Dateline: Above the garage in Portsmouth RI, 24 May 2004
That name alone (National Anxiety Center) sends chills up my spine, but as the reviewer (Alan Caruba) explains,
"The Center was created by me in 1990 as a clearinghouse for information about "scare campaigns", but I have expanded its scope of interest with the advent of the Islamic Jihad because so many Americans simply do not have a clue what it is that's trying to kill them in the process of receding into the "Gap" to preserve a 7th century way of life. I have, for example, written that we are watching the early death throes of Islam because it cannot adapt as did Judaism and Christianity. What your book did for me was pull all the various pieces of the puzzle together."So this guy's really in the business of reducing anxiety, which you gotta like.
Here's the review he'll post at http://www.anxietycenter.com/ and other sites that post his work.
The World and the Middle EastCOMMENTARY: While not necessarily going along with everything in the piece, I think Caruba highlights a key point of the book: the need to understand bin Laden within the context of history. In the end, this conflict really isn't about us versus them, but about globalization's progressive penetration of traditional Islamic cultures and that process' triggering of a civil war within Islam between those who accept that growing connectivity and those who will fight it to the death. I do think that interpretation reduces Americans' sense of anxiety over this "Global War on Terrorism," because it helps us to realize both the inevitability of this clash (it's not something we alone triggered) and the long-term nature of its unfolding (it will not end simply by pulling U.S. troops out of the region).
By Alan Caruba
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I did not wake up and go to sleep every day hearing, seeing, and reading about the Middle East. For much of my life it was little more than a setting for the movie ìLawrence of Arabiaî and, earlier, movies about Sinbad. I vaguely understood it to be a very backward place consisting mostly of sand.
There isnít much good to be said of the Middle East. After World War I Great Britain and France divided it between each other. World War II made it necessary for the US to ally with Saudi Arabia to insure a steady supply of oil. Mostly though, it has been lurking around our consciousness since the founding of Israel in 1948. That initiated what would turn out to be more than fifty years of unrelenting Islamic hostility to a nation about the size of New Jersey.
Israelís only real ally would be America. It is the only real democracy in the Middle East. It has been through an endless series of wars and other events that have required some of our attention, but not much while the Cold War continued. When the Soviet Union came to an end, every nation was thrust into a new world and one very much in need of a new set of rules with which to relate to one another.
A book by Thomas P. M. Barnett, ìThe Pentagonís New Mapî ($24.95, G.P. Putnamís Sons) looks at ìWar and Peace in the Twenty-First Century.î Barnett, a futurist and analyst for the Pentagon, spells out a new set of ìrulesî which the world is now fashioning.
At the heart of those rules is ìglobalizationî, the way one part of the world is ìconnectedî by economic and other treaties, the magic of modern communications, and how another part, the Middle East, is seeking to remain ìunconnectedî from the West, presumably to protect Islam and the sources of power that permit despots to continue ruling over the lives of billions of its people.
The Middle East is in the grip of a first class lunatic called Osama bin Laden who, on 9-11, got the worldís attention. His goal is to disconnect the Middle East from the rest of the world and, if that means killing a lot of infidels and a lot of Muslims, so be it. Israel, always the background music to everything else in the Middle East, has a problem called Yasser Arafat. Until he dies, there isnít a hope of peace with the so-called Palestinians.
ìThe grand historical arc of our relationship with Islam is clearly peaking with the Bush Administrationís decision to topple Saddam Husseinís regime and rehabilitate Baathist Iraq, much as we did with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan following WW II,î writes Barnett. ìOver the long run, the real danger we face in this era is more than just the attempts by terrorists to drive the US out of the Middle East; rather, it is their increasingly desperate attempts to drive the Middle East out of the world.î
Barnettís book is devoted to the concept of how some nations, mostly the West as well as some in the East, have become ìconnectedî through the ways modern communications and transportation has facilitated greater trade and prosperity, while those in the Middle East deliberately have not. ìTo be disconnected in this world,î he writes, ìis to be kept isolated, deprived, repressed, and uneducated, ìadding, ìFor young men, it means being kept ignorant and bored and malleable.î
What seems perfectly normal to us is the opposite of what those in Middle Eastern nations have never known. ìWe are the only country in the world,î writes Barnett, ìpurposefully built around the ideas that animate globalizationís advance: freedom of choice, freedom of movement, (and) freedom of expression. We are connectivity personified.î
ìIf, in waging war against the forces of disconnectiveness, the United States ends up dividing the West, or the heart of the Core (group of nations who subscribe to globalization), then our cure ends up being worse than the disease.î This is the problem we are encountering with Europe. With the exception of those nations still supporting our war in Iraq, others have shown a reluctance to support our effort, i.e., Spain, France, Germany, and the Russian Republic. There are other nations that fear or hate us enough who also would not mind seeing us fail.
Barnett correctly identifies the biggest problem facing us. ìAs America is learning in this global war on terrorism, it is one thing to topple the Taliban or Saddam Hussein with our highly-lethal, highly-maneuverable force, but quite another to actually transform those battered societies into something biggeróto reconnect them to the larger, globalizing world outside.î
A longtime, highly respected Pentagon analyst, Barnett has been arguing inside that vast institution that we need to transform it to deal with a new era. ìIn the post-Cold War era the US tends to send its military to where the wild things are, to the places and situations where the normal rules about not resorting to violence and warfare simply do not seem to hold.î This explains why we have lost more military personnel since the capture of Baghdad than in the campaign to take the city and the nation. We donít fight wars like our enemy.
We donít send airplanes loaded with innocent passengers into buildings filled with more innocent people. Having liberated the Iraqis, we donít understand why they wonít or canít embrace it. The simple answer is that they have no real experience with freedom and will have to learn how to be a democracy. If, in fact, they want to be one. It is, however, vitally necessary to our future and the future of the world that they become a viable democracy.
Right now, one of the problems Americans face is the failure of the Bush Administration to effectively explain why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. ìIn short,î says Barnett, ìthe Bush Administration needs to level with the American public as to where this whole thingóthis global war on terrorism and the preemption strategyóis really going. And if these policy makers themselves are unclear as to these strategiesí ultimate course heading, then they better let the rest of the citizenry in on the inside debates that apparently continue to rage between Colin Powellís State Department and Donald Rumsfeldís Defense Department.î
To me, that is the most chilling aspect of the war on terrorism to which the President has committed the United States. He is not only not much of an orator. He has been talking about freedom and its spread around the world, but offering little more by way of explaining why this is so important. Barnett says, ìWe will need many presidentsóDemocrat and Republicanóover the coming decades who will keep our political system, our public, and the rest of the Core focused on the prize we seekómaking globalization truly global, and shrinking the Gapî (between the Core Western nations and the Gap represented by all those now controlled by Islamic and other oppressive societies.)
In the last great, worldwide war, we fought nation-states that threatened to enslave the world. We defeated and transformed them. In this new asymmetrical war, we are faced by Islamists who fear that globalization will undermine their religion and their way of life. They are prepared to destroy the United States as the worldís beacon of freedom. The question is, are we prepared to take the time, the resources, and the power necessary to defeat them?
Alan Caruba writes a weekly commentary, ìWarning Signsî, posted on the website of The National Anxiety Center, www.anxietycenter.com.
© Alan Caruba 2004