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From Cold War to Holy War

By Henry C K Liu

Asia Times
13 May, 2003

Barely a decade after the end of the Cold War between the two superpowers, the world has entered decidedly into an age of Holy War between the sole remaining superpower and minor states deemed by it as rogue.

The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, billed as part of a "war on terrorism", were essentially the remote unleashing of overwhelming military power on defenseless minor states. One unique characteristic about this new Holy War is that it seems to be open ended, that while major combats have ended, or never even took place, victory remains not at hand in the near future. In fact, the US itself refers to these one-sided military operations as "battles in an on-going war on terrorism". That of course is the nature of religious wars. Another unique aspect is that while many governments around the world opposed or at least disapproved of US unilateral use of force, none came to the aid of the victim states.

The war against Iraq was not about oil, or about keeping oil denominated in dollars. These objectives, while not trivial, can be achieved by means other than war. The war was about eliminating the will of any state to defy US global intentions, which neo-conservatives define as faith-based benign hegemony. It was above all a warning of similar fate to all who would be foolish enough to follow the footsteps of the Taliban or Saddam Hussein and stand in the path of America's march toward its strategic objective of establishing a world order based on US imperium through preemptive war.

Taken at face value, the war as explained by the White House is part of a US strategy to spread democracy, to safeguard freedom and to reinstate popular control of national resources and destiny around the world. Americans generally understand democracy to mean a representative form of government based on majority rule with minority rights, administered by elected officials of fixed terms, with separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, and the institution of peaceful change of administrations through general elections. The American notion of freedom focuses on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom to disagree with and oppose government policies through legal means. Associated with these political freedoms are institutions of free enterprise and free markets. Any nation deemed deficient in any of these characteristics is fair game for regime change through the application of overwhelming military superpower, unless it possesses credible counterattack deterrence.

The Bush administration's neo-conservative view of terrorism is that it has become the major threat to US national security. This view is understandable since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Less understandable is its assertion that terrorism is caused by a lack of democracy and freedom associated with domestic oppression, and not by neo-imperialism and the poverty it creates. Curiously, the US domestic recipe for fighting terrorism requires the suspension of civil liberty. Furthermore, terrorists are deemed to be enemies of democracy and freedom.

Thus only half the objective of a preemptive war has to do with the elimination of weapons of mass destruction from the control of "rogue states", the other half has to do with the forceful spread of democracy and freedom around the globe to strike at the root of terrorism. The grand strategy of US neo-conservatism is to bring the full force of US superpower to bear on the crusade to spread democracy and freedom around the world, through regime changes by military force if necessary.

Unilateralism is justified by moral imperialism. Just as neo-liberal globalization of free trade sweeps aside economic nationalism, neo-conservative globalization of democratization and liberation aims to sweep aside national sovereign and a world order that has operated since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.

Notwithstanding that such views on terrorism may be simplistic and misguided, that others, including many Americans as well as previous US administrations, view terrorism as last resort reaction from the disfranchised, the persecuted, the defenseless, the exploited and the desperate poor, the political objectives of the war on terrorism as enunciated by the Bush administration cannot be accomplished by military operations alone. President George W Bush himself acknowledged as much when he announced on May 1 that while the military phases in both Afghanistan and Iraq have essentially been completed, the war on terrorism is expected to be long and challenging. Winning the peace is much more complex than overthrowing governments by force.

The US, to make the war on terrorism legitimate, must now deliver democracy, freedom and self-determination to the Iraqi people on their terms, a task that cannot be done with precision cruise missiles and bunker busting bombs released at long distance by remote control. It is a tall order that the US will find almost impossible to fulfill, due to its own internal contradiction. Democracy is compromised when the US occupation authority serves notice that "there is no way" a Shi'ite theocracy would be tolerated in the new Iraq, even when 60 percent of the population are Shi'ites, nor that the Iraqi Communists Party would be allowed to participate in the formation of the new Iraqi regime.

While US neo-cons embrace the Straussian notion of the need for theocracy, in direct contradiction of the US constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state, they accept only Judeo-Christian theocracy. The Bush faith-based foreign policy of one world under God is derived from its domestic vision of "one nation under God", notwithstanding that in the Supreme Court's 1961 Torcaso vs Watkins decision, Justice Hugo Black wrote in a foot note: "Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God is Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others."

