Once I remember standing on an Atlantic Ocean beach, on a beautiful day that was cloudless, except for a spot of dark on the horizon. As I watched this spot of black, I saw it rapidly getting darker and bigger until, within 45 minutes, I found myself, literally without warning, suddenly engulfed in a major thunderstorm. It was totally unexpected. I watched the storm build, watched it approach, marked its path the entire way, yet was caught totally by surprise, because I never thought it would actually happen. I have never forgotten that experience.
I see storm clouds gathering, now. I see them coming quicker and quicker. I see few people as nervous as I am about them, and I worry.
It is five years since the beginning of the War in Iraq, and the American people have been lagging in their support for this war for some time. That is not unusual; in fact, it is a surprise, to me, that support for this war has lasted as long as it did. Americans love the accoutrements that go with wars, the glory, the uniforms, the flying flags, but their enthusiasm never lasts that long, and the dreariness and expense gets to them, eventually. While it might not be unusual, it is disturbing, because the war in Iraq is only the opening salvo in what portends to be a wider, uglier war with less than certain outcome.
North Korea’s and Iran’s potential entrance into the nuclear club puts them in the forefront of any future threat to the peace of the world. Iran, in particular, is a major player in the regional upheavals occurring in the Middle East. Russia has been pulling away from what looked like a more Western-oriented approach to its foreign policy, and has actually been helping the Iranians, and China is flexing its industrial and military muscle, seeking to become a power on the world stage. What this means is that if conflict breaks out, we cannot tell who will be opposed to us…it could be all of those nations, none of those nations or, more likely, a combination of those nations. What we see, now, is just the beginning of the storm, the dark smudge on the horizen. We cannot see the direction of the storm.
Americans are uncomfortable with telling others in the world what to do…we are not well suited to being a superpower nation. We never asked for it, we never sought it. Most Americans are focused on improving their lot in life, and are focused on that part of life that has to do with improving their own lot in life. If something does not impact on that very immediate focus, the average American could care less. We are similar to the King who was, in his previous life, a cabbage farmer, and who cared far more if the cabbage crop was doing well than anything else for which he was responsible as a king. The rest of the world was far away, but his cabbages were right there, where he could see them.
This is all rather unfortunate, as it would be a shame if public opinion ended the war in Iraq before we could glean the fruits of victory. We have removed one of our principle enemies in the world, Saddam Hussein, we have denied Iraq as a base and means of support for terrorists, destroyed the possibility of Iraq building stockpiles of nuclear weapons and given al Qaeda serious setbacks, killing thousands of them and removing Iraq as a haven. The only goal left unfulfilled is establishing Iraq as a stable Democracy in the region. The chances for that to happen are very good…but it will never happen if we remove our troops, before allowing the government to set up the structures necessary for its stability. A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq is a distinct possibility, because few people really know what is happening in Iraq. Part of this can be blamed on the news media, which is not, in fact, giving a fair and balanced treatment with respect to Iraq. A good part of this, though, has to do with the lack of public interest in ‘boring’ foreign news stories, and the lack of demand for the facts of our involvement. All we see is what is on the news, and that is what the news tells us is important.
Whatever the cause for the lack of informed opinion on the part of the average American citizen, the consequences of the lack of the public knowledge of the war in Iraq runs deeper than simply not knowing we are winning in Iraq. The war in Iraq is part of a much larger threat to our security, one that has not yet seeped into the consciousness of the average American citizen, the threat of a revival of militant Islam. What will happen when Iraq is finished as an issue, but people discover that we still have troops overseas, and other enemies yet to fight? Will the American people rise to the occasion, and surge forward with renewed effort, or will they close their eyes to additional dangers and hope that our ocean borders will protect us against the storm occurring overseas?
