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Sunday
Jun182006

Time is on our side in the Long War

The conventional wisdom on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's timely death says it's a significant step forward in the global war on terrorism but that sectarian violence will continue unabated in Iraq.

Depressed? Don't be.

Progress in the Long War against radical Islamic jihadists isn't about less violence. Rather, it's about speeding the killing to its logical conclusion in any one battlefield to shift the fight to its next logical stand. After the Middle East, the next theater of combat lies to the south, meaning the war's geography shifts to Sub-Saharan Africa in coming decades.

Americans are routinely accused of lacking strategic patience. We want our wars finished by the next major holiday or certainly by the next election. Given that mindset, we're forced to subsist on current events for encouragement - e.g., al-Zarqawi's death rescues us from the chilling revelations surrounding the Haditha killings.

But if you subscribe to the Long War, you look for trends and not individual events to drive your strategic calculations.

Gen. John Abizaid, current CENTCOM commander, calls Iraq the first war of globalization. Ultimately, we're trying to connect the Middle East to the global economy on the basis of something besides oil, turning all those idle young males into stakeholders instead of bomb-throwers. Meanwhile, the radical Salafi jihadists seek to disconnect the region from what they see as the corrupting - and growing - influence of globalization.

Here's the good news: Time is on our side.

First, consider the demographics. The Middle East is overwhelmingly young, with roughly two-thirds of its population under 30. As a result, a huge youth bulge is working its way through these traditional societies, creating immense strains on modest educational systems and setting up authoritarian governments for persistently high levels of unemployment - a great mix for revolutionary change throughout history.

After a baby boom, there's typically a baby bust, and sure enough, fertility rates have dropped dramatically across the Middle East. That demographic inevitability yields the following positive trend: The Middle East will "middle age" over the next quarter-century.

Revolutions are a young man's game, so Osama bin Laden has barely a generation to achieve his dream of civilizational apartheid. Because, if he can't, we'll be looking at a very different Middle East come 2025.

Three external trends will fuel this transformation, each producing a profound blowback to the region.

The first will arise in North America, and it will involve Islam's religious reformation at the hands of women within its ranks. Unlike in Europe, our Muslim immigrants are not socially and economically ghettoized, so it's not surprising that Muslim women, once exposed to our gender equality, have begun agitating for a greater role in the practice of their community-defining faith.

And, yes, that demonstration effect will reach the Middle East.

The second blowback will come from Europe, and it will involve Islam's political reformation. Islamist parties will eventually emerge throughout Europe, inevitably mainstreaming themselves in the electoral process much in the same way that Marxist parties did during the Cold War.

It sounds inconceivable, but it will be a very good thing because it will reduce the socio-economic isolation of Muslim communities there. Europe either draws Muslims into the political process or resigns itself to watching numerous reruns of last year's Paris riots.

And, yes, that demonstration effect will reach the Middle East.

The third blowback will come from Asia, and it will involve Islam's economic reformation. The "lead geese" economies here will be Singapore, Indonesia and especially Malaysia, where its current prime minister, Islamic scholar Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is handcrafting a market-friendly and democracy-tolerant form of Islamic civilization. These Islamic states give proof to the lie that their religion lacks the genetic makeup to embrace globalization's demands for economic and political freedom.

And, yes, that demonstration effect will reach the Middle East.

Add it all up, and you quickly realize that our victory isn't defined as hunting down and killing every Islamic terrorist but simply not allowing their murderous tactics to poison these much-needed reformation trends within globalizing Islam. With time, such trends push the Middle East to age out of its current political and economic stagnation.

Yes, there will be many more al-Zarqawis seeking to hold off these historical tides. But so long as America remains operationally vigilant and tactically agile, this Long War will continue to unfold to our strategic advantage.

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