My degree is in Ancient History. You could legitimately call me an historian, especially since I tend to view things using the tools of history. Historians depend on reflection from a distance, seeing things from a wider angle, not getting mired in the details. That is why it is hard to write an accurate history close to the events. The details are still too influential, skewing the observation in their direction.
The view of history begins very broad. That allows everything to stay in context. Then as you zoom in, the details have gained perspective. One advantage of time and distance is that the unintended consequences of decisions have had a chance to play themselves out. Every decision has them, and major events have serious hidden results that eventually reveal themselves. Who would have thought at the time (Yalta) that the decisions made in the midst of a horrendous world war would result in fifty years of cold war, the partitioning of half the world, and set the foundation for the eventual rise of radical Islam. I assure you that if Roosevelt had an inkling of what was to come he might not have made what appeared to be a pragmatic decision in the midst of war.
We are faced with similar decisions now. There are two basic courses of action open to us when dealing with Iraq: one looking at the possibilities long into the future and the other a pragmatic assessment of how to quickly deal with the situation while losing as little face as possible. In my view of events, we have come to a Yalta moment in the history of the next fifty years and it seems obvious now what course we are now going to take. Like Roosevelt, we are going to be pragmatic and take the short view, when we should be students of history and take the long view.
However, the current situation is being driven by the essential weakness of republics and democracies, which is that long wars are unsustainable. The only reason the Cold War did not fall into this category was that it was fought mostly in the background and the average American only dealt with the flareups that bubbled to the surface (e.g. Korea and Vietnam), which were not sustainable by a general population that needed to support the drawn out efforts. World War II lasted about four years. That seems near the limit of sustainability of support for a war in a republic/democracy dependent on voter support. The debacle of Vietnam brought this all home. Just in case we forgot that lesson, Iraq is bringing it home again. Not that the wars were quagmires, in reality they weren’t. We just don’t have the will for a sustained fight.
For me that is real lesson of the Iraq conflict. Going forward, anyone seeking to engage in a confrontation with the U. S. need only to stretch it out past that critical four year period and they will see our resolve weaken and support drain away for continuing the fight.
With that in mind, how do you think radical Islam will approach the future? They are in this for the long haul. Our reliance on pragmatism instead of history and the tendency to withdraw from protracted fights will leave them with a blueprint for slow and steady success. The Soviet Union lost the Cold War because it depended on a minimal economic sustainability that communism at its heart was not able to produce. The pragmatic approach sees the future only in those socio-economic terms, rather than its true ideological contexts. The foundation for going into Iraq was an attempt at ideological change to the core of the Middle East, which would drain the support for the radical ideology. The arguments for getting out are pragmatically socio-economic.
However, radical Islam does not depend on socio-economic but ideological sustainability, something it has proved to be more than adequate at. In the current climate, a given percentage of Islam will always become radicalized. The foundations of this radicalization are ideological, not socio-economic issues (despite the views of liberal politicians) and those will not change, since the West will never roll back its “advances” in “freedom” and “choice”, which radical Islam sees and uses to sustain itself. As a result, as Islam continues to grow, that radical base grows along with it.
Looking forward, I am reminded how Francis Schaefer noted that it was not necessary to have an active conspiracy to produce coordinated events for a given goal. Instead, all that was needed was a large enough group of people acting out a similar worldview. We do not need radical Islam to have a coordinated conspiracy such as Al-Qaeda or Hamas to bring down Western Civilization as we know it. All we need is is a large enough group of people with the radical Islamic worldview driving their decisions to a given goal.
The discipline of history gives us the tools to examine the events around us and gain a clearer picture of the possibilities, of the results of our decisions, intended and unintended. It has been noted many times that we can learn from history or we can repeat it. From my perspective we are at another nexus point in history; we are at a Yalta moment. We can learn from the past and act accordingly or we can be pragmatic and short-sighted and do what looks practical until the next decision is forced upon us. By then it may be too late, as the West discovered when the Soviets annexed Eastern Europe and began fomenting revolution worldwide. By God’s grace we were able to recover from that failure of will. The question remains open whether or not we will be able to do so from our next failure. Only God knows.