The Long Global War on Terror

The opening of a new Norman Podhoretz piece titled The Case for Bombing Iran:

Although many persist in denying it, I continue to believe that what September 11, 2001 did was to plunge us headlong into nothing less than another world war. I call this new war World War IV, because I also believe that what is generally known as the cold war was actually World War III, and that this one bears a closer resemblance to that great conflict than it does to World War II. Like the cold war, as the military historian Eliot Cohen was the first to recognize, the one we are now in has ideological roots, pitting us against Islamofascism, yet another mutation of the totalitarian disease we defeated first in the shape of Nazism and fascism and then in the shape of Communism; it is global in scope; it is being fought with a variety of weapons, not all of them military; and it is likely to go on for decades.

What follows from this way of looking at the last five years is that the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be understood if they are regarded as self-contained wars in their own right. Instead we have to see them as fronts or theaters that have been opened up in the early stages of a protracted global struggle. [emphasis Murdoc’s]

I’ve long called this struggle World War 4, and I often refer to the “campaign” in Iraq. This might seem like splitting hairs so some, but many times in conversation I’ve found myself unable to communicate effectively with someone who fails (or refuses) to see that we’re in locked in a World War.

Podhoretz points out some parallels with earlier times that bear thinking about:

By 1938, Germany under Adolf Hitler had for some years been rearming in defiance of its obligations under the Versailles treaty and other international agreements. Yet even though Hitler in Mein Kampf had explicitly spelled out the goals he was now preparing to pursue, scarcely anyone took him seriously. To the imminent victims of the war he was soon to start, Hitler’s book and his inflammatory speeches were nothing more than braggadocio or, to use the more colorful word Hannah Arendt once applied to Adolf Eichmann, rodomontade: the kind of red meat any politician might throw to his constituents at home.

Many things seem totally obvious after the fact that appeared uncertain or even unlikely before. We curse those who appeased Germany in the 1930s. Podhoretz wonders if we’ll be cursed by those in the future if we spend too much time appeasing Iran.

Since hope springs eternal, some now believe that the answer lies in more punishing sanctions. This time, however, their purpose would be not to force Iran into compliance, but to provoke an internal uprising against Ahmadinejad and the regime as a whole. Those who advocate this course tell us that the –mullocracy” is very unpopular, especially with young people, who make up a majority of Iran’s population. They tell us that these young people would like nothing better than to get rid of the oppressive and repressive and corrupt regime under which they now live and to replace it with a democratic system. And they tell us, finally, that if Iran were so transformed, we would have nothing to fear from it even if it were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Once upon a time, under the influence of Bernard Lewis and others I respect, I too subscribed to this school of thought. But after three years and more of waiting for the insurrection they assured us back then was on the verge of erupting, I have lost confidence in their prediction.

I, too, have pretty much lost hope that Iran will rise up. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I think it would have happened in 2003 or 2004 if it was going to happen. Every month that passes lessens the likelihood significantly, I think.

Podhoretz thinks the only way to stop Iran is to go to war with them. I fear he might be right, and I fear that we might wait until it’s too late.

It’s a bit long, but it’s probably worth it to read the whole thing.

UPDATE: GeekLethal notes that there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the phrase “bomb Iran”, and he’s right. In the comments section, we discuss “war with Iran”, and that, too, seems to be often mischaracterized as Operation Iraqi Freedom all over again. It’s not. At least I sure hope it’s not. Go read.


