James Woolsey: The Long War of the 21st CenturyRoundup: Media's Take
... Well, let me share a few thoughts with you this morning on what I have come to call the Long War of the 21st Century. I used to call it World War IV, following my friend Eliot Cohen, who called it that in an op-ed right after 9/11 in the Wall Street Journal. Eliot’s point is that the Cold War was World War III. And this war is going to have more in common with the Cold War than with either World War I or II.
But people hear the phrase World War and they think of Normandy and Iwo Jima and short, intense periods of principally military combat. I think Eliot’s point is the right one, which is that this war will have a strong ideological component and will last some time. So, in order to avoid the association with World Wars I and II, I started calling it the Long War of the 21st Century. Now, why do I think it’s going to be long? First of all, it is with three totalitarian movements coming out of the Middle East.
I want to say just a word about each one. And I am not going to further deal with North Korea during these remarks. People can ask questions about it if you want afterwards. North Korea is crazy enough to be part of the Middle East, but it doesn’t happen to be. In any case, I think it’s important that we are, as was the case in World War II, actually at war with not one, not two, but three totalitarian movements.
These movements hate each other and they come from somewhat different roots. They were all affected by the chaotic history of the early part of the 20th century. They insult each other. They kill each other’s members from time to time. But like the Nazis and the Communists, they are perfectly capable of working together. And they have; and do; and are now; and will, if they think it’s in their interests to do so.
First of all, there are the Middle East Fascists. I use that term advisedly about the Ba’athists in Iraq and Syria, because they are Fascists. There’s no point in mincing words. The Ba’athist parties were modeled after the Fascist parties of the ’20s and ’30s. They function like them and they’re anti-Semitic like them. They’re Fascists.
Every time I hear the word “insurgent” to describe the enemy in Fallujah, it grates on me. What we ought to call them is what they are, which is Fascists. They call themselves the Party of Return, because what they want to do is bring Ba’athism, i.e., Fascism, back to Iraq. We’ve been at war with that totalitarian movement since around 1991, probably when the first President Bush organized the coalition to throw Saddam out of Kuwait. Saddam called 1991 the mother of all battles because it was just a battle in a long war. He tried to kill former President Bush in ’93, fired at our airplanes all the time in the ’90s. So that war never really has ended. It’s going on in Fallujah, in the Sunni Triangle today. It’s going on in the support for the terrorists and for fellow Ba’athists/Fascists that the Syrians are continually sending across the border.
This movement I am not terribly worried about for the long haul, because their ideology is dead. It is nothing but a rationale for power, the way the Communist ideology came to be, as the 20th century moved on, an excuse for power. No one, I think, anymore really believes in the Ba’athist vision of a unified Middle East under Ba’athist rule. But they will be troublesome for some time, and they are a group that has to be defeated.
The second and third groups are also totalitarian in exactly the sense Mussolini meant it: total commitment required, total control – the objective is a total vision of the world – [and] are both Islamist movements; one from the Shi’ite side of Islam, and one from the Sunni side of Islam. The first: the Vilayat Faqih, the Rule of the Clerics in Tehran – Khamenei, Rafsanjani and his colleagues. And the second: the Islamists of Al Qaeda’s stripe, underpinned, in many ways, by the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia.
I always say Islamist rather than Radical Muslim or anything of that kind because I don’t think we want to credit either Khamenei or Osama bin Laden – or, for that matter, the Wahhabi – with truly representing the great religion of Islam. I think that Khamenei and his gang in Tehran and bin Laden and the most extreme of the Wahhabi clerics are Muslims to just about the same extent that Torquemada was a Christian. Torquemada ran his life as a power behind the throne in Ferdinand and Isabella’s Spain by burning Jews, Muslims and dissident Christians at the stake, stealing their money. His behavior was about as far from that preached in the Sermon on the Mount as it is possible for an individual to be.
And I don’t think we need, in retrospect, to grant Torquemada’s claim that he was a Christian. And I don’t think we need, in current terms, to grant either Khamenei’s or Osama bin Laden’s claim that they represent Islam. They are trying to be as totalitarian movements, to take over an important position in one of the world’s great religions. But we have hundreds of millions of good and decent Muslims we need to make common cause with. And we don’t want to grant, at the outset, that our enemies represent them.
