A generation or more is necessary to see any large event in some historical perspective. That the fall of the Berlin Wall was a “large event” we could see immediately, but not what it portended. The political world would be transformed, but the New World Order that George Bush Senior foresaw was a mirage. Ditto with events since 9/11.
Several thousand were killed on that day in 2001 — the anniversary of the Ottoman defeat at the Gates of Vienna. This was a comparatively small number, by modern standards. The rich symbolism of this Islamist operation was lost on the West, which no longer cares for history or legend. A brilliant assault of “asymmetric warfare,” it fulfilled all of its objectives. The torch has since been passed from the more moderate al-Qaeda to the more fanatic Daesh, and will be passed again in due course. Osama bin-Laden personally lost face by being hunted down and killed like a rat, but his vision of a restored Islamic Caliphate survives him. It inspires still the young in heart and mind.
The immediate intention was to humiliate the “Great Satan”; to awaken the sleeping giant and make him blindly thrash; to goad him into self-destructive behaviour as he struck against an enemy he could neither locate nor understand. Beyond this: to expose him as a paper tiger, tilting a balance of power, and transferring initiative from the mightily-armed “Crusader” to the nimble “Jihadi.” Within the Muslim world: to show that only the radical Salafist faction could get results, could change the direction of history and, as it were, “make Arabia great again.”
As I suggested above, we are still too close to this event to grasp its full significance; but after fifteen years we in the West are in a much worse position than we were on the 10th of September, 2001. We showed, as the Islamists predicted, that we did not have the stamina to prevail, even against weak adversaries; that America and allies could only fight “Vietnams.” Our will is shaken, and to Salafist delight, we have by now expressed contrition for fourteen centuries of Christian defence against Islamic aggression. We bow respectfully, as our culture is insulted, and as versions of Shariah are imposed. In disregard of our own security, we have thrown our borders open to massive Muslim immigration. We follow, at every junction, the course of sentimentality, and adapt to the certainty of defeat. After each hit we call for grief counsellors.
It is instructive that, in the present circumstances, with Christians reduced to desperation through much of the Near East, we import Muslim refugees almost exclusively. The Christians flee to the protection of the Kurds; not to refugee camps in which they would risk massacre. Western governments take only from those camps; or in Europe, the flotillas launched from Turkey and Libya. The Islamists gloat at this demographic achievement; the Daesh now recruit from the disaffected young in the new Muslim ghettoes of Europe, radicalized in Saudi-built-and-financed mosques. Few directly engage in suicidal acts of terrorism; but those who do are lionized as heroes. Lesser, safer acts, such as rape of European women, and desecration of churches and synagogues, have become commonplace. We are, and we know that we are, as incapable of assimilating these migrants as the Romans were of assimilating the Vandals and Huns through their increasingly porous frontiers.
Crucially, in the mindless fantasy of “multiculturalism,” we refuse to recognize the contradictions between Islamic and Christian teaching, and look the other way, muttering fatuities about “the religion of peace” after each psychopathic explosion. This is just what Osama predicted: the harder the blows, the more docile we would become, and the more complacent in the face of the ancient Islamic demand for submission.
The genius of Osama bin-Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, was to know that the de-Christianizing West would respond in this way. Their propaganda spelt out, from the beginning, the argument for their methods. They called us chestless wonders; they said we would fold under any sustained pressure; that we had lost the confidence of our Christian identity. We are an aging society now, vitiated by abortions, needing immigrants to pay our pensions; a people addicted to drugs, from opiates to iPhones; lapsed in creature comforts, and spineless in the face of adversity.
Not all of us, of course. I am sometimes impressed by the number of remnant faithful to the old Christian religion, and its “Western ideals.” In moments of crisis, as we saw for some weeks after the Twin Towers came down, the rest of the population stirs. Yet by Christmas of 2001 they were snoring again, and again the liberal reflexes were twitching. Not al-Qaeda but “Bush” was already being blamed for disturbing the peace.
Bush made one fatal mistake. He “overmisestimated” his countrymen’s ability to stay what he knew must be a long and difficult course. His “flypaper” strategy — as I called it at the time — was to engage the Islamists in their native East; to let them go fight in places like Kandahar and Fallujah, where they would be irresistibly attracted to, and annihilated by, vastly superior American military discipline, logistics, and firepower. It was working too well: Americans began to feel safe again, resented the foreign bloodshed and expense, and so called the boys home. Now the flypaper hangs over the West.
Beyond this, the Bush strategy was to repair a disintegrating international state system. National governments must take sovereign responsibility; must patrol within their own borders. Regimes which exported violence would be confronted. Either they would end the sanctuary they had granted to terrorists, or a U.S.-led coalition of the willing would do it for them. He cited long-established international law, which entitles the victims of raids to “hot pursuit” across international borders. By invading Afghanistan and Iraq successfully, Bush could compel other regimes, such as those governing Libya, Syria, and Iran, to behave themselves. That, too, was working: until Obama suddenly evacuated Iraq, vindicating indeed those who had called the USA a paper tiger. And, flew to Cairo to deliver an obsequious apology from America to the whole Muslim world.
There had been, shortly after 9/11, a curious exchange in a Washington corridor between President Bush and the freshman New York senator, Hillary Clinton. Playing to the morning-after gallery as a hawk, she needled him. He was quite rude. He wished to assure the former First Lady that he would not be replying to the hit on New York City as her husband had done, to previous al-Qaeda provocations. He would not be merely firing a cruise missile up some Afghan camel’s derrière.
Bush delivered on his threats. He thereby earned the respect of his country’s worst enemies, who had become accustomed to American vacillation. But he became over-extended, as he began to fill the Mesopotamian bog with unrecoverable billions, in a lunatic scheme to turn Iraq into a “model democracy.” This was well-meaning American naiveté at its self-defeating worst: for what had once worked in Germany and Japan had no chance anywhere in the Middle East.
Notwithstanding, within two years, despite serial misjudgements, the USA held all the cards. America still enjoyed an unchallengeable and unprecedented “hyperpower” status. Within two more, Bush himself had started to drop them, for domestic political ends. But the Iraq “surge” demonstrated that he was not retreating. He was willing to expend his own diminishing political capital in the American national interest.
It takes some stomach, to stand one’s ground against a ruthless and implacable foe. Bush wrongly believed the West still had it. He paid for that naiveté, too. Tiring quickly of the inconvenience of battle, the public were easily persuaded to disavow Bush as captain, and make him their scapegoat instead. Osama bin-Laden, and not George W. Bush, had been proved more astute.
In my youth, I was amazed to watch the United States of America let itself be defeated by little North Vietnam — having, it seemed to me, agreed to fight blindfold, with hands tied behind back, and feet chained together. It was a failure of resolution, from which I hoped much had been learnt: you don’t fight a war by a ponderous extension of your domestic bureaucracy. You certainly don’t fight a war you don’t intend to win. Osama told the Muslim world it would happen again, and in retrospect, he was right. But Vietnam was made into a mere holding action within the larger Cold War. The consequences of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan are much greater.
America was our champion, but the West as a whole has proved itself unequal to the barbaric will. Frankly, I cannot imagine a recovery that does not involve the restoration of our Christian identity, and the renewal of our Christian mission at home and abroad. As “nothing in particular” we are already buried up to the waist in the trash heap of history.
But of course: alternative futures are not precluded, just because I can’t imagine them. Maybe we’ll be saved by flying saucers.