Before World War II, Europe was oblivious to the threat posed by Adolf Hitler and the German nation. There were isolated voices, such as that of Winston Churchill, thundering about ‘the coming storm,’ but the threat posed by Germany was not considered as serious as Churchill thought. The German army had been decimated by the peace of Versailles, following WWI, the German economy was crippled, and no one could conceive of a possible scenario whereby Germany could rise above its economic problems to pose a threat to the peace of Europe. They were wrong. They underestimated a megalomaniac who quite plainly stated his goals, and the result was WWII, and 50 million + dead.
We are in the same situation. There are people, such as the well known military historian <a href=”http://www.victorhanson.com”>Victor Hanson</a>, who have written numerous warnings about the threat posed by Islamofascism, in general, and the Islamic culture in particular. As with Churchill, few people take notice of the warnings, few people even hear the warnings, being too caught up in the ‘big news of the day,’ such as a Congressman’s illicit e-mails to a page, or the latest scandals of Anna Nicolle Smith. There is no sense of threat or danger in the air. Except for increased airline security, and occasional warnings on the news which rarely pan out, there is nothing evident in the world to indicate to people that they should be worried. The more commonly heard Mantra is “most Muslims are peaceful; we have little to fear from these fringe radicals.”
What that analysis misses is that most Germans were ‘peaceful’ ordinary folks, too before WWII…but they followed the Nazi Regime, either out of fear, hope for gain or simply to be like everyone else. Moslems are no different; I would not be surprised if most Moslems are non-secular, and care more about a good standard of living than they do about praying five times a day to Mecca. That is rather an irrelevant point, though, because there are a significant percentage of Moslems who are, in fact, Islamofascists, and want to destroy the West. They are our enemies…and those peaceful Moslems, who simply want to be left alone, are, if not active, at least can and will be potentially active in the future, at the point where it becomes necessary for them to take sides. Islam is a strong, proselytizing religion with a long tradition, in both religious literature and in action, of either forcibly converting peoples who they have conquered to Islam, or killing them. That is the factual basis behind the view the West must take of Islam. Islam does not have a cooperative, peaceful history, but rather a history of violence and death as it has tried, repeatedly, to conquer Europe and other lands in the name of their God. This current wave of activism is no different from past waves, save that it lacks one centralizing leader and/or an organization for that leader. In fact, that is an additional danger, the possibility of the rise of a unifying leader for Islam.
That is the reality we face. It is a hard reality to make evident to people who do not have a grasp of or interest in history, but, instead, get their news from 30 second sound bites on CNN. It is a potential, future war that is simmering under the service. It might never break out, but the potential is, in fact, there, and, like the 300 pound gorilla in your garage, we do not know what it will take to either get it to move and go away, or to break out in violence and cause us to have to react.
So, what would one expect people to do with a situation that has not developed into a threat? The least one can do is help the government prepare for whatever happens…we need to elect officials who are concerned with our public safety, and have the skills necessary to function in a future war. We need to give them the tools necessary to do their job, and not put restrictions on their ability to get that job done. We need to follow our Constitution and our treaty obligations, but not get into areas not covered by the Constitution and treaty.
We need to become a lean, mean fighting machine; We need to teach our children to love our country, its traditions, and for what it stands. We, ourselves, must become more involved in our government, understand how it works, understand what influences govern it, and keep on top of the issues so that we can guide our legislators. A Democracy cannot function without an informed electorate, and we shall need an informed electorate more than ever before. This is a war like none before, and we all have to put our collective heads together and decide, all together, how to navigate the minefields that will be set for us. We cannot sit back, ‘let the government do it,’ and complain about how it is not getting done, right. We, the PEOPLE are the ones that need get it right, or we won’t have anything to get right.
We CAN lose this war. I do not think that many Americans think we can be beaten, but we can. Our enemy is smart, and is gaining the technological means to thwart our own technological superiority. Unless we are vigilant, and proactive, our experiment in Democracy can very well become the footnote in some future history of what the world could have been.
<small><i>© 2006 Steve Haas, All Rights Reserved. The author also has his own weblog, <a href=”http://amberandchaos.com/blog”>Amber</a>.</i></small>