The creation of a Palestinian state is essential for the war against terrorism
There has never been a greater contrast between the superficial coverage of a war and its true nature. Much of the press would like to see this conflict as a re-run of Desert Storm: Mountain Storm. perhaps. As in the Gulf War, the good guys will use awesome technology to overwhelm the bad guys, and all will be well.
If only. After all, it did not even work in 1991, when we scotch'd the snake, not killed it; Saddam awaits his second round. In Afghanistan, everything is much harder, especially as the West has only a month's bombing time before Ramadan and the winter. Moreover, there is a limit to the power of air war. It would not be difficult to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age, but what would that achieve?
There are also problems on the ground. At the outset, a number of commentators — including me — hoped that any infantry campaign could be subcontracted to the Northern Alliance, assisted by special forces plus ground-attack planes and helicopters. Two problems rapidly emerged. The Northern Alliance would be unacceptable to the Pashtun majority; they would also be unacceptable to world opinion. Last time they took Kabul, there was a good deal of rape, pillage and massacre, and it is unlikely that the Alliance's warriors have spent the intervening years mugging up the Geneva Convention. Perhaps we should not be so censorious of their barbarian mores; it was not so many centuries ago that captured European cities would be given over to the sack. But it would look awfully bad on television.
So it will be necessary to construct a broadly based, rapine-averse anti-Taleban coalition which could be entrusted with the capture of Kabul. It will take time to do this.
But we must not get bogged down in Afghanistan, militarily or mentally. That country is only an accidental battlefield, just as the attacks on New York and Washington were merely a catalyst. The fall of Kabul would only be a minor incident in a long war, in which America, although the first conspicuous victim, is an ally, not a principal. Bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center in order to signal the beginning of a civil war in the Islamic world, with the goal of promoting an Islamic revival. He wants to emulate the early followers of the Prophet and to lead a united and purified Islam, irrupting out of the desert to great-powerhood and glory. In this, he starts with three interlinked advantages: history, demography and corruption.
Bid Laden is not the only Muslim obsessed by the contrast between the splendours of Caliphate Baghdad and Muslim Spain and the long centuries of later decline, which oil riches have been able to reverse. Throughout the cafés of the Muslim world, hundreds of thousands of young men are saying the same thing. 'We have all this oil, yet what happens? It is sold cheaply to Westerners who despise us, in order to pay the nightclub bills of decadent pseudo-Islamic rulers. Given our control of oil, we could squeeze the world economy's windpipe. Yet we have not even been able to dislodge the Israelis from the lands they stole. Our current leaders are wasting our substance and our opportunity; let us rise up against them.' Bin Laden's aim is to compress all that café hot air until it explodes.
He has further potential assistance from the millions of young Arabs who cannot afford to go to cafés. Throughout the Muslim world, there is a rapidly rising birth rate, which often means that as many as 60 per cent of the population is under 16. It is not going to be easy to absorb all these youngsters into the labour market, and the militant mullahs will be suggesting alternative goals.
Such mullahs will have more prestige than the average Islamic ruler. It would be wrong to claim that all Muslim governments are backward. Leaving aside Turkey, Jordan has been remarkably well-run, given the obstacles it faces. The same is true of some of the smaller Gulf states, and above all of Oman. It is also true of Malaysia, despite Dr Mahathir's eccentricities.
Thereafter, the picture is less encouraging. In most of the bigger Muslim states, civil society is backward, a non-existent rule of law offers no protection for human rights, while there seems to be no road forward to democracy and the free market. Such regimes cannot recruit the loyalty of their peoples: they merely rule by power and fear.
That is not always a bad thing. As part of our war propaganda, we have to deploy the cant of free elections; we must also hope that Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan take no notice. Elections there might have a most undesirable outcome, just as they would have done in Iran in the late Seventies. For the foreseeable future, it is not only inevitable that much of the Muslim world will be ruled by repressive char
acters. It is also desirable, as long as they are Western-friendly repressives.
Nor is it clear what steps the West could take to assist the Islamic masses to a future worthy of their past. Elsewhere in this issue, Mark Steyn urges the United States to take up the multiracial man's burden. This seems unlikely to happen, unless he persuades New Hampshire to establish an empire of its own (it ought to start with Massachusetts). But there is an alternative to full-blown colonialism. For around a century, the East India Company controlled the affairs of the subcontinent while using local rulers and power structures to enforce its will. Over the next century, America, Britain and other Western countries — plus Russia, in the former Soviet Central Asia — should combine in a similar venture, using their influence to guide Second and Third World countries in the gradual direction of the rule of law, free markets and liberal democracy. Prosperous populations with advanced constitutions tend to create stable societies which are less likely to engender terrorism, or to tolerate it. Such a new world order is the only sensible long-run objective for Western policy.
In the long-run, we are all dead, as Keynes reminded us. In the short term, we have the daunting task of postponing that long-run for as long as possible. The current anthrax attacks are probably the work of a lone fanatic: a new Unabomber. The next one might not be, and if so, it is likely to come from Iraq. We must deal with Saddam. We also need allies in the Arab world, which is why Palestine is crucial.
Despite the murder of Minister Zeevi and the justifiable emotions which this crime has aroused, the creation of a Palestinian state is not a betrayal of Israel; it is in Israel's best interests. The men who assassinated Mr Zeevi do not want a Palestinian state on the West Bank. They want to destroy Israel. The present arrangements enable them to recruit large numbers of Palestinians to that cause, whereas a compromise, with security guarantees, would work against them. The West may now be facing a prolonged struggle against Islamic terrorism. We are more likely to lose that war if the Israelis insist on a prolonged conflict with their neighbours. Even without an endless intifada, however, we will need allies, cunning, ruthlessness and luck.
Peter °borne returns next week.