At stake in the Iraq war: survival of a way of life
Unless the English-speaking peoples step up, they'll lose the great struggle against radical, totalitarian Islam.
London — The English-speaking peoples of the world need to unite around their common heritage of values. And they need to sacrifice their naiveté about the true nature of war – and the losses that inevitably go with it. Otherwise, they will lose a titanic struggle with radical, totalitarian Islam.
The reason they are under such vicious attack – my home city of London came within minutes of losing up to 1,000 innocent people in an attempted nightclub bombing two weeks ago – is that they represent all that is most loathsome and terrifying for radical Islam.
Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different from the rest of "the West." They have never fallen prey to fascism or communism, nor were they (except for the Channel Islands) invaded.
They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women's rights, representative institutions – in a word, the future. This world cannot coexist with strict, public implementation of Islamic sharia law, let alone an all-powerful caliphate.
Those who still view this struggle as a mere police action against uncoordinated criminal elements, rather than as an existential war for the survival of their way of life, are blinding themselves to reality.
Sending signs of surrender
But recent news suggests the blindness is growing. Antiwar sentiment in America is swelling. As key Republicans desert the president, senators are pushing amendments to force the withdrawal of US troops. All this before US Gen. David Petraeus reports on the surge.
Are the English-speaking peoples really about to quit before Islamic totalitarianism has been defeated in Iraq? Are they seriously contemplating handing the terrorists the biggest victory since the Marines' withdrawal from Beirut? It was that surrender in 1984 that emboldened Osama bin Laden to believe that his organization could defeat a superpower. Surrender in Iraq would prove him right.
As a Briton, I cannot help thinking that if the Americans of 1776 had been so quick to quit a long, drawn-out, difficult ideological struggle, America might still be ruled by my country today.
The new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has dropped the phrases "war on terror" and "Muslim" or "Islamic" terrorism from the government's discussion of what Britons are fighting. Car bombs are going off – we just need to find non-threatening ways to describe them.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, meanwhile, English-speaking forces ignore such pusillanimity and get on with the vital job of fighting those who would turn the Middle East into a maelstrom of jihadist anarchy and terror.
We know that Al Qaeda cannot be appeased, because if they could, the French would have appeased them by now. Al Qaeda is utterly remorseless, even setting bombs (detected by authorities in time) on the Madrid-to-Seville railway line in April 2004, after Spain decided to withdraw its troops from Iraq.
Fortunately, however, the English have been here before. Thrice. Their history provides a number of apposite lessons about how to defeat this latest fascist threat.
Since 1900, the English-speaking peoples have been subjected to four great assaults: first from Prussian militarism, then by Axis aggression, then from Soviet communism. The present assault from totalitarian Islamic terrorism is simply our generation's equivalent of our forefathers' successful struggles against the three earlier fascist threats. But in this fourth and latest contest, victory is not yet in sight.
In researching my book, "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900" – a coda to Winston Churchill's classic – I visited the papers of 200 individuals in 30 archives on three continents. While there, I could not help concluding that this struggle against Islamofascism is the fourth world war. And I was repeatedly struck by how often common themes from the four struggles emerged.
Today's struggle needs to be fought in radically different ways from the last three, of course, but ideologically it is nearly identical. Look at the common factors.
Just as on 9/11, the English-speaking peoples have regularly been worsted in the opening stages of a conflict, often through surprise attack. As Paul Wolfowitz put it at a commencement in June 2001: "Surprise happens so often that it's surprising that we're surprised by it."
Examples include: The 1898 sinking of the USS Maine, the 1899 Boer invasion of Cape Colony, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II's right hook through neutral Belgium in 1914, the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, North Korea's invasion of its southern neighbor, Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, North Vietnam's decision to begin armed revolution against South Vietnam in 1959, Argentina's 1982 invasion of the Falklands, and Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Almost all were sudden, unexpected, not predicted by the intelligence services, and they left the English-speaking peoples at a disadvantage in the opening stage of the coming conflict.
The next common factor was how badly the English-speaking peoples were faring even up to three or four years into the first three great assaults on their primacy. The most dangerous moment of World War I – at least after Paris had been saved by the Battle of the Marne in 1914 – came as late as March 1918, during Germany's massive spring offensive.
In World War II, Germany's Adolf Hitler seemed to be winning the war both in Russia and the Middle East until September 1942. And had it not been for the Battle of Midway the same year, the Japanese might well have rolled up the entire Pacific theater. Just three years into the cold war – 1948 – Mao Zedong had won control of China, Hungary's Communist opponent József Cardinal Mindszenty had been arrested, and the USSR's blockade of Berlin was in place.
Simply because a victorious exit strategy is not immediately evident in Iraq or Afghanistan today does not invalidate the purpose or value of winning either conflict, as so many defeatists and left-liberal commentators argue so vociferously.
Importance of English camaraderie
The comradeship of the English-speaking peoples during the first three assaults was inspirational. On Aug. 1, 1914 – three days before Britain declared war on Germany, the New Zealand parliament voted unanimously to raise an expeditionary force to join the fight half way around the world, even though Germany posed no conceivable strategic threat to her.
It was a myth that Britain stood alone in 1940. After the successful evacuation of Allied forces at Dunkirk, France, the only two fully armed infantry divisions standing between London and a German land invasion were two Canadian divisions. Although the United States was under no direct threat from the Nazis, she far-sightedly chose to pursue the seemingly counterintuitive policy of "Germany First," even though she had actually been attacked in Hawaii by Japan.
The massive American contribution to victory in World War II has sometimes been ignored during the present bigoted frenzy of anti-Americanism spearheaded by the BBC and liberal newspapers in my country. Yet it is when the English-speaking peoples stand together that they are victorious, and only when they do not – as at Suez and in Vietnam – that they are not.
President Bush's foreign policy is denounced as neoconservative because of its reliance on preemption. Yet was George Canning a neocon when he ordered Admiral Horatio Nelson to destroy the Danish fleet at the Battle of Copenhagen to prevent it falling into Napoleon Bonaparte's hands in 1801? Was Winston Churchill a neocon for having bombarded the Dardanelles Outer Forts in November 1914, before Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire?
The right of self-protection from such threats is, as the British historian Enoch Powell has pointed out, "inherent in us" since it existed "long before the United Nations was ever thought of."
By far the most justifiable war in recent history is the one in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the government that hosted and protected Al Qaeda when it killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – and attempted to kill many more – on 9/11.
Today the war there is principally being fought by Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, and special forces contingents from New Zealand. Germany has confined its troops to the quiet north. French troops guard the Khyber Pass. Much of the rest of NATO has refused to send significant forces to the region. Once again, therefore, the English-speaking peoples find themselves in the forefront of protecting civilization.
We are told that a future US administration led by President Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would be keen to reorient foreign policy toward France and Germany, which might indeed be in America's short-term, passing, commercial interests.
The US should never forget, however, that in those moments when she is looking for true friends, it is the English-speaking peoples who stand shoulder to shoulder with her, not her fair-weather friends.
Above all, however, the American people can take great solace from the fact that they have been in this situation – or something very closely analogous to it – three times before in the last century. And each time, because of their fortitude and their refusal to accept anything less than outright victory, they have prevailed.
• Andrew Roberts is the author of "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900."