Neo-cons argue that the First Amendment's religion clauses were intended only to prevent the establishment of a national church, and to keep the state from interfering with the church, not to bar religious groups from co-opting the government, notwithstanding Thomas Jefferson's claim that the First Amendment had erected a "wall of separation between church and state". The co-oopting of the US government by the religious right has launched a new religious war, over which even the Pope, whose church has long since retreated from the doctrine of Ceasaropapism, has expressed wariness. It takes a theocracy to start a religious war.

On May 2, Bush, in what is generally billed as the beginning of his political campaign for a second term, discussed national economic security in a speech to the employees of the Ground Systems Division of United Defense Industries in Santa Clara, California, a defense company that produces military vehicles and technology that are being used by soldiers in Iraq, including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Hercules Recovery Vehicle. It is not surprising that the president chose the defense sector as a platform to discuss national economic security, given that the Bush White House has reorganized national economic policy under the umbrella of national security, and given that the defense sector is the only growth sector in the stalled economy at this time, despite the fact that the US defense budget is only about 3 percent of the GDP.

A day before, the president spoke to the American people from the deck of the homeward bound USS Abraham Lincoln super-carrier off the California coast, a political stunt that caused Senator Robert C Byrd to comment on the Senate floor, "I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and yet that is what I saw." The president declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, and that the US and its allies had prevailed. The world has never doubted that the US superpower would prevail over tiny Iraq, isolated and emaciated by a decade of economic sanctions. Ironically, the fall of Iraq sent a clear message around the world that in this age of superpower holy war, national security lies in the possession of weapons of mass destruction. The US is concerned with Saddam's team of 1,000 nuclear scientists, whom defense officials called "nuclear mujahideen". These scientists, the Defense Department fears, can restart Iraq's weapons program once the crisis passed. Would any new government in Iraq have less reason to possess nuclear weapons after what happened?

What was unexpected was the ease and speed with which the US achieved the military phase of the invasion. Despite the fact that its prowess was never fully tested on account of the enemy having failed to put up an expected fight via asymmetrical urban warfare, the US military is nevertheless an undeniably excellent fighting machine, one that any nation would be proud to possess. That US forces suffered unprecedented light casualties, due also to emphasis on protecting and rescuing soldiers in distress, is professionally admirable. The morale of the troops has been as high as any commander can wish. Whether this high morale can be sustained when troops are used as an occupation police force in a hostile country is another question.

Invoking September 11 as America's lesson that vast oceans no longer protect it from terrorism - the threat of the new era, the president said, "On that day, 19 months ago, we also began a relentless worldwide campaign against terrorists, those who hate freedom, in order to secure our homeland and to make the world a more peaceful place." He referred to "the battle of Afghanistan" and "the Iraqi theater" and declared that "Iraq and Afghanistan are now free". With daily reports of guerrilla resistance and suicide bombers inflicting US casualties and US soldiers firing on civilians demonstrating against US occupation, such a sweeping declaration raises a credibility gap. It is also arguable that terrorists hate freedom, rather than foreign oppression.

The US military has performed professionally and is deserving of recognition. The same cannot be said of the political rationale behind its deployment. Throughout history, the misuse of the military for dubious political causes has led to the downfall of governments and empires. It would not be surprising if the Democrats would separate pride in the military's professionalism from the political folly of its deployment to support the flawed grand strategy adopted by a Republican administration captured by neo-conservatism.

About the state of the US economy, the president acknowledged that unemployment is now at 6 percent, which he claimed should serve as a clear signal to the US Congress a bold economic recovery package is needed so people can find work. "We need robust tax relief so our fellow citizens can find a job," the president said in his Santa Clara speech. The original $726 billion tax package over 10 years Bush sent to the Congress is now pared down to $550 billion and it may be cut further in the Senate by those who are worried that the growing budget deficit will lead to higher interest rates that will stall any hope of recovery. Administration economists say that the tax cut will create 1 million new jobs by the year 2004, when Bush will face a second term election. A million new jobs would still leave 7.8 million people unemployed.

Historically, the Republican Party prided itself as not being a foreign war party. It was formed in 1856 by anti-slavery activists and individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge. Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to win the White House in 1860. The word democracy does not appear in the Republican Oath, a statement of Republican philosophy published by the Republican National Committee. As the party of prosperity, the GOP benefited from the boom of the 1920s. The Great Depression destroyed the Republican majority. After years of taking credit for prosperity, the GOP found itself branded as the party of depression after the economic collapse in 1929. By the late 1930s, Republicans in Congress sided with those who hoped to avoid involvement in any future European war. Most Republicans were isolationists who supported the neutrality laws and voted against increased defense appropriations. Their isolationism was supported by some prominent Democrats, including Joseph P Kennedy, ambassador to England, father of J F Kennedy. By the end of World War II, most Senate Republicans, led by Arthur H Vandenberg of Michigan, had repudiated isolationism out of realist pragmatism, but foreign war remained not a Republican theme.

