WORLD MARCHING FASTER to INTERNATIONAL WAR
MER- MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 16 January: American TV is filled these evenings with CIA, Pentagon and Presidential plots, coups, and strikes -- from Alias to E-Ring to The West Wing, Commander-in-Chief and 24.
the incessant big-budget movies and dramas 'real life' has taken on new
nearly-daily daily intriques as well. Last year it was
secret torture prisons, 'rendition', and so much more. A few
days ago it was the CIA's strike in Pakistan that has set that country
on the edge of rebellion. About the same time the American
President was lashing out from the White House bully pulpit, with no
less than the new German Chancellor at his side, against Iran.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians have now been imprisoned on their own
walled-in lands and seemingly everywhere there is the rise of resurgent
Islam in juxtaposition to that of fundamentalist Christianity and
anti-Arab Zionist Judaism.
Joining the rising chorus is a growing group
of sometimes neo-con, sometimes evangelical, sometimes hustling and/or
sponsored academics. They are now contributing to the growing
'New World Order' hysteria that now dominates American political life
through the pages of associated magazines and newspapers. While
Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson for instance is right indeed to be
warning about the great dangers now immediately ahead, his analogies
and heroes are so misguided and off the mark one has to wonder just who
is really orchestrating and behind this kind of thing. This Ferguson
article appeared over the weekend in The Telegraph published in the U.K.
The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented
By Professor Niall Ferguson
we living through the origins of the next world war? Certainly,
it is easy to imagine how a future historian might deal with the next
of events in the Middle East:
every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of
the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the
combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and
scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place.
first underlying cause of the war was the increase in the region's
relative importance as a source of petroleum. On the one hand, the rest
of the world's oil reserves were being rapidly exhausted. On the other,
the breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in
global demand for energy. It is hard to believe today, but for most of
the 1990s the price of oil had averaged less than $20 a barrel.
second precondition of war was demographic. While European fertility
had fallen below the natural replacement rate in the 1970s, the decline
in the Islamic world had been much slower. By the late 1990s the
fertility rate in the eight Muslim countries to the south and east of
the European Union was two and half times higher than the European
This tendency was especially pronounced in
Iran, where the social conservatism of the 1979 Revolution - which had
lowered the age of marriage and prohibited contraception - combined
with the high mortality of the Iran-Iraq War and the subsequent baby
boom to produce, by the first decade of the new century, a quite
extraordinary surplus of young men. More than two fifths of the
population of Iran in 1995 had been aged 14 or younger. This was the
generation that was ready to fight in 2007.
not only gave Islamic societies a youthful energy that contrasted
markedly with the slothful senescence of Europe. It also signified a
profound shift in the balance of world population. In 1950, there had
three times as many people in Britain as in Iran. By 1995, the
population of Iran had overtaken that of Britain and was forecast to be
50 per cent higher by 2050.
Yet people in the
West struggled to grasp the implications of this shift. Subliminally,
they still thought of the Middle East as a region they could lord it
over, as they had in the mid-20th century.
third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural.
Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had
been swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the
process of secularisation that was emptying Europe's churches.
few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy,
there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to
Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated
Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from
The ideological cocktail that
produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies
the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism.
Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal
moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intemperate
attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called the Holocaust a
'myth'. The state of Israel was a 'disgraceful blot', he had previously
declared, to be wiped 'off the map'.
2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against
their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the
hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the
Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on
explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran's nuclear weapons programme
was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded
in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to
obliterate America's closest regional ally.
different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart
Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of
pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981.
Similar strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by
neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they
argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the
bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence
proving Iran's contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice,
to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American
opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq
in 2003 had been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass
destruction Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure
of the US-led coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.
did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they
wanted to reduce them. Europeans did not want to hear that Iran was
about to build its own WMD. Even if Ahmad-inejad had broadcast a
nuclear test live on CNN, liberals would have said it was a CIA
So history repeated itself. As in the
1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations
and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the
Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to
international agencies - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the
United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China's veto, however, the
UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions,
like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals.
one man might have stiffened President Bush's resolve in the crisis:
not Tony Blair, he had wrecked his domestic credibility over Iraq and
was in any case on the point of retirement - Ariel Sharon. Yet he had
been struck down by a stroke as the Iranian crisis came to a head. With
Israel leaderless, Ahmadinejad had a free hand.
in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps,
some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic
position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian
clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last
thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only
bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in
Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the
deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.
gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade
enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation,
already interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively
shattered. Now Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And
the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed
right back at Teheran.
The optimists argued that
the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both
sides would threaten war - and then both sides would blink. That was
Secretary Rice's hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled between
the capitals. But it was not to be.
devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the
failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said
it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of
interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite
population overran the remaining American bases in their country and
the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.
the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of
the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original
principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in
2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And
the Great Gulf War might never have happened.
• Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University