  1. but many times in conversation I’ve found myself unable to communicate effectively with someone who fails (or refuses) to see that we’re in locked in a World War’ Boy is that a understatement. This is the key central primary PROBLEM. Bush has totally failed to rally and explain to the people in laymans terms what we are facing, what we MUST do, and what if we fail. Context like ‘While 3k casualties is hard felt and everyone irriplaceble by historical comparison it is a great never expected teastement to our military that they invaded, conquered, then occupied to highly hostile populations on the other side of the world for 4yrs running with only 3k casualties.’ Then on top of this for it to be done with only around 4.5% of military spending less than even the peace time 80’s military of 6 something, and of course the kicker with a all volunteer only military. Amazing not failure, not suffocating, not demoralizing, but amazingly succesfull. I wish one of the canadites would step out and straight challenge the media and just say he is running for the troops the country. Say that he is going to make speech after speech until everyone fully comprehends the threat the current situation Historical context consequences of failure possibilities of success and we CAN and WILL hold the current level for decades if nessecary. Defeat is not a option unless we MAKE IT SO. Terrorist can only kill thier fellow Muslims for so long until those muslims turn on them and join the lesser evil the Infidels. This process has just begun and if we can hold heart may just complete and result in our not having to kill 20% of the world muslim population 200 million people worth in the future BY OURSELVES.

  2. Bush’s problem is that he fights like a little girl. It’s not entirely his fault. Pretty much all 3 decades of a procurement system designed to do nothing but maximize the amount of money in the pockets of aerospace CEOs has left us with nothing but sissy weapons and Generals. It doesn’t matter what you call it or what number you give it. We don’t know how to fight a war to win. We don’t have what it takes. To win a war you have to defeat and demoralize the nation you are fighting to the point that they no longer have the will to fight. You don’t do that with precision bombs and guided munitions. You don’t do that by marching into the capital and pulling down a statue of their dictator. The fact that we think that would work shows what a bunch of pussies we really are. If we are going to win another war, we will win it like we won WW2. We will bomb the hell out of the country and over run the place with hundreds of thousands of troops who kill everything that moves, rather than with ten thousand who are afraid to shoot anything for fear of being second guessed and brought up on charges later. Until we have the stones to fight a war as it should be fought, we should quit the bs rhetoric and saber rattling and leave our troops at home. They deserve a hell of a lot better than being left to die in some God forsaken puke hole like Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

  3. First, I don’t intend to follow any Neo-Conservative again. Their agenda and that of the USA are not necessarily the same. The only potential benefit of a democrat victory in November 2008 is to rid DC of them. Second, how many wars do you want to start with nations that have not attacked us? Third, has anybody thought through what a war with Iran would entail? Judging by the way they have screwed the pooch in Iraq, these are the last guys I want planning and executing a war with Iran.

  4. First: You mean like how Democrat victories in the House and Senate cleaned up Congress and ended the culture of corruption? Second: It’s interesting that you ask ‘how many wars do you want to start with nations that have not attacked us?’ in response to a piece that talks so much about World War 2. Third: War with Iran doesn’t necessarily entail a general ground invasion or a war of conquest. I don’t know that anyone really ‘wants’ a war with them in the first place, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Don’t forget 9/11/41.

  5. The best way to beat Iran is to build Iraq and Afghanistan into real states with hope. Provide a positive light in that region where the ideology of revenge and religion can be countered by ideology of raising your kids, and seeking a better life. Iran is not a very stable country and if prodded indirectly, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.

  6. MO, First, Neo conservative does not mean republican. Their roots were based in the socialist movement of the 1930s and 1940s. The fact that I will not follow a neo conservative does not mean I am a democrat. In regards to the democrats in congress, republicans have no one to blame but themselves for giving away congress. They strayed from their principles. Second, the piece was entitled the case for bombing Iran and the presumed purpose of the piece is to move public opinion towards that direction. That is why I expressed frustration with attacking another nation that has not attacked us. Third, if war in Iran doesn’t entail a ground invasion, what then does it entail? Are we just going to bomb a few nuclear sites? Will this cause the great mass of Iranian people to overthrow their leaders and usher in Jeffersonian democracy? How will the Iranians respond? Will agents infiltrate the US and perform domestic terrorism? Will the Shiites attack our forces in Iraq? Will oil rise to $300/barrel and wreck our economy?

