In Memoriam: Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010)

December 15, 2010

“The controlled chaos is one way to get creativity. The intensity of it, the physical rush, the intimacy created the kind of dialogue that leads to synergy.” Richard Holbrooke

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke was the most ubiquitous and brilliant diplomat of his generation, distinguished for his legendary toughness as a negotiator in Asia, Europe, and beyond. As a diplomat, writer, and investment banker, he has stood near the pinnacle of power, renewing the credibility of U.S. diplomacy.

To commemorate the passing of the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, we reproduce some articles and stories related to this giant of U.S. foreign policy.

United States presidential election, 2008: The Next President

Former U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke discusses Russia, Georgia and Kosovo

Bosnian Crisis

U.S. President Obama appoints envoys to Middle East and South Asia

Afpak: Richard Holbrooke’ U.S. Strategy for South Asia

In Memoriam: Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008)

January 24, 2009


To commemorate the passing of Samuel P. Huntington, the preeminent political scientist of the second half of the twentieth century, who died on December 24th, 2008, we reproduce his great controversial essay The Clash of Civilizations, published 1993 in the leading magazine for international affairs Foreign Affairs.


The Clash of Civilizations?

by Samuel P. Huntington

Summary: World politics is entering a new phase, in which the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of international conflict will be cultural. Civilizations – the highest cultural groupings of people – are differentiated from each other by religion, history, language and tradition. These divisions are deep and increasing in importance. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central Asia, the fault lines of civilizations are the battle lines of the future. In this emerging era of cultural conflict the United States must forge alliances with similar cultures and spread its values wherever possible. With alien civilizations the West must be accommodating if possible, but confrontational if necessary. In the final analysis, however, all civilizations will have to learn to tolerate each other.


World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be-the end of history, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world. For a century and a half after the emergence of the modern international system with the Peace of Westphalia, the conflicts of the Western world were largely among princes-emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs attempting to expand their bureaucracies, their armies, their mercantilist economic strength and, most important, the territory they ruled. In the process they created nation states, and beginning with the French Revolution the principal lines of conflict were between nations rather than princes.

In 1793, as R. R. Palmer put it, “The wars of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun.” This nineteenth-century pattern lasted until the end of World War I. Then, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the reaction against it, the conflict of nations yielded to the conflict of ideologies, first among communism, fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, and then between communism and liberal democracy. During the Cold War, this latter conflict became embodied in the struggle between the two superpowers, neither of which was a nation state in the classical European sense and each of which defined its identity in terms of its ideology.

These conflicts between princes, nation states and ideologies were primarily conflicts within Western civilization, “Western civil wars,” as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the Cold War as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the end of the Cold War, international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its centerpiece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western civilizations and among non-Western civilizations. In the politics of civilizations, the peoples and governments of non-Western civilizations no longer remain the objects of history as targets of Western colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.


During the cold war the world was divided into the First, Second and Third Worlds. Those divisions are no longer relevant. It is far more meaningful now to group countries not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.

What do we mean when we talk of a civilization? A civilization is a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be different from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German villages. European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs, Chinese and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural entity. They constitute civilizations. A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people. People have levels of identity: a resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of intensity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a Westerner. The civilization to which he belongs is the broadest level of identification with which he intensely identifies. People can and do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and boundaries of civilizations change.

Civilizations may involve a large number of people, as with China (“a civilization pretending to be a state,” as Lucian Pye put it), or a very small number of people, such as the Anglophone Caribbean. A civilization may include several nation states, as is the case with Western, Latin American and Arab civilizations, or only one, as is the case with Japanese civilization. Civilizations obviously blend and overlap, and may include subcivilizations. Western civilization has two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions. Civilizations are nonetheless meaningful entities, and while the lines between them are seldom sharp, they are real. Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they divide and merge. And, as any student of history knows, civilizations disappear and are buried in the sands of time.

Westerners tend to think of nation states as the principal actors in global affairs. They have been that, however, for only a few centuries. The broader reaches of human history have been the history of civilizations. In A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee identified 21 major civilizations; only six of them exist in the contemporary world.


Civilization identity will be increasingly important in the future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interactions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from one another.

Why will this be the case?

First, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion. The people of different civilizations have different views on the relations between God and man, the individual and the group, the citizen and the state, parents and children, husband and wife, as well as differing views of the relative importance of rights and responsibilities, liberty and authority, equality and hierarchy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.

Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions between peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities within civilizations. North African immigration to France generates hostility among Frenchmen and at the same time increased receptivity to immigration by “good” European Catholic Poles. Americans react far more negatively to Japanese investment than to larger investments from Canada and European countries.

