January 21, 2007
(Posted by John.)
So I finished reading Fiasco by Tom Ricks last night, and I really should take back some of the mean things I said about him over the summer. It really is an excellent book, and you should all read it.
But I was struck by the ending of Ricks' book -- he explores what the likely scenarios are in Iraq, and his "nightmare" scenario (the worst of the worst, presumably) is the establishment of a Muslim Caliphate in Iraq.
Funny. I really, really don't understand why I'm supposed to find this outcome terrifying.
The first thing to say is that re-establishing the Caliphate is something Bin Laden seems to want, so on those grounds alone it's probably a bad idea we should try to avoid. The second thing to say is that, in any likely combination of events, the re-establishment of the Caliphate is not going to happen. The existing governments of Muslim states are extremely well-armed and unimpressed with the idea of reviving a true, pan-Muslim Caliphate. (This hasn't stopped many national leaders from proclaiming themselves the new Caliph.)
What I really don't get is how a Caliphate is supposed to be big and scary in a way that, say, a nuclear-armed Pakistan, Iran, or possibly Saudi Arabia isn't. Threat of terrorism? Check and check. Nuclear proliferation? Big, big check.
There does seem to be this fantasy that a Caliph could emerge, unite the Arab/Muslim world, and suddenly we're fighting at the gates of Vienna all over again. This idea is so lunatic it really only deserves one answer: any nation stupid enough to engage NATO in a land war is going to get exactly the carnage it deserves.
Meanwhile, I've met a few (very moderate) Muslims who yearn wistfully for the era of Muslim unity that the Caliphate represents to them, so it's not like you have to be crazy to want it.
Moreover, Ricks himself quotes a soldier earlier in his book who points out the obvious: The US already has two wars on its hands. It would be nice if people would stop fantasizing about enemies in the future and start using the brainpower to fight the wars they've got.
January 21, 2007 | Permalink
The people who want us to worry most about the Caliphate are those most disoriented by the end of the Cold War. They're just looking for a new big bad enemy to fit into their worldview (and indeed, income streams.)
The reality of course, as always is that the next threat is never the same as the last one. That's really the saddest part.
Posted by: Meh | Jan 21, 2007 12:07:35 PM
"So I finished reading Fiasco by Tom Ricks last night, and I really should take back some of the mean things I said about him over the summer. It really is an excellent book, and you should all read it."
Excellent book or not, how can we justify him callously withholding all his stuff from the paper just to sell more books?
Posted by: Petey | Jan 21, 2007 12:16:15 PM
Bush is scraping the bottom of the barrel when he asks us to take seriously the rhetoric of Bin Laden or Ahmadinejad. I wish someone would take the equally inflammatory words of Kim Jong-il and ask Bush why we shouldn't be even more concerned.
Posted by: Joel Rutstein | Jan 21, 2007 12:20:48 PM
How a viable "Caliphate" could exist in a Muslim world characterized by a deep split between Sunni and Shia is beyond me.
Posted by: Chloe | Jan 21, 2007 1:22:24 PM
The last time a Muslim Caliphate existed it was a title held by the Turkish Sultan, and his kingdom was called "the sick man of Europe" while it was dismantled piece-by-piece by the western powers until the Sultan was finally overthrown and the Caliphate abolished.
Also, given that Iraq is a majority-Shi'ite state, it strikes me that Iraq is perhaps the least likely part of the Arab world in which one would see a rise of a pretender-to-the-throne declaring himself Caliph.
Posted by: Constantine | Jan 21, 2007 2:09:26 PM
"Also, given that Iraq is a majority-Shi'ite state, it strikes me that Iraq is perhaps the least likely part of the Arab world in which one would see a rise of a pretender-to-the-throne declaring himself Caliph."
Right, which is a good reason to get nuclear weapons.
Posted by: Alex | Jan 21, 2007 2:59:16 PM
Posted by: TigerHawk | Jan 21, 2007 3:32:43 PM
Wait, is this like the way Arthur is supposed to awaken and unite all of England?
Posted by: Avedon | Jan 21, 2007 6:51:52 PM
It would be nice if people would stop fantasizing about enemies in the future and start using the brainpower to fight the wars they've got.
Assuming that we can stop their wars of the future, I'd rather them spout about that than continuing to "help" with the ones we are already fighting...
Posted by: Pooh | Jan 21, 2007 8:28:43 PM
"There does seem to be this fantasy that a Caliph could emerge, unite the Arab/Muslim world, and suddenly we're fighting at the gates of Vienna all over again. This idea is so lunatic it really only deserves one answer: any nation stupid enough to engage NATO in a land war is going to get exactly the carnage it deserves."
See, this is the sort of jingoism and militarism that I'm surprised that the US Right rejects so wholeheartedly. Can't all us military-tech nerds get enthusiastically behind the idea that a conventional military confrontation between any plausible neoCaliphate and NATO would be a brief, one-sided, and glorious piece of butchery?
Instead, the US Right appears to be... afraid of this idea. Afraid of... what, precisely?
Of course, the entire thought experiement undermines the 'Clash of Civilizations' rhetoric so beloved of the Victor Davis Hansens of the world, which is probably the reason they reject it.
Meh has a point, though I believe that the real thing these people yearn for is World War 2, with it's wonderful large-scale conventional engagements and clear-cut (to them) moral issues (though as DeLong, I believe, once pointed out, WW2 was fascists and Nazis against Josef Stalin, a fading imperial state, and an explicitly apartheid state, and we still really were the good guys).
Posted by: NBarnes | Jan 22, 2007 9:03:15 AM
This shite about the risk of a Caliphate has been running around the DoD for the past year. It's a fantasy by the dead-enders.
Posted by: No Longer a Urinated State of America | Jan 22, 2007 11:10:08 AM
Posted by: JUDY | Sep 26, 2007 4:34:35 AM
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