  7. I’m not sure that I’ve heard anyone anywhere ever say that the reason we’d attack Iran had anything to do with setting up a democracy. Everything I’ve ever heard entailed precision strikes for the specific purpose of derailing their nuclear program. I could be wrong and some folks could be saying some different things. But I haven’t heard it and I don’t think the article is talking about that.

  8. …country that has not attacked us.’ Iran? Buh? This is the country that, as far as I know, invented the concept of suicide bombing. They’ve attacked the U.S. repeatedly. They’re clever – they don’t do it directly. I guess they’re clever enough to have fooled at least one person. And hey – don’t like neo-cons? Too bad. That’s probably what I am. I used to be a ‘liberal’ – in fact in many ways I still am – but then I realized how much propaganda I was being fed. Now I want politicians to act based on how the world is, not how they wish it were. Just because I’d LIKE to avoid war with Iran doesn’t mean that it’s actually beneficial in the long run. I honestly don’t know, but to assume that it is without thinking critically about the consequences is crazy. Then again the whole anti-Iraq BDS thing has made a lot of people crazy. They no longer thing logically any more – if they ever did.

  9. MO, I made the statement about democracy because that is the general plan in the middle east. Regime change and the spread of democracy will make the world a safer place. Or so it goes. How are we going to accomplish our objectives in Iran. Do we invade and perform a regime change? Do we bomb and hope that the people rise up and overthrow their government?

  10. Nicholas, a couple of points in response to your post. A liberal is not the opposite of a neo con. A better description of me is a paleo con like Pat Buchanan. I sure hope you don’t consider Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul liberals. I would be more comfortable with The American Conservative versus the Weekly Standard. As for the Iranians, I don’t think we have been attacked by the them. If anything the Iranians have a beef against us for helping to overthrow their government in the 1950s and bringing the Shah to power. They also are probably still upset by the downing of one of their airliners by the USS Vincennes in 1989. I don’t recall the Iranians doing anything similar to us.

  11. How are we going to accomplish our objectives in Iran. Do we invade and perform a regime change? Do we bomb and hope that the people rise up and overthrow their government? I thought I already explained that the military action I think might be called for, the military action everyone else I’ve heard of thinks might be called for, and the military action advocated by the article I linked to says is called for doesn’t have anything to do with any ‘rising up’ or any ‘regime change’. Seriously. It would be, as I said ‘precision strikes for the specific purpose of derailing their nuclear program’. I wasn’t just spouting off random words. That’s what I meant. As for the Iranians, I don’t think we have been attacked by the them. That’s ludicrous. Bonus points for blaming America for their actions though, which apparently don’t include them attacking us. Speaking of the USS Vincennes in 1989, what was that ship doing there? Just out sight seeing? Some random ship shooting for no reason at nothing? Or was there, perhaps, some reason to think that there might be an Iranian threat of one sort or another? Not defending the shooting down of the airliner. But there was a bit of a war on, you know. Just saying.

  12. Let’s not forget the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut either – conducted by Hamas, which is one of the major terrorist arms of Iran. Those Marines were on a peace-keeping mission, for god’s sake, and Iranian proxies killed them by the hundreds. Iran also violated the USA’s sovereign territory by invading the embassy in Tehran. How are these not attacks? I have no idea who Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo or Ron Paul are. I’ve heard the names before but that’s all. I do think, however, that ‘realist’ conservatives are just as crazy as radical leftists. They thing policies such as supporting Saddam in his war against Iran were a good idea and we should go back to that model. It’s as if they can’t learn from their mistakes.

  13. MO, You think a few precision strikes will do the trick? It might delay their program, but if they want nukes it is not going to prevent them from getting them eventually. But let’s say your strikes damage their facilities and temporarily sidetracks their program. Then what. Has anyone thought through the consequences of this action? Will Iran just let it go or will they coordinate some asymmetric response that we haven’t planned for. Will our troops in Iraq be attacked by hordes of Shiites? Will their supply lines be cutoff from Kuwait? Will our porous borders be infiltrated by islamic radicals intent on revenge? You say it’s ludicrous that I said Iran has never attacked the USA. Can you list some examples? I am saddened you threw out the ‘Blame America’ card. I don’t consider it blaming America when I pointed out we helped overthrow their government for the Shah. You are correct about the Vincennes. It was not over there for fun. It was there patrolling the gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, which by the way was an Iraqi aggression against Iran in which we gave support to the Iraqis. I am sure the Vincennes did not shoot the Airbus down deliberately, but the fact is it was shot down.