Similarly, as Donald Horowitz has pointed out, “An Ibo may be … an Owerri Ibo or an Onitsha Ibo in what was the Eastern region of Nigeria. In Lagos, he is simply an Ibo. In London, he is a Nigerian. In New York, he is an African.”

The interactions among peoples of different civilizations enhance the civilization-consciousness of people that, in turn, invigorates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch back deep into history.

Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist.” Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The “unsecularization of the world,” George Weigel has remarked, “is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twentieth century.” The revival of religion, “la revanche de Dieu,” as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations.

Fourth, the growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civilizations. Increasingly one hears references to trends toward a turning inward and “Asianization” in Japan, the end of the Nehru legacy and the “Hinduization” of India, the failure of Western ideas of socialism and nationalism and hence “re-Islamization” of the Middle East, and now a debate over Westernization versus Russianization in Boris Yeltsin’s country. A West at the peak of its power confronts non-Wests that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.

In the past, the elites of non-Western societies were usually the people who were most involved with the West, had been educated at Oxford, the Sorbonne or Sandhurst, and had absorbed Western attitudes and values. At the same time, the populace in non-Western countries often remained deeply imbued with the indigenous culture. Now, however, these relationships are being reversed. A de-Westernization and indigenization of elites is occurring in many non-Western countries at the same time that Western, usually American, cultures, styles and habits become more popular among the mass of the people.

Fifth, cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones. In the former Soviet Union, communists can become democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians cannot become Estonians and Azeris cannot become Armenians. In class and ideological conflicts, the key question was “Which side are you on?” and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In conflicts between civilizations, the question is “What are you?” That is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, from Bosnia to the Caucasus to the Sudan, the wrong answer to that question can mean a bullet in the head. Even more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.

Finally, economic regionalism is increasing. The proportions of total trade that were intraregional rose between 1980 and 1989 from 51 percent to 59 percent in Europe, 33 percent to 37 percent in East Asia, and 32 percent to 36 percent in North America. The importance of regional economic blocs is likely to continue to increase in the future. On the one hand, successful economic regionalism will reinforce civilization-consciousness. On the other hand, economic regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civilization. The European Community rests on the shared foundation of European culture and Western Christianity. The success of the North American Free Trade Area depends on the convergence now underway of Mexican, Canadian and American cultures. Japan, in contrast, faces difficulties in creating a comparable economic entity in East Asia because Japan is a society and civilization unique to itself. However strong the trade and investment links Japan may develop with other East Asian countries, its cultural differences with those countries inhibit and perhaps preclude its promoting regional economic integration like that in Europe and North America.

Common culture, in contrast, is clearly facilitating the rapid expansion of the economic relations between the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the overseas Chinese communities in other Asian countries. With the Cold War over, cultural commonalities increasingly overcome ideological differences, and mainland China and Taiwan move closer together. If cultural commonality is a prerequisite for economic integration, the principal East Asian economic bloc of the future is likely to be centered on China. This bloc is, in fact, already coming into existence. As Murray Weidenbaum has observed,

Despite the current Japanese dominance of the region, the Chinese-based economy of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new epicenter for industry, commerce and finance. This strategic area contains substantial amounts of technology and manufacturing capability (Taiwan), outstanding entrepreneurial, marketing and services acumen (Hong Kong), a fine communications network (Singapore), a tremendous pool of financial capital (all three), and very large endowments of land, resources and labor (mainland China)…. From Guangzhou to Singapore, from Kuala Lumpur to Manila, this influential network-often based on extensions of the traditional clans-has been described as the backbone of the East Asian economy.

Culture and religion also form the basis of the Economic Cooperation Organization, which brings together ten non-Arab Muslim countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. One impetus to the revival and expansion of this organization, founded originally in the 1960s by Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, is the realization by the leaders of several of these countries that they had no chance of admission to the European Community. Similarly, Caricom, the Central American Common Market and Mercosur rest on common cultural foundations. Efforts to build a broader Caribbean-Central American economic entity bridging the Anglo-Latin divide, however, have to date failed.

As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they are likely to see an “us” versus “them” relation existing between themselves and people of different ethnicity or religion. The end of ideologically defined states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union permits traditional ethnic identities and animosities to come to the fore. Differences in culture and religion create differences over policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and commerce to the environment. Geographical propinquity gives rise to conflicting territorial claims from Bosnia to Mindanao. Most important, the efforts of the West to promote its values of democracy and liberalism as universal values, to maintain its military predominance and to advance its economic interests engender countering responses from other civilizations. Decreasingly able to mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of ideology, governments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by appealing to common religion and civilization identity.

The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro- level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other. At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for relative military and economic power, struggle over the control of international institutions and third parties, and competitively promote their particular political and religious values.