The surprising loss in the 1948 election to Harry S Truman, a Democrat, again showed how desperately Republicans, out of power for two decades, needed fresh issues. They soon found one in the hysterical charge that communists had infiltrated the Democrat-controlled federal government. In 1950, Senator Joseph R McCarthy of Wisconsin charged that the State Department under the Democrat administrations had been infested with communists, which among other things "lost" China to communism, as if China were America's to lose. Although McCarthy failed to prove his wild accusations, in the process of ruining many lives, Congressional investigations gave Republicans their best issue since the pre-Depression era.

Robert McNamara, defense secretary under Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, attributed the Vietnam debacle to the thorough purge of China experts by McCarthyism. He wrote, "The irony of this gap - Asian experts - was that it existed largely because the top East Asian and China experts in the State Department - John Patton Davies Jr, John Stewart Service and John Carter Vincent - had been purged during the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s. Without men like these to provide sophisticated, nuanced insights, we - certainly I - badly misread China's objectives and mistook its bellicose rhetoric to imply a drive for regional hegemony."

There are clear signs that the Bush administration also badly misread Arab political culture and the root cause of terrorism, mostly as a result of experts on Arabism who did not tote the neo-con pro-Israel line having been purged from all US policy establishments. Bernard Lewis, who describes the separation of church and state as a Western disease, and Fouad Ajami are the neo-cons' favored Middle East experts who see the Arab World as ripe for liberation from itself into modernity by the West. The president is not being well served by the neo-cons around him, nor is the peerless US military being used to fight for a good and viable cause.

A split between conservative and moderate Republicans flared into the open during the Korea War. The conservatives, led by Senator Robert A Taft of Ohio, continued to oppose the New Deal. Moderates questioned whether this ideological fixation could win the presidency, and they looked to World War II hero General Dwight D Eisenhower to carry their standard in 1952. The popular Eisenhower soundly defeated Adlai Stevenson, liberal governor of Illinois, one of the great figures in US politics, taking 39 states by promising to end the Korean War. Republicans also won control of Congress by a narrow margin. Ironically, the war hero won the election on a pledge to end war.

Eisenhower's personal popularity did not carry over to the GOP as a party. Eisenhower continued Truman's foreign policy of containment of communist expansion, but not Truman's readiness to deploy US troops overseas. Domestically, he tried to hold the line on government expenditures, which satisfied neither GOP conservatives who wanted sharp cutbacks nor special interest groups that wanted more government contracts and subsidies. In 1956, he won a rematch against Stevenson, taking 58 percent of the popular vote. But the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress.

The 1960 election was the closest of the century. Democratic senator John F Kennedy defeated vice president Richard M Nixon, who actually won the popular vote if Alabama had been counted properly. Ballot fraud in Illinois has since been been established as the reason Kennedy won the electoral vote. Nixon gracefully accepted the results of a fraudulent election, declining to file a contest, thus avoiding a constitutional crisis. Al Gore was less graceful in 2000 and the decision was left to a pro-Republican Supreme Court.

A split between conservatives and liberals again weakened the GOP during the 1960s. Governor Nelson A Rockefeller of New York emerged as the spokesman for party liberals and Senator Barry M Goldwater of Arizona as leader of the conservatives. A narrowly based presidential campaign by Goldwater produced a stunning defeat for the GOP in 1964. Goldwater took only six states and 38 percent of the popular vote. But his ideology won control of the Republican Party.

Nixon led a unified Republican party to a narrow victory in the 1968 race against a Democratic ticket weakened by a split on the race issue between liberal Democrat Hubert H Humphrey and racist George C Wallace, who split to run as an American Independent candidate. Taking only 43 percent of the popular vote, Nixon was the first new president since 1848 to take office with both houses of Congress controlled by the opposition party. Nixon won in part by promising to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon won re-election by a lopsided margin in 1972 on the strength of his historic opening to China and his policy of detente with the USSR, but he was forced to resign in 1974 over the threat of impeachment in the wake of the Watergate affair, succeeded by Vice President Gerald R Ford. Republicans lost control of the White House in 1976, when Ford was defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Economic stagflation under Carter and American hostages held by Iran led to a Republican landslide in 1980. The Republican team of Ronald Reagan and George Bush seizing on Carter's spiritual crisis, ridiculing his "malaise speech", and promising to reduce federal spending, cut taxes, and strengthen defense, won 51 percent of the popular vote and 489 electoral votes. The Republicans gained 12 seats in the Senate, giving them control of that body for the first time since 1954.

