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 its 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.
cant begin to match the American military, so this war
wont 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
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
weve 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.
Arab-American War for thats what it boils down to
could go on forever, making a lot of history along the way. Striking at Arab
states like Iraq wont 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 Husseins 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 havent the faintest
desire to adopt or emulate the model of democratic
Bushs misconceived War on Terrorism could easily wind up serving
the purposes of the terrorists. Thats history for you full of
The Israelis (and their
agents in this countrys 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 cant foresee how they will ricochet
when the cue ball breaks them.
But its always
unwise to suppose that anyone can control historys 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 havent stopped to ask
themselves whether theyre fighting the right enemy.
As the poet says:
There are many events in the womb of time, which will be