The fault lines between civilizations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed. The Cold War began when the Iron Curtain divided Europe politically and ideologically. The Cold War ended with the end of the Iron Curtain. As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history-feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict.

Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 years. After the founding of Islam, the Arab and Moorish surge west and north only ended at Tours in 732. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century the Crusaders attempted with temporary success to bring Christianity and Christian rule to the Holy Land. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance, extended their sway over the Middle East and the Balkans, captured Constantinople, and twice laid siege to Vienna. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as Ottoman power declined Britain, France, and Italy established Western control over most of North Africa and the Middle East.

After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat; the colonial empires disappeared; first Arab nationalism and then Islamic fundamentalism manifested themselves; the West became heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf countries for its energy; the oil-rich Muslim countries became money-rich and, when they wished to, weapons-rich. Several wars occurred between Arabs and Israel (created by the West). France fought a bloody and ruthless war in Algeria for most of the 1950s; British and French forces invaded Egypt in 1956; American forces went into Lebanon in 1958; subsequently American forces returned to Lebanon, attacked Libya, and engaged in various military encounters with Iran; Arab and Islamic terrorists, supported by at least three Middle Eastern governments, employed the weapon of the weak and bombed Western planes and installations and seized Western hostages. This warfare between Arabs and the West culminated in 1990, when the United States sent a massive army to the Persian Gulf to defend some Arab countries against aggression by another. In its aftermath NATO planning is increasingly directed to potential threats and instability along its “southern tier.”

This centuries-old military interaction between the West and Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent. The Gulf War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and their apparent inability to shape their own destiny. Many Arab countries, in addition to the oil exporters, are reaching levels of economic and social development where autocratic forms of government become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democracy strengthens anti-Western political forces. This may be a passing phenomenon, but it surely complicates relations between Islamic countries and the West.

Those relations are also complicated by demography. The spectacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe. The movement within Western Europe toward minimizing internal boundaries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this development. In Italy, France and Germany, racism is increasingly open, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish migrants have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.

On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen as a clash of civilizations. The West’s “next confrontation,” observes M. J. Akbar, an Indian Muslim author, “is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.” Bernard Lewis comes to a similar conclusion:

We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations-the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.

Historically, the other great antagonistic interaction of Arab Islamic civilization has been with the pagan, animist, and now increasingly Christian black peoples to the south. In the past, this antagonism was epitomized in the image of Arab slave dealers and black slaves. It has been reflected in the on-going civil war in the Sudan between Arabs and blacks, the fighting in Chad between Libyan-supported insurgents and the government, the tensions between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in the Horn of Africa, and the political conflicts, recurring riots and communal violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The modernization of Africa and the spread of Christianity are likely to enhance the probability of violence along this fault line. Symptomatic of the intensification of this conflict was the Pope John Paul II’s speech in Khartoum in February 1993 attacking the actions of the Sudan’s Islamist government against the Christian minority there.

On the northern border of Islam, conflict has increasingly erupted between Orthodox and Muslim peoples, including the carnage of Bosnia and Sarajevo, the simmering violence between Serb and Albanian, the tenuous relations between Bulgarians and their Turkish minority, the violence between Ossetians and Ingush, the unremitting slaughter of each other by Armenians and Azeris, the tense relations between Russians and Muslims in Central Asia, and the deployment of Russian troops to protect Russian interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Religion reinforces the revival of ethnic identities and restimulates Russian fears about the security of their southern borders. This concern is well captured by Archie Roosevelt:

Much of Russian history concerns the struggle between the Slavs and the Turkic peoples on their borders, which dates back to the foundation of the Russian state more than a thousand years ago. In the Slavs’ millennium-long confrontation with their eastern neighbors lies the key to an understanding not only of Russian history, but Russian character. To understand Russian realities today one has to have a concept of the great Turkic ethnic group that has preoccupied Russians through the centuries.‹

The conflict of civilizations is deeply rooted elsewhere in Asia. The historic clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent manifests itself now not only in the rivalry between Pakistan and India but also in intensifying religious strife within India between increasingly militant Hindu groups and India’s substantial Muslim minority. The destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in December 1992 brought to the fore the issue of whether India will remain a secular democratic state or become a Hindu one. In East Asia, China has outstanding territorial disputes with most of its neighbors. It has pursued a ruthless policy toward the Buddhist people of Tibet, and it is pursuing an increasingly ruthless policy toward its Turkic-Muslim minority. With the Cold War over, the underlying differences between China and the United States have reasserted themselves in areas such as human rights, trade and weapons proliferation. These differences are unlikely to moderate. A “new cold war,” Deng Xaioping reportedly asserted in 1991, is under way between China and America.