The Islamists in Tehran have been at war with us for something like a quarter of a century – just over a quarter of a century, actually. A few days ago was the 25th anniversary of their having seized our hostages in Tehran in 1979. They, through their instrumentalities such as Hezbollah, have conducted terrorist attacks against us for over two decades, going up to Khobar Tower.
So that movement is also one that, unfortunately, has more legs and more power and more steam, I think, than the Fascists. It controls the instruments of power of the Iranian state. It controls its oil money. It controls its intelligence services. It controls Hezbollah. And it will be with us, I am afraid, for some time. But it has a weakness that the Sunni Islamists don’t have, because, as Bernard Lewis says, there is only one country in the Middle East – excluding, I think, Israel, there is only one country in the Middle East where the United States is genuinely and broadly popular, and that’s Iran.
And the reason is because Khamenei and his fellow members of the rule of clerics are solidly at odds not only with common sense in the way a society can decently be administered, but they are at odds with the mainline Shiite tradition, which is one of separation of Mosque and State, with one very old historical exception, the Shi’a have generally not believed in the union of Mosque and State. They have not been in favor of theocracy. And Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq today speaks for that so-called quietest tendency or movement, the notion that Mosque and State should be kept apart. And it’s one of the reasons why I think we have some source of potential optimism about the direction of Shiite Islam and its political objectives in Iraq.
But the mullahs in Tehran are completely at odds with this separation of Mosque and State tradition. And it’s one of the reasons why they’re not only unpopular among the young people of Iran – and people 19 and younger are 50 percent of Iran – and unpopular among the women and unpopular among the reformers, but they’re also unpopular among substantial numbers of Shiite Iranian clerics, including several of the ayatollahs and grand ayatollahs in the Holy City of Qum, because they are – Khamenei and his henchmen – are at odds with the mainline Shiite tradition.
So, although we need to worry about them a great deal – we especially need to worry about them getting nuclear weapons – I think that their ideology has some important weaknesses, which unfortunately are not shared by the Sunni Islamists, the third group. This group has been at war with us, off and on, for a long time, but pretty much intensely for about a decade, since ’94/’95, when bin Laden turned his attention from what he calls the near enemy, such as the Mubarak regime of Egypt, toward the far enemy, or us, whom he calls the Crusaders and the Jews.
The Sunni Islamists have a couple of advantages that the Shiite Islamists don’t. First of all, the tradition of Sunni Islam in many points in history is one of the union of Mosque and State in the Caliphate. When bin Laden says that the darkest day in the history of Islam was 80 some years ago, and you calculate back and it’s 1924, and you ask yourself why, it’s because that’s when Kemal Ataturk disestablished the Caliphate, the union of Mosque and State in Turkey.
The union of Mosque and State in theocracy is what bin Laden is pointed toward. First, his radical world vision is to unify the Arab World, destroy Israel, expel the United States from the Middle East, then to unify all of Islam, then to unify all of the world that had once been under Islam, such as what they call Andalucia, namely Spain, and then finally the world as a whole.
Now, this may seem like a crazy vision to those of us in the West, who are not part of this tradition. But it’s no crazier than Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich or the dream of world communism. Totalitarian movements have these kinds of heaven-on-earth dreams. And it is a decided advantage to the Sunni Islamists that they are operating pursuant to something that has historically been there, from time to time, and sometimes for centuries, within Sunni Islam.
They also have another advantage, which is that they are fabulously and phenomenally rich. They are operating with the funds from wealthy Saudi families and from others in the Gulf. They are sustained by oil money. My acquaintance, on whose show I was a few weeks ago, Bill Maher, who I don’t agree with on most things I can think of, except oil, Maher has a book out called When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden.
It’s a picture from a World War II poster of a man driving and a ghost of Hitler sitting next to him. It was to encourage carpooling and saving of gasoline. And the theme was when you ride alone, you ride with Hitler. His book now is called When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden. And the overall point in this book of Maher’s is that oil is really the sustaining structure and financing mechanism for not only the terrorist attacks on us but much of the political movement and structure of things in the Middle East, which creates very serious difficulties.