In the 1984 presidential elections, the Reagan-Bush ticket won overwhelmingly, carrying all the states except Democratic candidate Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia, while amassing 59 percent of the popular vote and 523 electoral votes. The Republicans retained control of the Senate but did not gain a majority in the House. Reaganomics produced the largest budget deficit and highest level of national debt in history. In 1985, the Plaza Accord pushed the exchange value of the dollar down against the yen to stem the rising trade deficit. As a result, in the midterm elections of 1986, the Republicans lost not only control of the Senate but also more ground in the House. This pattern was repeated in 1988. Although Vice President George Bush and his running mate, Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, won the presidential election for the Republicans with 53 percent of the popular vote, the party lost ground in both houses of Congress. While Bush took 40 states and scored a 426-to-11 win in electoral votes, the Republicans lost five seats in the House and one in the Senate.

In 1992, despite victory in the first Gulf War, the election turned out to be a referendum on the economy, and voters expressed their concerns in a stunning defeat of incumbent Bush by Democrat Bill Clinton of Arkansas. The gradual erosion in Republican party strength in Congress allowed the Democrats to control both branches of government for the first time in 12 years. Bush received only 38 percent of the popular vote and 155 electoral votes. The Republicans retained the same number of seats in the Senate and gained nine seats in the House. It was under Clinton that the concept of dollar hegemony took hold, allowing a rising trade deficit to be financed by a capital account surplus, making possible the notion that a strong dollar is in the US national interest.

The 1994 mid-term elections brought an equally dramatic reversal as the Republican party gained control over both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954. Most congressional Republican candidates had signed on to Representative Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America", a list of conservative proposals that shaped the congressional agenda under Republican leadership in 1995. Both parties were focused primarily on domestic affairs.

Except in 1964, Republican presidential candidates since 1948 have taken most of the votes cast in growing middle-class suburbs. Since 1952, Republican presidential candidates have repeatedly captured at least three of the 11 former Confederate states. Reagan's popularity among young voters was reflected in a marked increase in Republican ranks after 1980. This trend changed with the election of Clinton, a southern Democrat, who brought many young voters into the Democratic party.

As with any political coalition, the Republican party has had difficulty finding issues that unite rather than divide its followers. In 1968, Nixon succeeded with appeals to the "silent majority" for "law and order." Despite some success in presidential and congressional races since 1952, the Republican party remains a minority in search of a majority. It was never successful in attempt to include labor and minorities.

The Republican party originally built its political majority on state organizations in the northeast and midwest. The two bases of power in these areas were New York and Ohio. Twentieth-century GOP leaders have included Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes, Thomas E Dewey and Nelson A Rockefeller, all noted liberal governors of New York. Ohio produced five Republican presidents: Rutherford B Hayes, James A Garfield, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Warren G Harding.

After being reduced to minority status in the 1930s, the Republican party controlled a small number of largely rural states, such as Maine and Vermont in New England and North Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska in the West. On the local level, the strongest Republican organizations have been in rural and suburban areas. The GOP generally has been unable to elect mayors in the nation's big cities, except liberal New York City and conservative Los Angeles.

The backbone of the Republican party was historically composed of eastern businessmen and midwestern farmers. Big business was attracted by the party's pro-business philosophy and farmers by Lincoln's successful effort to preserve the Union. Emancipation and congressional reconstruction also brought black voters into the party. By 1896, the GOP had a large following among industrial workers in the nation's growing urban centers. During the 1930s, Republicans lost their grip on urban industrial states with the rise of labor unions whose loyalty remained with the Democrats. The Rockefeller liberal Republicans never captured the midwest because of the problematic history of the Rockefeller oil monopoly in key states, like conservative Ohio, liberal Minnesota and progressive Wisconsin.

After World War II, the Republican party found a new base of support in the middle class suburbs that surrounded the country's metropolitan areas. This has enabled the GOP to elect governors and US senators in states such as New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and California.

As a result of the Second Reconstruction, which began in the 1950s, the Republican party has made increasing headway in the once solid south. Opposition to civil rights for blacks led a number of southern whites to bolt to the Democratic party, especially in presidential elections. Although Democrats still win most state and local elections in the south, Republicans have won a number of statewide elections in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Texas. The GOP has had less success in the deep south, but in 1978, Mississippi elected its first Republican senator since Reconstruction. However, even with its new supporters in the south and increasing electoral victories, the GOP remains a minority party, trailing behind the Democratic party in its following until Reagan.