  14. Err sorry, I meant Hezbollah, not Hamas of course. I was just reading an article on this brewing civil war in the Palestinian territories and got the names mixed up…

  15. Nicholas, Buchanan is a very interesting guy. Even if you don’t agree with him, he is a pleasure to listen to because you learn something new each time you hear him. He has a way of working in historical references, such as something that Napoleon might have said, in describing a current issue. He has been around for about 35 years. He started work in the Nixon white house and later worked in the Reagan white house as communications director. Because of his experience he is able to relay many stories about Nixon and Reagan and what it’s like to work behind the scenes. He started the Crossfire program on CNN during the 1980s when that show was good. He also ran for president in 1992, 1996 and 2000. He has written several books notably Death of the West, A Republic not an Empire, and State of Emergency. The latter was especially good in detailing the current crisis on our southern border. As for Tancredo and Paul, they are both republican congressmen who are strong opponents of illegal immigration.

  16. But let’s say your strikes damage their facilities and temporarily sidetracks their program. Then what. Has anyone thought through the consequences of this action? Will Iran just let it go or will they coordinate some asymmetric response that we haven’t planned for.’ Of course we’ve thought about it. Are you implying we’re stupid or something? If they co-ordinate some asymmetric response you haven’t planned for you hit them, again, hard. If they keep doing it, you hit them harder and harder until they can’t stand it any more and they quit. That’s how war works. You keep hitting them until they surrender. The US has hundreds of times the combat power of Iran and can pound Iranian government, military, communication and economic interests endlessly until everything their leaders are proud of are smoking holes. And you think they wouldn’t fold under that kind of assault? ‘Will our troops in Iraq be attacked by hordes of Shiites?’ I hope so. US troops are vastly superior to enemy hordes and will make short work of them. Guerilla tactics are successful precisely because they do not involve hordes. They involve small groups and hit and run attacks. As soon as the attacks are made by ‘hordes’, they will start losing, badly. ‘Will their supply lines be cutoff from Kuwait?’ This is a threat the US could trivially defeat. The Gulf War showed us that. ‘Will our porous borders be infiltrated by islamic radicals intent on revenge?’ If they haven’t been already, what makes you think they’ll start now? It’s not that they don’t already have the desire. Either they’ve already penetrated and are biding their time, or they’re not really capable.

  17. And I should point out, OBVIOUSLY any such strikes would be first directed at all Iranian assets that can threaten shipping in the straights. This has been discussed repeatedly. You’d strike at a time when all four of their subs are in port, and take them out, along with all coastal and mobile missile batteries that can be targeted, surface vessels, coastal artillery, etc. Iran isn’t the only oil supplier to the world, and isn’t the biggest one either. If their oil stops moving it will hurt them FAR more than it will hurt you. They will be begging to come to the negotiation table as their country will be falling apart. They rely on that money very heavily. A short-term hike in oil prices with a medium-term tail would be a small price to pay for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