We can get into this some in questions if you want, but the point is that in the late 1970s the Saudi royal family, particularly, had two things happen to it. They got very, very frightened because of the takeover at the Great Mosque in Mecca by the Islamists – that was nearly a coup against the Saudi state in ’79 – and also the shah falling to a Shiite Islamist theocracy right across the Gulf.
They got very frightened. And they also got very rich, because foreign earnings from oil sales to the Saudis were about $2 billion a year at the beginning of the ’70s. By the end of the ’70s, they were $20 billion a year headed up. Lord knows what they are today at $50 a barrel of oil. But oil earnings in the last quarter of the century have meant that the Wahhabis and families who are generous to them have been able to fund Wahhabi beliefs and proselytizing in the world to the tune of some $70-75 billion – that’s with a ‘b’ – over the last quarter of a century.
The Saudis essentially struck a deal with the Wahhabis, which was, here is all the money in the world you could ever want. Take over the education in the kingdom. That’s fine. Take over education in Pakistan, madrassas of Pakistan, set up religious institutes in the United States. Here’s all the money you ever want. Just leave us alone. And that bargain has, more or less, stayed until relatively recently, when there have been some terrorist attacks inside Saudi Arabia. None yet on the royal family.
But it is a very serious problem. To give you an idea of what it means, I was scheduled to be in a – I won’t call it a debate – a “discussion” over in the Pentagon some months ago with Adel Al-Jubeir. You see him on television from time to time. He’s a very smooth young Saudi spokesman for the Crown Prince on foreign policy issues.
I did a naughty thing. I went on the Web the night before and, through the Mideast Media Research Institute Web site, downloaded the main themes that the Saudi Religious Ministry had sent out the previous week, drawn from the Saudi imams’ sermons in the kingdom the Friday before. And the Saudi Religious Ministry, every week, takes these, consolidates, develops the major themes that it likes and wants the Wahhabi mosques, whether in Los Angeles or in Rawalpindi, to emphasize in the following week.
This week these three themes were a) that all Jews are pigs and monkeys, b) that it is the obligation of all true Muslims to hate and, where possible, to kill Christians and Jews, and c) American women routinely sleep with their fathers and brothers. Incest is a common way of life in the United States, and that just shows how rotten the Americans are.
Now, this is not some one military officer or some one minister who has happened here saying something like Christianity is better than Islam, and everybody says oh, no, no, no, you can’t say that. No, no. This is not an individual; this is the Saudi government’s planned dissemination of doctrine for Wahhabi ministers, imams around the world, to emphasize the following week. This garbage has been going on for a quarter of a century.
So, if you wonder why sometimes the young men in the streets of Cairo or Fallujah are particularly angry as the news comes from Al-Jazeera, their imam is saying these sorts of things at the mosque. It’s not too hard to figure out where the money is coming from for that, and why it is happening.
Well, if that’s who we are at war with, why? Why did they decide to come after us? I think there are two reasons. One is the same reason that Hitler probably would have given in December of ’41, when after Pearl Harbor he declared war on us, even though he really didn’t have to. He knew. He knew that at some point we were going to get into the fight, that we would be his biggest problem, so he might as well come after us while he thought that we were weak.
I think that it was best summed up, for me, by a cab driver in the District of Columbia a couple of years ago. Now, I take a lot of cabs in the District. And I hate reading articles about public opinion polls – my apologies to the pollsters who may be present. So instead, I talk to cab drivers. It’s, I think, a perfectly fine finger on the pulse of America. And it’s a lot more interesting than reading magazine and newspaper articles about public opinion polls.
This particular day was the day after former President Clinton had given a speech at Georgetown University in which he had said – well, he had implied, not exactly said – that 9/11 was in part a payback for American slavery and the treatment of the American Indians. The newspaper was open in the front seat of the cab to that particular article. I got in and I saw right away that the cab driver was one of my favorite substitutes for public opinion polls. He was an older black guy, about my age, picture of his family on the dashboard, Redskins baseball cap, beaded seat. Clearly had been driving a cab in the District for a long time.
