As the situation on the ground in Iraq veers out of control, the rest of the Middle East is coming undone â€“ a state of affairs directly attributable to our policy of â€œregime changeâ€ throughout the region.
On the western front, Lebanon is teetering on the brink of (yet another) civil war, with the very forces we have been backing covertly â€“ al-Qaeda-affiliated Sunni radicals â€“ in a stand-off with the (U.S.-allied) government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. With the Americans, the French, and assorted Euro-types standing behind them, the busybodies over at the UN â€“ supposedly the worldâ€™s major force for â€œpeaceâ€ â€“ have engineered a scenario whereby the Syrians and their Lebanese allies are being blamed for an assassination so mired in murk and mystery that it would take Sherlock Holmes on steroids to unravel it â€“ and certainly the UN â€œinvestigationâ€ has done nothing to solve this whodunit. The outcome is likely to be a UN-sponsored intervention that will be little more than a fig-leaf for American (and Israeli) meddling in the internal affairs of a supposedly sovereign nation â€“ and, perhaps, a confrontation with Iran, which supports the nationalist-Shiâ€™ite Hezbollah.
Also on the western front: the Turks have launched what is to all intents and purposes an invasion of Kurdistan, sending thousands of troops into a region effectively controlled by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a terrorist group that has wreaked death and destruction on thousands of Turkish civilians and foreign nationals over the years. The Turks legitimize this open violation of Iraqi sovereignty in the name of â€œhot pursuit,â€ but of course they could pursue the terrorists all the way to Sulaimaniya, the regional capital, if they wanted to get at the true source of the PKKâ€™s support. They mounted this incursion in spite of strenuous warnings by the Americans that the consequences of such an act could be disastrous for US-Turkish relations â€“ an indication of just how volatile this long-simmering issue has become.
To the east, Pakistanâ€™s crisis looms as potentially the biggest disaster of them all, one that would give a rather sinister meaning to the prospect of a Middle East meltdown â€“ because Pakistan, after all, possesses nukes, the only Muslim nation so endowed. The result could well be a nuclear meltdown, with horrific consequences for the region and beyond. General Pervez Musharrafâ€™s grip on power â€“ never all that firm to begin with â€“ is increasingly shaky, with the nationâ€™s Muslims in open rebellion, the National Assembly in an uproar over newly-imposed restrictions on the media, and much of the countryside slipping outside the Generalâ€™s control. If Muslim extremists succeed in toppling the Musharraf regime, the West could find itself confronted with a nuclearized ally of al-Qaeda ensconced in Islamabad.
Superimposed on the twin crises currently unfolding in Iraq and Iran â€“ the former deteriorating into chaos and the latter just as rapidly rising to challenge American hegemony â€“ these new threats to regional stability threaten to ignite a conflagration on a par with both world wars.
To begin with, the economic blowback from the outbreak of World War IV in the Middle East would strike a stunning blow to the American middle class â€“ and, perhaps, drag us and much of the rest of the world into a downward spiral that would make the formerly â€œGreatâ€ [.pdf] Depression seem like a minor blip on the screen.
The economic costs of empire were calculated half a century ago by the Old Right seer Garet Garrett, who said part of the problem was that â€œeverything goes out and nothing comes in.â€ The American Imperium, Garrett averred, was an â€œempire of the Bottomless Purseâ€ â€“ and yet perhaps we will soon scrape bottom, having mortgaged our children, and their children, and exchanged our republic for what will surely go down in history as one of the biggest, and shortest-lived, empires of all time. An empire built on debt, an exercise in vanity and a monument to the hubris of our rulers: like the pyramids of Egypt, its relics will be the object of study and much wonder at how so great an effort could have been wasted on behalf of such a towering narcissism.
We have the mightiest military machine in human history, yet what do we have to show for it? In Iraq, we have an insurgency mounted by a rag-tag army of Baâ€™athist â€œdead-endersâ€ and makeshift local militias that have fought us to a standstill. In the meantime, we have no effective defense against the day the Chinese and Japanese dump their dollars and stop subsidizing American militarism. No purse is bottomless: our empire of debt puts us at the mercy of our creditors.
Americaâ€™s imperial aspirations are also cause to fear a threat on yet another front: as 9/11 proved, â€œblowbackâ€ is likely to hit us on our own soil. It behooves us to remember that, for all the diversions away from our real enemies, al-Qaeda and its satellites around the globe, we do indeed face the very real threat of a 9/11-like attack in the continental US. This, after all, has always been the linchpin of Osama bin Ladenâ€™s strategic line: that, rather than conducting guerrilla operations around the edges of the empire â€“ say, against Israel, or the local U.S.-supported tyrants, such as Hosni Mubarak and the House of Saud â€“ it is necessary to hit the Americans where they live.
Seismic tremors â€“ rippling outward from the center of the earthquake set off by the invasion and ongoing war in Iraq â€“ are shaking the entire region, and the shockwaves are sure to hit Washington, London, Paris, and Tokyo with gale force. Whether our fragile freedoms and the bubble of inflated prosperity will survive the storm is an open question, but of one thing we can be sure: weâ€™re about to be tested as never before.
Given the sorry record of the past five years or so, Iâ€™m not at all confident that weâ€™ll muddle through, this time, without losing a lot of what America â€“ and the developed world, often known as â€œthe Westâ€ â€“ used to be about. Itâ€™s at times like these that I wish I was religious, in the true sense of the word, and could put my faith in Providence as the ultimate guarantor of American liberty and our republican traditions, but, unfortunately, I find that impossible. Although I am not evangelical in my atheistic fervor, and give moral credence to religiously-motivated resistance to militarism and authoritarianism, the only sort of faith I can claim is full confidence in the power of ideas. Specifically the power of the libertarian and anti-imperialist ideas that generated the American Revolution â€“ and hold out the promise of sparking yet another.
My great fear, however, is that it is too late for that. We are hurtling toward catastrophe in the Middle East at such speeds that it seems almost impossible to slow down, let alone reverse, the momentum for war. With lemming-like determination, our rulers seem intent on leaping over the Middle East precipice and into an abyss. Who will stand in the path of the War Party as it force-marches a reluctant nation into battle, this time against the entire Muslim world?
Like that lone Chinese dissident who stood in the pathway of a Red Army tank during the Tiananmen Square protests, such a leader would have to possess the kind of courage that surpasses all reason â€“ and where are such people to be found?
Surely not on the stage of either partyâ€™s presidential debates, unless weâ€™re talking about Ron Paul or the Democratsâ€™ Cassandra, Mike Gravel. Gravel is not a real factor, except as a provocateur to show up the cowardice and opportunism of the â€œmajors.â€ However, Ron Paul is a different matter: his candidacy could easily set off the sort of ideological avalanche that paleoconservatives and many libertarians have long awaited, one that could eventually sweep away the neoconservative hegemony over the GOP and help return the Republicans to their anti-interventionist, pro-individual rights roots. This, however, is a long-term project, one that cannot be achieved in the course of a single election season, and thatâ€™s the problem: we donâ€™t have a lot of time.
The spark was struck when we invaded and occupied Iraq, and the fuse is now burned nearly to the end. If our republic survives the inevitable explosion, it will be in some permanently disfigured form â€“ an America rendered unrecognizable not only to the shades of the Founders, but to ourselves.