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« Ensuring global security: no zero deductible | Main | Needed for Long War: strategic imagination »
Sunday
Sep102006

Five years in, remembering why we'll win

Five years into this Long War against radical extremists, we measure our progress and naturally feel depressed: enemies proliferating, friends disappearing, the front seemingly limitless.

So stipulated - regarding the war.

And yet, this war's worldwide impact pales in comparison to ongoing changes triggered by globalization. We need to remember that larger context if we're ever going to recognize this struggle's successful conclusion.

Remember, the Cold War didn't end with World War III but with 3 billion new capitalists joining the global economy. We were never ahead in that war either, but clearly we triumphed in everything else.

Let me give you some examples of that everything else today.

First, as globalization expands, it naturally invades those regions most disconnected from its influences to date. In effect, this struggle marches backward in time as we quell civil strife and battle radical extremists in increasingly primitive locations.

So don't expect less violence as globalization permeates the Middle East and Africa. Entrenched elites and cultural fundamentalists will resist its democratizing effects, especially when it comes to women.

Globalization brings networks. Networks are gender neutral. Provide such connectivity to traditional society, and you'll turn it upside down by empowering women disproportionally to men.

Put most crudely, this Long War will see us liberating females through economic connectivity while killing off self-righteous young men standing in the way.

Why do fundamentalists deny real education to young girls? Because that's where all this "trouble" starts.

No modern economy has ever developed without liberating its women first with expanded economic opportunity, then social change (often related to birth control) and finally political participation.

Second, we've got to get better at defining both enemies and allies in this Long War.

A good example is our assumption that any religious awakening is a sign of increasing fundamentalism, when more times than not it's an attempt to reconcile tradition with modernity.

Unlike fundamentalists who advocate disconnectedness from the "corrupt" world, evangelicals of all faiths work to connect populations across borders, generating self-help networks and empowering individuals relative to elites.

According to experts who track such trends, evangelicalism is exploding around this planet while fundamentalism is declining. Missionary activity, for example, has never been higher globally, signaling this century will be far more religious than the last.

Having said that, we must carefully disaggregate the perceived Islamic threat: not every Muslim is an Islamist is a fundamentalist is a jihadist. Many Muslims thrive in market democracies, not just in the West but in south and east Asia, where their largest populations are found.

More specifically, Islamists want governments in predominately Muslim countries to reflect Muslim values, just like America's government reflects our predominately Judeo-Christian roots. But wanting that doesn't automatically make you a fundamentalist who demands civilizational apartheid with the West, nor does it commit you to violence toward such ends.

If the Islamic Middle East is truly to embrace globalization, then we must respect the many compromises that faith will demand in return. The loss of cultural identity cannot overwhelm the economic benefits - especially in the short term.

And that gets me to our definition of "the duration."

This Long War did not begin with 9/11. As defined by the expanding global economy, previous iterations of this fight date to the early 19th century, when capitalism first took hold in Europe and America.

Since then, as our model of markets begetting democracies has spread around this Earth, we have encountered new resistance with each age.

First came the Marxists, who thought they'd strike when capitalism reached its inevitable collapse - as the fascists did later in Weimar Germany. Then it was the Bolsheviks who retreated in history to find a pre-capitalist Russia where they could wage their socialist revolution. Then the Maoists retreated further into the pre-industrialized countryside to trigger their peasant revolution.

And now we have al-Qaida's Salafi jihadists, whose back-to-the-future fantasy involves hijacking Islamic societies all the way back to a pre-economic, 7th-century "good life."

The more we explore this planet's future, the more our enemies retreat into its past.

Judging the Long War strictly as war will always yield a depressing verdict: This killing won't stop anytime soon. But judging it within the context of globalization's progressive advance across our world provides us sufficient confidence that we stand on the side of liberty, faith - and history.

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