Neo-conservatism, supported by its bedfellow neo-liberalism, is opposed in current US politics by libertarians as well as the radical left. Charley Reese, syndicated paleo-libertarian conservative columnist wrote on June 17 last year: "Where is George Bush's conservatism? He's taken another massive step in nationalizing the education system, he's busted the budget, he shows unwavering loyalty to the military-industrial complex, his foreign policy is imperialistic, and he is expanding government at the expense of liberty ... A conservative wishes to preserve the prosperity and health of both the land and the people, not squander them in unnecessary wars ... Nor does American business support a free economy. What it supports and what we have is mercantilism. In its present form it retains its old core - a strong centralized government that manages the economy, and a standing army to protect corporate assets overseas. The Taliban was overthrown not because it supported al-Qaeda but because it opposed an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea fields." While some aspects of these views can be better informed, the general thrust does represent libertarian sentiments against neo-conservatism.

The neo-conservative movement began to take shape long before September 11. Writing in the Wall Street Journal on September 15, 1997, William Kristol and David Brooks, editors of The Weekly Standard, mouthpiece of US neo-conservatism, asked: "What Ails Conservatism?" It began: "The era of big government may be over, but a new era of conservative governance hasn't yet begun. Why the delay? Why isn't a victorious conservatism now reshaping the American political landscape?

"A barrier to the success of today's conservatism is ... today's conservatism. What's missing from today's American conservatism is America. The left has always blamed America first. Conservatives once deplored this. They defended America. And when they sought to improve America, they did so by recalling Americans to their highest principles, and by calling them forward to a grand destiny. What is missing from today's conservatism is the appeal to American greatness.

"American nationalism - the nationalism of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay and Teddy Roosevelt - has never been European blood-and-soil nationalism. It's true that in the absence of a real appeal to national greatness, some conservatives are tempted, a la Pat Buchanan, to turn to this European tradition. But this can't and shouldn't work in America. Our nationalism is that of an exceptional nation founded on a universal principle, on what Lincoln called "an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times". Our pride in settling the frontier, welcoming immigrants and advancing the cause of freedom around the world is related to our dedication to our principles.

"That's why American nationalism isn't narrow or parochial. It doesn't believe in closing our borders or fearing the global economy. It does believe in resisting group rights and multiculturalism and other tendencies that weaken our attachment to our common principles. It embraces a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of national strength and moral assertiveness abroad.

"This American understanding of greatness is friendly to private property, prosperity and progress. And it isn't unfriendly to government, properly understood. After all, as Lincoln reminds us, it is 'through this free government which we have enjoyed' that Americans have secured 'an open field and a fair chance' for our 'understanding, enterprise, and intelligence'. Free government - limited but energetic - is not the enemy. It can be used, in the spirit of Henry Clay and Teddy Roosevelt, to enhance competition and opportunity. In sum, national-greatness conservatism does not despise government."

Thus the foundation of the Age of Holy War had been laid a good five years before terrorism changed America on September 11. This Holy War is based on US exceptionism, unilateralism and the spread of American values. It is the American version of the Augustian and Napoleonic empires, which unlike the British empire that kept arms-length tolerance for local culture, justified its imperialism on the spread of superior universal values. Neo-conservatism rejects the long tradition of American attachment to multiculturalism. It also reverses America's tradition of being apologetic for its power. Pushing beyond Teddy Roosevelt's "manifest destiny" with "speak softly but carry a big stick", the neo-cons advocate an American missionary empire with loud shouting and hitting with a big stick.

Lawrence F Kaplan, a senior editor at the New Republic, and William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, co-authors of the forthcoming book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam's Tyranny and America's Mission, described George W Bush, in the Wall Street Journal on January 29, as "Neither a Realist Nor a Liberal, W Is a Liberator" who holds a fundamentally different world view from previous administrations. To them, self-declared "realists" believe that foreign policy should be grounded in vital interests - oil wells, strategic chokepoints and most of all, regional stability. They prefer order over liberty. It was in Iraq that the first Bush team's realist foreign policy philosophy manifested itself most clearly. Once Kuwait was liberated, the senior Bush team redirected its energies toward ensuring Iraqi "stability" - even if it had to be enforced by Saddam.

