On "World War III"
By Bill Berkowitz
21 July, 2006
If you thought that a global
conflagration on the order of a World War was more the stuff of Biblical
prophecy, science fiction and apocalyptic end-times novels, think again.
For years, U.S. neoconservatives
have been ratcheting up the rhetoric -- mostly in small gatherings and
on partisan web sites -- claiming that terrorist activities around the
world constituted the initial stages of a new world war.
But during the past week
or so, with the Israeli/Hezbollah crisis in full swing, Newt Gingrich,
the former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is
using any platform available to him to convince the public that the
U.S. is engaged in World War III.
Gingrich made national headlines
when he claimed -- while discussing the situation in the Middle East
during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Jul. 16
-- that the U.S. should be "helping the Lebanese government have
the strength to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force."
A day earlier, the Seattle
Times reported that during a fundraising trip to the state of Washington,
Gingrich mixed a little partisan politics -- acknowledging his concern
about the Republican Party's prospects in the fall elections -- while
once again using the term World War III.
"This is World War III,"
Gingrich said. "Israel wouldn't leave southern Lebanon as long
as there was a single missile there. I would go in and clean them all
out and I would announce that any Iranian airplane trying to bring missiles
to re-supply them would be shot down. This idea that we have this one-sided
war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk,
Gingrich also maintained
that the use of the term "World War III" could re-energise
the base of the Republican Party. He pointed out that public opinion
can change "the minute you use the language" of World War
III. The message then, he said, is "okay, if we're in the third
world war, which side do you think should win?"
On Monday, Gingrich appeared
on the Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" programme,
and restated his World War III contention.
While Gingrich's media tour
definitely thrust him back into the national political spotlight, it
may have also given the public a sneak peek into the Republican Party's
political/marketing strategy for the November congressional elections:
If the war on terrorism doesn't create a fearful enough climate amongst
voters, why not ratchet it up by mentioning the spectre of a World War
Gingrich, who has also been
testing the waters for a 2008 run at the presidency, was not the first
conservative to use the phrase World War III. Media Matters for America,
a website devoted to "monitoring, analysing, and correcting conservative
misinformation in the U.S. media," recently documented a number
of World War III references by a gaggle of cable television's conservative
On the Jul. 13 edition of
Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly said "World War
III ... I think we're in it."
On the same day's edition
of MSNBC's Tucker, a graphic read: "On the verge of World War III?"
"CNN Headline News host
Glenn Beck began his programme on Jul. 12 with a discussion with former
CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) officer Robert Baer by saying 'We've
got World War III to fight,' while also warning of 'the impending apocalypse,'"
Media Matters for America noted.
"Beck and Baer had a
similar discussion on Jul. 13, in which Beck said: 'I absolutely know
that we need to prepare ourselves for World War III. It is here.'"
Back in May, even President
George W. Bush made mention of World War III. Bush told the CNBC cable
television network that the action taken by the passengers on the hijacked
flight 93 on Sep. 11, 2001 was the "first counter-attack to World
Bush said that he agreed
with the description by David Beamer, whose son Todd died in the crash,
in an April Wall Street Journal commentary that the act was "our
first successful counter-attack in our homeland in this new global war
-- World War III."
Hyping World War III isn't
new to conservatives. Some have even argued that the real World War
III was the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and that now the U.S.
is engaged in World War IV.
The Project for the New American
Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank that in the late 1990s
advocated regime change in Iraq and consistently promoted a muscular
U.S. foreign policy, was one of the groups that used the term World
War III to describe the Cold War.
In April 2003, at a teach-in
at the University of California, Los Angeles sponsored by Americans
for Victory Over Terrorism, R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director
and founding member of PNAC, told the audience that "This fourth
world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World
Wars I or II did for us; hopefully not the full four-plus decades of
the Cold War."
Woolsey pointed out that
the religious rulers of Iran, the "fascists" of Iraq and Syria,
and terrorist groups like al Qaeda were the main targets of the new
But PNAC and Woolsey's labeling
of the Cold War as World War III and the current war against terrorism
World War IV may have been more a case of premature elocution than a
precise reading of the times. That construct "might sell well inside
the Beltway, but out in the countryside where the younger generation
can't recall the Cold War it doesn't do much," John Stauber, the
founder and executive director of the Centre for Media and Democracy
and the author of the forthcoming book, "The Best War Ever,"
told IPS in an email.
"The Cold War was the
best thing that ever happened to American capitalism, and the collapse
of the Soviet Union was a disaster for the Eisenhower-named military-industrial
complex," Stauber pointed out.
"The strategists among
the pro-war right jumped all over 9/11; an endless, secret, war against
a foreign enemy bent on terrorism and acquiring weapons of mass destruction
is an even better scenario for American militarists than the Cold War."
"Calling it World War
III is sound packaging," he said. "You've got to call it something
and five years after 9/11 with Osama [bin Laden] still roaming free
and Iraq an American quagmire, and the Republican Party in danger of
losing control of Congress, this ploy makes marketing sense."
If the Republican Party brain-trust
-- read, Karl Rove -- determines that labeling the Democrats "cut
and runners," "weak on terrorism," or that they are incapable
of understanding the reality of the dangerous world we live in, does
not appear to be resonating with voters, look out for World War III
to be put in play.
Bill Berkowitz is
a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange
column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players,
institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.
© 2006 IPS Inter-Press