- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nobody really believes that Al Gore invented the Internet, but it seems pretty well settled that Harvard professor Samuel Huntington gave us an equally important notion. In “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” Mr. Huntington examined the nature of the post-Cold War globe, arguing that the new geopolitics would center around as many as nine entities defined not by ideology, as during the Cold War, but by civilizations — aggregates of language, ethnicity, religion, tradition and custom. Among these, Mr. Huntington identified the West and Islam.

The concept of the core state is central to his analysis. All of the major civilizations identified by Mr. Huntington are led by a major player or core state. The United States is, arguably, the core state of the West, while China leads the Sinic civilization, Russia, the Orthodox, and so on. Mr. Huntington opined that overt warfare between core states is unlikely in the near term because of the severe costs of such conflicts. Instead, local conflicts within or between states allied with, or part of, major civilizations may occur, but under the watchful eyes of the core states so as to avoid unacceptable escalation. In a sense, it can be argued that this is an extension of Cold War realities in which the United States and the Soviets, while enemies, understood that direct warfare might well mean the end of life on Earth.

The most significant point Mr. Huntington made, I believe, is that there is no core Islamic state. While a number of countries have sought that role — Egypt, Libya and more recently Iran — none has prevailed. This is not a favorable state of affairs for at least two reasons.

First, without an Islamic core state, our technologically superior military is relatively powerless to resolve conflicts involving our interests when challenged by Islamic forces, as in Iraq and Lebanon, to say nothing about terrorist attacks outside the Middle East. It is by now clear that of the four “wars” fought by this country during the 20th century, the last two did not end with victory. Of course, these conflicts — Korea and Vietnam — were not wars at all because there was no “enemy,” meaning a state, that we were fighting against. In each case, we deployed troops in support of secondary states, but were unable or unwilling to “declare war” on North Korea and North Vietnam. The strategic wisdom of this policy notwithstanding, it truly forced us to fight with one hand tied.

Perhaps more serious is the absence of any core Islamic state accountable for the terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. It’s the old terror two-step: It was not the Palestinians who killed the Israeli athletes, it was Black September; Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa are the suicide bombers, not the Palestinian people; the Lebanese are suffering “collective punishment” for the actions of Hezbollah. Lest we forget, September 11 was celebrated with dancing in the streets all over the Muslim Middle East, Hamas now controls the Palestinian Authority, and Hezbollah, the rising star of the Arab world, is likely to dominate the Lebanese government soon.

There is little doubt that much of our trouble with the Muslim world can be laid at the doorstep of Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actively funding Hezbollah, providing it with relatively advanced weaponry and training, espousing anti-Semitism in a manner not seen from a head of state since Hitler and defying the entire world with his attempts to gain nuclear capability.

He sees himself as the new king of the region and Iran as the Islamic core state. And we fear him — not so much because he is strong but because we have seen how difficult it is to wage war in the region. Our stated policy is that Iran will not be allowed to become the dominant Islamic power or to complete its nuclear program. But how will we stop it? International pressure did not prevent a nuclear North Korea, and conventional military wisdom rules out an invasion of Iran based on our experience in Iraq.

I suggest that a good case can be made, were Iran to become the Islamic core state, for an old-fashioned war between the U.S. and Iran directly — if and when it becomes necessary. We realized during World War II that only complete defeat of the Axis powers would suffice. Perhaps we can’t subdue Iran through a ground invasion, but we could very well utilize air power, not to defeat a large, well-equipped army like Iran’s, but to destroy the infrastructure and war-making capability of an enemy with which we were actually at war.

We avoided unbearable ground casualties in WWII this way. The very idea might give even a lunatic like Ahmadinejad reason to reconsider his options.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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