Jan 17/06 - On "The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented"
PMBComment: this sobering article by Harvard's Niall Ferguson should be read carefully. Like in any game of Monopoly, at some point one of the losers runs out of patience and kicks the board, or simply walks away fuming and plotting, fearing nothing worse that his current predicament. The combination of factors highlighted in Professor Ferguson’s article is in plain view; the rhetoric is hard to avoid, the scenario is convincingly weaved…but what must one do? In my opinion, it is time for the elected democratic leaders of the world – not to mention the self appointed opinion makers - to stop deriving cheap pleasure from kicking the current administration in
Note: I avoided above any direct mention to my usual suspect, but feel free as your read
The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented
By Niall Ferguson*
Are we living through the origins of the next world war? Certainly, it is easy to imagine how a future historian might deal with the next phase of events in the
With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place.
The first underlying cause of the war was the increase in the region's relative importance as a source of petroleum. On the one hand, the rest of the world's oil reserves were being rapidly exhausted. On the other, the breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in global demand for energy. It is hard to believe today, but for most of the 1990s the price of oil had averaged less than $20 a barrel.
A second precondition of war was demographic. While European fertility had fallen below the natural replacement rate in the 1970s, the decline in the Islamic world had been much slower. By the late 1990s the fertility rate in the eight Muslim countries to the south and east of the European Union was two and half times higher than the European figure.
This tendency was especially pronounced in
This not only gave Islamic societies a youthful energy that contrasted markedly with the slothful senescence of
The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural. Since 1979, not just
Although few countries followed
The ideological cocktail that produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intemperate attack on
Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the
Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against
But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on
Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them. Europeans did not want to hear that
So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to international agencies - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to
Only one man might have stiffened President Bush’s resolve in the crisis: not Tony Blair, he had wrecked his domestic credibility over
As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in
This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already interrupted by
The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the
The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy; it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as
Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006,
• Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of