- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

The main battle lines zigzag around the world, from the Middle East to Africa and Asia as far as the Philippine jungles and the teeming streets of Jakarta, Indonesia. The fallout — patriotism, paranoia, propaganda and plotting — spreads much farther.

Does that sound like a world war?

From the outset, with the September 11 attacks and instant comparisons to Pearl Harbor, the theme of “world war” has been prominent, and a growing number of scholars and military analysts believe this is precisely the description that fits the U.S.-led fights and forays against Islamic extremists that have followed.

The U.S.-British alliance, with help from lesser allies on the key fronts, reinforces the parallels to the 1939-45 World War II, especially now that the Pentagon’s forces are stretched so thin around the world that combat-novice National Guard brigades are being called up for peacekeeping in Iraq.



At home, Americans follow color-coded security alerts and display yellow ribbons for faraway troops. President Bush tells a veterans’ convention: “No nation can be neutral in the struggle between civilization and chaos.”

Former CIA Director James Woolsey has even bestowed a name: World War IV (III being the Cold War).

“This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I and II,” he told students in April at the University of California, Los Angeles.

World War III, or IV, or the War on Terror — or whatever name it will be remembered by — has already catapulted military and political planners into a new age. Campaigns can no longer be measured by territory seized or ended by armistice.

Here’s a bird’s-eye view:

• In Iraq there are nearly 140,000 U.S. soldiers, 11,000 British troops and 9,500 under Polish command from 21 countries.

• In Afghanistan, NATO leads 5,000 peacekeepers from 30 nations in the alliance’s first operation outside Europe, while U.S. and Afghan forces hunt fighters from terror network al Qaeda and the former Taliban regime.

• About 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Qatar, the Persian Gulf emirate that was host to the command center for the Iraq war. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain.

• Nearly 5,000 miles east, the Philippine military is receiving U.S. training in counterterrorism and aid in fighting Muslim extremists who officials say are loosely linked to al Qaeda.

• About 1,100 miles southwest of the Persian Gulf, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, more than 1,800 U.S. troops are attached to a terrorism task force. Just across the Red Sea lie Saudi Arabia, oil giant and lately a target of al Qaeda-style bombings, and Yemen, the staging ground for the USS Cole bombers in October 2000. Last year, a missile from a U.S. Predator drone killed a top al Qaeda lieutenant in Yemen.

• To the south, the U.S. 5th Fleet has expanded patrols off East Africa, and 11 nations have joined an American-led terrorism response force. In that region, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania have all been drawn into the battle in one form or another.

• And in the Caucasus, the mainly Muslim mountain region between Russia and Asia, the Pentagon provides military aid to Azerbaijan and troops to train Georgia’s military in antiterrorism operations.

Even where the United States isn’t physically engaged, battles smolder on between Islamic hard-liners and secular governments — in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory claimed by India as well as Pakistan; in Indonesia, where bombings have killed hundreds; in the Middle East, where Islamic militants sabotage U.S.-directed efforts to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Much of the new warfare is “asymmetrical” — state armies versus small hit-and-run bands of guerrillas and bombers. It still requires serious firepower, which the U.S. military uncorked in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, it also demands a huge effort to win the hearts and minds among Muslim populations that regard America as a godless monster and maintain that September 11 was a American-Jewish plot to discredit them.

“We used to think of war only as an overt military conflict between states,” said Jonathan Stevenson, a terrorism analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “What we have here is comprehensive, global mobilization of counterterrorism assets. … It’s all very new.”

Some critics accuse the White House of encouraging the “world war” tag to justify even more military muscle and pressure others to help.

“Equating the war on terrorism to a kind of world war is simply one way of rationalizing the need to carry out the conflict,” said Hiroshi Momose, a professor of international relations at Hiroshima City University in Japan.

But Semih Idiz, a political commentator for the Aksam newspaper in Turkey, thinks the comparison is apt. “The United States is conducting a war on fundamentalism on a worldwide basis from countries like Indonesia to Kenya,” he said. “So, yes, we can speak of a world war.”

Like most major conflicts, skirmishes preceded the main fight.

Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and other avowed enemies of the United States were backed by Washington in the 1980s when they aided Islamic guerrillas fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

The 1991 Persian Gulf war turned the tables. Many Muslim extremists — boosted by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan — were outraged at the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam’s holiest sites. America became a target for militants seeking revenge for many perceived injustices against the Islamic world.

The path to September 11 is littered with increasingly bold strikes: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1996 car bomb that killed 19 U.S. military personnel at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 twin blasts at the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that claimed 231 lives, and the Cole attack in 2000 that killed 17 sailors.

“The feelings of humiliation and loss of any hope feed violence,” said Ali El Samman, a scholar at Al-Azhar in Cairo, the most respected theological institution for Sunni Muslims. “We cannot shut our eyes to this.”

The realignment of global forces is striking.

During the Cold War, the lines in Asia were clear: Washington supported Pakistan, while the Soviet Union backed Pakistan’s archenemy, India. Now both are U.S. allies. Washington also is trying to cajole and cultivate a sweeping collection of strategic allies across the map.

Some are old friends — including Egypt and Saudi Arabia — with rising importance as front-line al Qaeda hunters. Egyptian authorities last month arrested 23 suspected of being al Qaeda sympathizers accused of plotting to join terrorist operations around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The American government … has to work with others,” said Maria Nzomo, director of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. “It has to respond to the perceptions and visions of others on how terrorism should be combated.”

One of the hallmarks of the Allied victory in World War II was a massive U.S. investment to rebuild shattered Europe and Japan.

Now NATO and other Western alliances must make an effort to transform the Muslim world into societies that “no longer produce ideologies and people who want to destroy the West and increasingly have the ability to do so,” Ronald Asmus, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine.

But that’s a tall order in the polarized climate of today, where globalized media transmit the call for jihad, or holy war.

Experts see a growing cohesion among Islamic militants from cultures as diverse as North Africa and Southeast Asia. Common points of reference are found in hot spots such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“You are beginning to see a common idiom developing among those who see the West as a threat,” said David Little, a professor of religion and international affairs at Harvard Divinity School.

The battle against al Qaeda and its backers is winnable, but not without a “serious approach” to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, “clearly the hottest spot,” said Clive Williams, head of terrorism studies at the Australian National University.

Mr. Idiz, the newspaper commentator in Turkey, also sees a purely military approach as doomed: “The United States is not going to win it this way. It’s going after the mosquitoes and not draining the swamp.”

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