with
ground and air support from friendly territories.
Rejecting unrealistic goals in Iraq will allow the U.S. to emerge from
the false paradigm of victory or defeat and to obtain the breathing
space it needs for re-analyzing the current course of the global war
One of the tasks which seems to deserve the prior attention of American
strategists is to attempt to restore the strategic alliance with Russia,
hopes of which glimmered briefly in the autumn of 2001 but seem today to
be in ruins. I'll address this issue in one of my next columns.