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History, Coming Up!

December 3, 2002

A decade ago, the neoconservative publicity machine was touting the idea that the world had reached “the end of history,” in the instantly famous phrase of Francis Fukuyama. And a happy ending it was! The forces of “democratic capitalism” had triumphed over the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century — Communism, Nazis, and Fascism.

Since then, alas, history has been rearing its ugly head again. It turns out that history had been prematurely consigned to the dustbin of history.

The United States is at war yet again — a War on Terrorism, as it’s called, though it actually seems to be a War on Evil Arabs — Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, whoever — while the Arabs see it as a War on Islam. Jonathan Raban, an excellent student of the Arab-Muslim world, observes that millions of poor Arabs now name their baby boys Osama.

Arab weaponry can’t begin to match the American military, so this war won’t be fought on battlefields. It will be fought wherever the Arab warriors and their Muslim allies choose to fight it. So far they have struck mostly at “soft” targets — nonmilitary defenseless civilian targets — in places as disparate as New York, Bali, and Kenya, causing enormous terror and disruption. There are large Arab communities throughout Europe and even in the lawless “triple border” of South America, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet.

The Thanksgiving attacks on Israeli property in Kenya may tell us what to expect in the future. The suicide bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel is the sort of thing we’ve already come to take in stride. The failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane is another matter. Shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles could have devastating impact on the precarious airline industry and on tourism around the world.

[Breaker quote: The womb of time]The Arab-American War — for that’s what it boils down to — could go on forever, making a lot of history along the way. Striking at Arab states like Iraq won’t make any difference, because those states are artificial creations of Western imperialism anyway. They neither control the Arab warriors nor command their loyalty. As Raban points out, the warriors despise the Arab dictators, whom they regard as “usurpers,” traitors to Islam.

Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and radical Muslims in general would be happy to see the United States destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime. They want to see all the Arab dictatorships destroyed and replaced by a vast Islamic empire, with the existing borders erased. And of course they haven’t the faintest desire to adopt or emulate the model of “democratic capitalism.”

So President Bush’s misconceived War on Terrorism could easily wind up serving the purposes of the terrorists. That’s history for you — full of cunning ironies.

The Israelis (and their agents in this country’s government and press) also want the United States to topple the Arab regimes, their enemies. Not for the first time, Israeli interests and those of the radical Muslims coincide. Both sides want endless war between Americans and Arabs. Whether this is good for Americans is of no concern to them.

And what will the war mean for ordinary Americans? We are already seeing sharp changes in our way of life, as “national security” trumps customary freedoms. American businesses, embassies, and tourists will face increasing danger all over the world. At home, the power of the state will expand, perhaps to totalitarian dimensions. Limited government will become an ever more distant memory.

Not that most Americans will mind. In fact, many of them are already clamoring for more government powers to defeat terrorism. They believe in curtailing freedom in order to defend it. The government can count on plenty of support for harsh and unconstitutional measures.

Nobody can predict where all this will end. History is full of surprises. You may know all the balls on the pool table, but you can’t foresee how they will ricochet when the cue ball breaks them.

But it’s always unwise to suppose that anyone can control history’s patterns. The U.S. Government will probably defeat the Iraqi regime, but how the balls will ricochet during and after the war is another matter entirely — especially since Bush and his inner circle haven’t stopped to ask themselves whether they’re fighting the right enemy.

As the poet says: “There are many events in the womb of time, which will be delivered.”

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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of Griffin Internet Syndicate

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