  18. Nicholas, Based upon what has happened in Iraq, I am not at all confident we have thought this thing through. So yes, I am worried about a hasty attack. I am especially worried about our forces in Iraq and how they might be hit in retaliation. In Iraq our troops are not organized into large formations on bases anymore. They are being redeployed in smaller platoon size elements (I believe) to individual neighborhoods to help keep the peace. If this is correct, it is a good strategy to end sectarian violence. However, if the 60% of Iraq that is Shiite gets pissed over an attack on Iran, I am afraid we would face many little Alamos with our troops in Iraq. It would not take much to surround a platoon. Second, supplies are off loaded in Kuwait and trucked north through Shiite country to Baghdad and beyond. Once again I believe the Shiites could cause havoc here. Remember, for the most part the Shiites are not fighting us. Yes we did clash with Al-Sadr’s militia, but for the most part we are fighting the Sunnis. If all of a sudden the Shiites attacked us with the Sunnis, we would face some trouble real fast. As for oil, a shock to the Iranian supply would cause trouble. Any cutback in Iranian oil will cause the price of oil to rise. We don’t buy Iranian oil, but others who do will be forced to buy their oil from our suppliers which will cause a price increase. In addition, a war in the gulf will cause a ‘insurance premium’ for tankers transiting the gulf which will cause a price increase. I have seen estimates as high as $300/barrel. Currently oil trades around $65/barrel. That price increase would really hit the world economy hard.

  19. Please note, I am not advocating an attack on Iran.. I haven’t studied the situation thoroughly enough, I have no idea whether it would be a good idea in the long term, and in general it’s not the kind of thing I would advocate. However, I think they could be quite easily defeated. Their greatest strength, oil, is also their greatest weakness. They have more of an incentive to avoid conflict than we do, since the consequences would be worse for them than us (us meaning the Western World in general). Thus, we should find a way to use the thread of conflict to cause them to fold diplomatically. However, they have to believe we’d be willing to fight them for that to work. I’m sure Iran could cause some trouble in places like Iraq. Would it be much more trouble than there already is? I don’t know. If they could, why aren’t they doing it now? Lord knows they hate you enough – all that ‘Death to America’ schtick. Anyway I just don’t buy that outsmarting and defeating them is that hard. They want us to believe they’re stronger than they actually are, and to some extent, it works.

  20. Nicholas, I remember- distinctly- the media coverage fo the Iraqi armed forces in the weeks before GW1. Lots of furrowed brows and worried, serious tones about the million man, desert-hardened army of veterans that had umpty-thousand tanks and hella-thousand artillery pieces. Oh, and the Republican Guard were super studs who ate barbed wire and pissed napalm, too.

  21. While I don’t agree that Iran has not attacked us, and I don’t agree they are not a threat to our national interests, I also think it is stupid and pointless to drop a few dozen smart bombs on them and pretend like we’ve done something. That is the wimp approach, the same kind of wimp approach we took in Iraq, and see how well that’s gone. Frankly, I don’t care I Iraq attacked us. We have a national interest in the stability of that region. They had threatened that stability when they attacked Kwait. They had not abided by international agreements put in place after we kicked their sorry asses out of Kwait. We should have taught them a lesson in this war, and if we had we would not be having problems with Iran now. It is better to not act than act like a wimp. Now that the whole world knows we are a bunch of pathetic weaklings, we will continue to have problems until we grow a pair or are over run. As we seem to be in the process of being over run now, that seems the more likely scenario.

  22. I don’t know if anyone is still paying attention to this thread, but I thought it interesting the recent news reports showing probable Chinese involvement in supplying weapons to insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Basically, I maintain Iran has not attacked us and thus we should not attack them. Obviously many posters disagree and believe Iran has attacked America by supporting the insurgents in Iraq, assisting the bombing of the marines in 1983, and facilitating other acts of terrorism. I can’t verify Iranian help in the marine bombing in 1983 or the arming of insurgents. But if supplying arms to insurgents is cause for war, what do we do about China? Afterall, China has in the past attacked American forces in the field and supplied enemies of the US. China has killed more Americans, directly and indirectly, in the last 57 years than Iran, Iraq, Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO combined; probably even 5 to 10 times their combined amount. And if they are mow involved in arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the damage they have caused us is rising. Yet our tough reponse to China is to have them become our low-cost manufacturer allowing them to run a $160 billion/yr trade surplus which helps them modernize their forces and supply insurgents weapons. The Iranians, on the other hand, get economic isolation and the threat of war.