Poor Neville Chamberlain comes to mind. He thought he chose peace, but instead condemned the world to war. When a nation (or a Caliph) is hell bent on conquest, it will conquer. It is a lesson as old as history. When the dogs of war are loose and declare you as their ultimate prey, you confront them on your terms… or they will confront you on theirs.
Debate about what to do about history’s newest rampaging Caliphate, known as the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL), has dominated much of the news in recent weeks. Some argue the Islamic State is not our problem, because (they say) it doesn’t directly affect American interests. We disagree. We are the ultimate target of the Islamic State (and most other radical Islamic movements). When the new Caliphate broadcasts the beheading of an innocent American, it has attacked American interests, and when they threaten to behead more Americans, that is ample justification for executing an aggressive response to such an enemy.
Some argue that other nations, more directly threatened at this time, should lead the assault on the Islamic State. We agree. But the failure of those threatened states to act does not absolve us and our allies, collectively or individually, from recognizing the Islamic State for what it is – a triumphal, expansionist and fanatically religious warring body, the defined enemies of which are any people or nation that does not subscribe to their brand of Islam. They have declared America to be their ultimate target. They have widely published bomb-making instructions and identified the places in American cities where bombs should be placed and the time of year, indeed, even the days of the year, when they should be detonated. We assume America will respond when an act of carnage takes place in one of our cities. Given that this newest, self-declared Caliphate has announced that carnage in American cities (and those of our allies) is precisely what the Islamic State is planning, we need no other triggering event to pursue them.
This new Caliphate is a direct threat to the organizing principles of modern civilization. The establishment of this new Caliphate is, arguably, the essential first step toward the attempted overthrow of the entire nation-state system — first in all Muslim lands, and then the rest of the world. No, the Islamic State can’t, itself, threaten western civilization. It is, however, a precursor of what we might expect if we allow it to grow and spawn offshoots just as it itself is an offshoot of al Qaeda. The Islamic State will metastasize and, left alone, will threaten public safety and order throughout the western world.
Neither America nor Britain, nor Jordon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon nor Spain (nor a host of other countries) has chosen war with radical Islam, but none has the option of choosing peace either. If the Islamic State is not confronted these nations will, in the future as they have in the past, continue to experience ever-growing Islamic violence.
This new Caliphate like each of the prior Caliphates is dedicated to eliminating nation states (or any national identity at all) in favor of a single unified Caliphate that follows strict Islamic law. The Islamic State requires all subjected people to convert, pay a stiff annual tax or die by the sword. It is, to Western sensibilities, a reincarnation of Pandemonium, the capital of Hell in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Like every Caliphate the Islamic State has a self-proclaimed Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose message to America upon release from custody in Iraq was, “I’ll see you in New York.” It was a taunt most intelligence experts take seriously. The parade of beheadings, firing squads, kidnappings and forced conversions attest to his ruthlessness. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the first self-proclaimed Caliph since the 400-year-old Ottoman Caliphate was abolished ninety years ago by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey.
The mess we face in the Middle East is mirrored by an equally dangerous unraveling of order in Eastern Europe, where Russia has succeeded in forcibly annexing chunks of Ukraine in an aggression not seen in Europe since the end of World War Two. NATO meets next week in Great Britain to determine how and when the West will respond to Russia’s latest incursions into eastern Ukraine. Ironically, the summit was originally scheduled to mark the end of the NATO role in Afghanistan. But as the headline of this week’s essay suggests, nations can choose (or not choose) to go to war. Peace, however, is not always a choice.
Peace is sometimes nothing more that wishful thinking. Only four of the 28 NATO countries have budgeted for defense at the agreed upon level of only 2% of GDP, a naïveté not lost on the Kremlin. They budgeted, unrealistically, for peace and may have, in the process, encouraged war. The Western powers had all budgeted for peace in the 30’s, and in the process only brought about the bloodiest war in history.
The current issue of the Economist succinctly sums up the reality we face. “Ukraine is not a member of NATO (indeed, preventing it ever becoming one is a principle aim of Russian policy) and therefore does not enjoy the protection afforded by Article 5, the vow taken by every member to regard an attack on one as an attack on all. But Mr. Putin’s declaration of the right to take action wherever he believes the interests of Russian speakers are endangered directly threatens the Baltic states.“
And this is where reality gets very interesting – and very dangerous. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) all have Russian speaking minorities, all are nestled right up against the borders of the old Soviet Union, all have turned west, all have joined NATO and all have asked for an increased NATO presence to enforce, if necessary, Article 5.
Article 5 is the very essence of NATO. It is why the Baltic nations joined NATO and why Ukraine would like to join NATO. But everyone knows that the heart of NATO and its very credibility has depended on America’s unwavering support. Stratfor Forcasting’s (a well-respected American global intelligence company) Chairman George Friedman notes in his superb book “The Next 100 Years” that NATO’s collective defense guarantee is effective only if the United States is prepared to use force. And that is the 64 quadrillion-dollar question. The United States has, mistakenly, redirected its attention from Europe, having decided that Asia should be our primary area of focus. That’s why we presented Putin with that silly reset button. Well, Putin has pushed the reset button. He has decided to reset Russia’s position with the recently freed former Soviet republics. If they have Russian speaking minorities, they are, as far as Putin is concerned, now back in the Russian sphere of influence. We can only guess at what the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, not to mention the Poles and Czechs must be thinking.
Presumably, the Obama Administration believed we enhanced the cause of peace, while tightening our bonds with Russia, when we canceled the Missile Defense Treaty with Poland and Czechoslovakia, or when we announced that there would be no military solution to the Russian Ukraine land grab, or when we decided not to provide meaningful aid to the rebel Free Syrian Army, or when we erased the redline we had previous drawn in the Syrian sand, or when we announced our withdrawal plans in Iraq and Afghanistan, or when we announced we were winding down our footprint in Europe in order to focus on Asia. Maybe we thought we could unilaterally choose peace in a turbulent and hostile world.
Maybe the White House really believes “the Obama administration’s foreign policies in a number of areas have enhanced the world’s “tranquility” as the Administration’s spokesman recently announced to the press. Maybe the Administration really believes it can simply unilaterally choose peace. Peace, however, as George Washington advised, is the product of strength and the absolute willingness to assert it when threatened.
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