Kaplan and Kristol criticized Clinton's Iraq policy as reflecting very different assumptions about America's role in the world, a world view that reduced a complex and dangerous world environment to a simple narrative of material progress and moral improvement. According to the Clinton administration's scorecard, it was not the integrity of containment or even the value of keeping Saddam disarmed that mattered. Far more important was the imperative of avoiding war. As Henry Kissinger, the master of realpolitik, said: "Peace, too, is a moral imperative."

Kaplan and Kristol see realists and liberals as approaching the world from different directions, but when it comes to Iraq, both ended up in the same place: generating excuses for inaction. Bush, by contrast, does not speak of merely containing or disarming Iraq. He intends to liberate Iraq by force, and create democracy in a land that for decades has known only dictatorship. Moreover, he insists that these principles apply to American foreign policy more broadly. A century of fighting dictators has finally alerted US policy makers to the fact that the character of regimes determines their conduct abroad - their willingness to resort to aggression, their determination to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and their relationships with terrorist groups.

The neo-con commentators concluded, "Hence, the Bush strategy enshrines 'regime change' - the insistence that when it comes to dealing with tyrannical regimes like Iraq, Iran, and, yes, North Korea, the US should seek transformation, not coexistence, as a primary aim of US foreign policy. As such, it commits the US to the task of maintaining and enforcing a decent world order. Just as it was with the Bush team's predecessors, Iraq will be the first major test of this administration's strategy. It will not be the last."

The last sentence lingers in the mind of all the world's governments. Since September 11, Bush has declared repeatedly, "If you are not with us, you are against us." There is no co-existence, no neutrality and no non-alignment. Be part of the American system or be destroyed.

What if the new US task of enforcing a new world order comes up against a power with nuclear deterrent or other forms of weapons of mass destruction? In this respect, the failure of other great nuclear powers to intervene in the US invasion of Iraq, to preserve the existing world order of nation states, can be viewed as a new Munich that will lead to another global conflict.

Anticipating World War IV, Norman Podhoretz, editor-at-large of Commentary Magazine, writing in February, 2002: How To Win World War IV - the Cold War being World War III - characterized the first Gulf War as "an act of military and political coitus interruptus". Podhoretz observed that Bush, who entered the White House without a clear sense of what he wanted to do there, now feels that there was a purpose behind his election all along: as a born-again Christian, he believes he was chosen by God to eradicate the evil of terrorism from the world. The president himself defined it from the start in very broad terms. Our aim was not merely to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and wipe out the al-Qaeda terrorists under his direct leadership in Afghanistan. The governments that gave terrorists help of any kind - sanctuary, money, arms, diplomatic and logistical support, training facilities - would either join us in getting rid of them or would also be regarded as in a state of war with the US. Bush was unequivocal. These governments, he repeated over and over again, were either with us in the war against terrorism, or they were against us: there was to be no middle or neutral ground.

In defining the war and the enemy in such terms, the president, seconded by both major political parties and a vast majority of the American people, was acknowledging the rightness of those who had been stubbornly insisting against the skeptical and the craven alike that terrorism posed a serious threat and that it could not be fought by the police and the courts. Perhaps most important of all was the corollary of such an analysis: that, with rare exceptions, terrorists were not individual psychotics acting on their own but agents of organizations that depended on the sponsorship of various governments. Thus the war on terrorism is essentially a war against hostile governments. Bush, with about 90 percent of the people and a nearly unanimous Congress behind him for a war against terrorism, had more than enough political support to act on his own, without permission from anyone, or any other government.

But if the coalition was unnecessary both from a political and from a military point of view, and if the inclusion within it of states harboring terrorists undermined and obfuscated the moral clarity of the war we were determined to wage, why did the administration devote so much energy to assembling it?

Podhoretz's explanation is that getting a minimal endorsement from as many predominantly Muslim states as possible helped create the impression that the war was not against Islam but against terrorism. The aim is to begin a transformation of the Middle East that could provide many benefits to the populations of an unfree region. That will, in the end, make Americans infinitely more secure at home.

Thus the failure of the oceans to protect the US from external threat now compels the US to attack all around the world who are not with it in its war on terrorism. It is conceivable that the US can prevail over all other national governments militarily, but it is pure fantasy that the US can spread US-styled democracy and freedom all over the world, even with a new 100-year war. Or that true democracy and freedom around the world would support US national interests. A healthy dose of realism and multiculturalism will save the world from impending self destruction by superpower theocracy. Either way, it spells the end of the age of superpower because military power, as demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq, causes more problems than it solves.

Henry C K Liu is chairman of the New York-based Liu Investment Group.