I got in. I said, I see your paper there. Did you read that article about the President’s speech? He said, oh yeah. I said, what’d you think of it? He said, these people don’t hate us for what we’ve done wrong. They hate us for what we do right, all right?
You can’t do better than that. We are hated by the Wahhabis, by the Islamists, for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, open economies, equal treatment of women – well, almost equal treatment of women, better than they do, anyway. That’s why we’re hated, indeed cordially loathed.
But why now? Why at the end of the 20th century? Why did the pace pick up? Well, these three movements have been at war with us for a long time. As I said, the Fascists, the Ba’athists since ’91, so that’s 14 years, the Shiite Islamists for a quarter of a century, since ’79, and the Sunni Islamists for about a decade. What’s new is not the war. What’s new is that we decided to notice after 9/11.
Don Rumsfeld said, and I think quite rightly so, that nothing is more provocative when dealing with totalitarian movements than weakness. In a way, we did worse than just being weak in this last quarter-century. Put yourself in the hypothetical position of an adviser to Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Mr. Khamenei in Tehran. Let’s say the three of them have called you together with them. You’re sympathetic in my hypothetical here.
It’s around the end of the 20th century. And they say, we’re trying to decide what to do about these Americans. What are they like? I don’t know about you. But I think if I were to try to transport myself into the shoes of someone who was sympathetic with their cause, I would say something like this: Well, the Americans are strong. But, first of all, one of their principal characteristics is that they do not give a damn about the people of the Middle East.
According to their views with respect to Eastern Europe and other parts of the world, democracy is important. But they don’t give a damn what kind of governments we live in over here. They can be autocratic kingdoms, dictatorships. The Americans basically think we should be polite filling station attendants, that we should sit there and shut up. And whenever they need it, we should pump the oil for them, for their big SUVs. And otherwise, they don’t care about us at all. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that they’re cowards. And let me explain to you what I mean by both of these. Short summary, the history of the last 25 years in a few minutes. 1979, we seized their hostages in Tehran. And what did they do? They tied yellow ribbons around trees. In 1983 we blew up their barracks, their Marine barracks in their embassy in Beirut. Killed hundreds of them. What did they do? They left.
Then throughout the ’80s we launched a number of terrorist attacks against them, Achille Lauro and others. What did they do? They sent the lawyers. Right. They sent the prosecutors. They thought this was a law enforcement matter. They’d arrest people from time to time and prosecute them and put them in prison.
Then in 1991 the first President Bush, uncharacteristically for the Americans, did something decisive. He ended up with 500,000 troops in Iraq. But he lost his nerve, signed a cease-fire agreement. After having encouraged the Kurds and Shi’a to rebel against Saddam, seeing them succeeding in 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, he signed a cease-fire agreement, which left the Republican Guard intact, left the bridges across the Tigris and Euphrates intact, left the armed helicopters intact. Saddam flew his armed helicopters against the Kurds and the Shi’a, and the Americans sat there and watched tens of thousands of them be massacred.
Then in 1993 Saddam tried to assassinate former President Bush in Kuwait with a bomb. And what did President Clinton do? He fired a couple dozen cruise missiles into an empty Iraqi intelligence headquarters in the middle of the night and had his secretary of state announce that we’d done this in the middle of the night so we’d hurt as few people as possible. Not too effective in dealing with Saddam. But it was a devastating strike on Iraqi cleaning women and night watchmen.
Then in 1993 we shot down their helicopters. Black Hawk down in Mogadishu. And what did they do? Same thing they did 10 years before in Beirut. They left. And throughout the rest of the ’90s, we executed a number of rather effective terrorist attacks against them. East Africa, Cole. And what did they do? They did the same thing they did in the 1980s. They sent the lawyers, who prosecuted a few people. Oh, President Clinton fired a few cruise missiles into some empty tents and an empty pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. That’s about it.
So I’ll tell you, Osama, Mr. Khamenei, Saddam, what they’re like. What they’re like is that they’re blustered. They don’t care about the people of the Middle East. They care only about our oil. And they’re cowards.
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