This article originally appears in The American Thinker
As I recline in my virtual hammock this lovely Midwestern midsomer’s day, feeling the warm, gentle breezes as they waft across my face (”God’s air conditioning” we call it out here), my thoughts turn to the currents and eddies of history that are churning just below the placid surface of the mundane, the day to day happenings in the world. Another war here. Some kind of dust-up in Africa. Is there no end to Asian “economic miracles?” And old man Europe, grown senile and oblivious to all but its ever growing number of pensioners, waits patiently, almost willingly, for the sword of Allah to smite them.
It is what’s happening behind history’s curtain that is actually what matters. Demographers call them “trends.” Historians might refer to them as “underlying forces.” Judging by what these trends or forces are telling us, there is absolutely no reason for an American living at this time in history to be optimistic about much of anything.
It could be that my “black dog” has a hold of me today and that tomorrow I’ll wake up and take a deep breath, ready to go out and face the dragons again with a sneer and a smile. Or it could be the melancholy thought that summer is nearly over and the prospect of facing another Chicago winter depresses me. (I used to wonder why older people in the Midwest moved to Florida and Arizona when they retired. No longer.).
But upon reflection, I think not. This is more than a passing wave of unease, more than a troubling flutter in the pit of my stomach. The world is changing in ways we can barely grasp. We are unable to discern the true nature of our discontent because in a way, it is hard to believe that things could change so quickly that our perceptions about events have become either obsolete or laughably false.
When in doubt, blame Bush. But truthfully, what is happening below history’s radar has been in motion since before the Berlin Wall fell. Some decisions we’ve made in the last decade and a half have exacerbated our dilemma. Others have simply put off the inevitable. All told, where we are today is the result of many things beyond our control - birthrates, political changes in other countries, an aging population in the west, and a flexing of political and military muscle by an emerging reaction to modernity itself. The world in the 21st century is moving too fast, leaving too many behind. And the rush to catch up is going to get very bloody.
We are not just facing Islamic fundamentalism as a foe. We are also fighting the unrealized expectations of most of the planet’s inhabitants. Those expectations have been raised to stratospheric heights largely as a result of the accomplishments of the west. In some quarters, this has bred resentment, a belief that our success has come at the expense of others who are more worthy, more deserving in the eyes of Allah. In many, these expectations have fueled dreams of freedom and a belief that anything is possible if you are brave, work hard, and have faith in the future.
I regret to say there are many, many more of the former than there are of the latter. As I write this, it has becoming enormously hazardous for the freedom seekers to preach their gospel of change and hope.
In Lebanon, the Cedar Revolution is becoming a distant memory. The coalition of well meaning but ultimately weak politicians were unable to face the prospect of confronting the evil in their midst. They thought that they had all the time in the world to deal with Hizbullah, to try and fit them someplace into their crazy quilt patchwork of a confessional society - not realizing that somewhere, a clock was ticking and that their ever vigilant and determined neighbor to the north could only allow so much provocation before taking matters into their own hands in order to insure their own survival.
Now as they survey the wreckage of their country and of their revolution, dark hints from Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah point to a post-war Lebanon where opposition to the terrorists means signing you own death warrant. How that drama will play out is anyone’s guess.
In Iraq, hope has turned to despair as a bloody cycle of revenge killings is spiraling out control, aided and abetted by the anti-American, pro-Iranian zealot Muqtada al-Sadr. The agony of the Iraqi people has been made worse by a strange paralysis that has gripped the government who seem unable and unwilling to disarm the militias and stop the killing.
Both Nasrallah and al-Sadr are being goaded on by the Iranians and their crazed but canny leader President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Caught with his hand in the nuclear cookie jar more than once, the world still seems unwilling to take the steps necessary to keep the most powerful weapon in the world out of the hands of the most irresponsible leader in the world. If ever a recipe for unmitigated disaster was staring us right in the face, it is a nuclear capable Ahmadinejad and his unhinged hatred for Israel and the United States.
In Somalia, where a group calling themselves the Islamic Judges is systematically turning that forlorn and war torn land into a future base for jihad to Darfur where the slaughter continues unmercifully, to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, - good and decent men everywhere seem to be in the grip of some horrible debilitating disease that saps their strength and steals their hope.
Then there are the deliberately self deluded who are either too stupid or too cowardly to recognize the evil in the first place. With a cognitive dissonance that would be laughable in less serious times, they blame the violence on those who are responding to the violence. Perhaps the apogee of this phenomenon occurred when the Secretary General of the United Nations opined that it appears that the State of Israel had committed a war crime by accidentally bombing a building in Qana, Lebanon killing 28 civilians while never mentioning that Israel’s enemy gleefully launches barrage after barrage of murderous rockets at Israeli cities deliberately trying to kill as many innocents as possible.
Hizbullah and other terrorists are actually being cheered on by people all over the world who view both Israel and the United States through the same darkened prism of hate and envy. Thanks to the wonders of modern media, they see how those who practice the secular religion of western freedom and tolerance live apparently without want, without cares. Their own desperate poverty and hopelessness seems more a product of conspiracy carried out by those so much better off than the result of their own wretched politics and economic choices. In an almost childish way, they seek to graft 21st century western miracles onto the back of their 19th century lifestyle. The inevitable disappointment when the graft doesn’t take only enrages them further.
Just about half of the United States wishes to confront this evil head on. The numbers are much less elsewhere. And we are finding in Iraq and everywhere else that our military sophistication isn’t enough to bring victory. We can vanquish armies. But we can’t snap our fingers and rid the world of hopelessness and envy. It seems the more we do to protect ourselves and try to help others face the threat, the forces arrayed against us gain strength and influence.
The war in the Middle East could be a hinge of history that opens a door to reveal an entirely different world than the one we are living in now. It could be that the confluence of a perceived Israeli defeat at the hands of Hizbullah and the defeat of Republicans in November thanks in no small part to what is happening in Iraq could presage a much more cautious approach to dealing with our enemies.
I can think of nothing more disastrous. Our foes will not vouchsafe us breathing room to try and figure out what to do next. He will in fact redouble his efforts in Iraq and elsewhere, going for the kill, believing quite rightly that he has us on the ropes. What we will congratulate ourselves for - our forbearance and “understanding” - will be seen as weakness and a lack of resolve by the enemy. It will do nothing to deter him and will in fact embolden him in ways we can only dimly perceive.
The crisis in the Middle East has shown us that the enemy is playing for keeps. And if we are to safely cross the threshold of this doorway to a new world, we are going to have to remember that one salient fact. Otherwise, our enemy will remind us of it in ways that are too horrible to contemplate.