- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

Imagine the scene. A radical Muslim army, achieving a long-sought opening, advances on Western Europe. Spain is the point of origin, and then the army turns north for France.

A battle to end all battles ensues. The Muslim army’s leader is killed. The Muslim army dissolves and retreats. The West breaths a sigh of relief. Western leaders, including the Christian leader of the Western army, conclude that the last battle has been waged, and won, against the aberrant, volcanic threat posed by radical Islam.

Imagine no more. That battle actually occurred this day — 1,473 years ago, Oct. 10, 732 A.D. It is known as the Battle of Tours. We know a good deal about that cultural and military encounter. From that encounter, the West grew stronger and wiser — for a time.

The Western leader was Charles Martel; his son Pepin was father of the renowned Western warrior, Charlemagne. Radical Muslims would not trouble Charlemagne’s vast empire for some time. Why? Because Charlemagne’s understanding of the threat he faced was deep and personal. His resolve was unshakable. His memory was nothing if not long.

Fast forward to this week, that narrow slice of history we are now living. Iraq — frothing with radical Islamic elements — is embarked on the next step in a long climb toward democracy, simple self-rule. They are part of a radical experiment in world history, tamping down and eventually taming the forces of violent, radical Islam, at least in one beleaguered country. The Iraqis, and we, seek to create a permanent counter-force to radical religious violence, spurring an historical paradigm shift. We want to change what is viewed as possible, flip a few faces on the Rubic’s Cube, and find an enduring answer.

If the experiment succeeds, the Iraqi’s capacity for self-rule becomes a beacon for others who now wrestle against radical Islam. If they learn how to absorb and manage dissent, discover virtues in peace, find relief in nonkilling, craft a culturally acceptable framework for protecting individual rights through the rule of law, Iraq will prove democracy can work anywhere. If the cake bakes, Iraq will assume an enormous role on the world stage, a seminal place in world history.

If Iraq crumbles, if this grand gambit on the culturally adaptable nature of democracy fails; if our or their commitment falters, we are back to the days of Charles Martel, Pepin and Charlemagne. Only worse: Not just France or Western Europe will be at risk, but the larger role of democracy in world history.

OK, slow down. Charlemagne was one thing, but this week seems to be about like last week, and this business about high stakes and an effect on world history is bit much for morning coffee. Makes the doughnut go down hard. Hurts the head. Can’t we simplify this a little?

Point taken. Let’s slow it down a bit, bring this discussion to Earth, regain perspective. You are right. In fact, 1,473 years ago is long time. The Battle of Tours sounds more like a summertime problem in Washington or Florida, than something we need to worry on.

Let’s put it this way. This week in 732 A.D., Charles Martel’s coffee didn’t have time to get cold. He had no time to worry if his grandson, Charlemagne, would or would not take the short way to peace in the Middle East. He had a war to fight — and win.

Today, the stakes are about the same. The threat is from a similarly violent force. The need to win is overwhelming. We have a chance to make this the last battle. And your coffee is getting cold.

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-‘05, is president of the Charles Group in Gaithersburg, Md.

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