The same phrase has been applied to the increasingly difficult relations between Japan and the United States. Here cultural difference exacerbates economic conflict. People on each side allege racism on the other, but at least on the American side the antipathies are not racial but cultural. The basic values, attitudes, behavioral patterns of the two societies could hardly be more different. The economic issues between the United States and Europe are no less serious than those between the United States and Japan, but they do not have the same political salience and emotional intensity because the differences between American culture and European culture are so much less than those between American civilization and Japanese civilization.

The interactions between civilizations vary greatly in the extent to which they are likely to be characterized by violence. Economic competition clearly predominates between the American and European subcivilizations of the West and between both of them and Japan. On the Eurasian continent, however, the proliferation of ethnic conflict, epitomized at the extreme in “ethnic cleansing,” has not been totally random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups belonging to different civilizations. In Eurasia the great historic fault lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.


Groups or states belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other members of their own civilization. As the post-Cold War world evolves, civilization commonality, what H. D. S. Greenway has termed the “kin-country” syndrome, is replacing political ideology and traditional balance of power considerations as the principal basis for cooperation and coalitions. It can be seen gradually emerging in the post-Cold War conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia. None of these was a full-scale war between civilizations, but each involved some elements of civilizational rallying, which seemed to become more important as the conflict continued and which may provide a foretaste of the future.

First, in the Gulf War one Arab state invaded another and then fought a coalition of Arab, Western and other states. While only a few Muslim governments overtly supported Saddam Hussein, many Arab elites privately cheered him on, and he was highly popular among large sections of the Arab publics. Islamic fundamentalist movements universally supported Iraq rather than the Western-backed governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Forswearing Arab nationalism, Saddam Hussein explicitly invoked an Islamic appeal. He and his supporters attempted to define the war as a war between civilizations. “It is not the world against Iraq,” as Safar Al-Hawali, dean of Islamic Studies at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, put it in a widely circulated tape. “It is the West against Islam.” Ignoring the rivalry between Iran and Iraq, the chief Iranian religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for a holy war against the West: “The struggle against American aggression, greed, plans and policies will be counted as a jihad, and anybody who is killed on that path is a martyr.” “This is a war,” King Hussein of Jordan argued, “against all Arabs and all Muslims and not against Iraq alone.”

The rallying of substantial sections of Arab elites and publics behind Saddam Hussein caused those Arab governments in the anti-Iraq coalition to moderate their activities and temper their public statements. Arab governments opposed or distanced themselves from subsequent Western efforts to apply pressure on Iraq, including enforcement of a no-fly zone in the summer of 1992 and the bombing of Iraq in January 1993. The Western-Soviet-Turkish-Arab anti-Iraq coalition of 1990 had by 1993 become a coalition of almost only the West and Kuwait against Iraq.

Muslims contrasted Western actions against Iraq with the West’s failure to protect Bosnians against Serbs and to impose sanctions on Israel for violating U.N. resolutions. The West, they alleged, was using a double standard. A world of clashing civilizations, however, is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.

Second, the kin-country syndrome also appeared in conflicts in the former Soviet Union. Armenian military successes in 1992 and 1993 stimulated Turkey to become increasingly supportive of its religious, ethnic and linguistic brethren in Azerbaijan. “We have a Turkish nation feeling the same sentiments as the Azerbaijanis,” said one Turkish official in 1992. “We are under pressure. Our newspapers are full of the photos of atrocities and are asking us if we are still serious about pursuing our neutral policy. Maybe we should show Armenia that there’s a big Turkey in the region.” President Turgut Özal agreed, remarking that Turkey should at least “scare the Armenians a little bit.” Turkey, Özal threatened again in 1993, would “show its fangs.” Turkish Air Force jets flew reconnaissance flights along the Armenian border; Turkey suspended food shipments and air flights to Armenia; and Turkey and Iran announced they would not accept dismemberment of Azerbaijan. In the last years of its existence, the Soviet government supported Azerbaijan because its government was dominated by former communists. With the end of the Soviet Union, however, political considerations gave way to religious ones. Russian troops fought on the side of the Armenians, and Azerbaijan accused the “Russian government of turning 180 degrees” toward support for Christian Armenia.

Third, with respect to the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, Western publics manifested sympathy and support for the Bosnian Muslims and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Serbs. Relatively little concern was expressed, however, over Croatian attacks on Muslims and participation in the dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the early stages of the Yugoslav breakup, Germany, in an unusual display of diplomatic initiative and muscle, induced the other 11 members of the European Community to follow its lead in recognizing Slovenia and Croatia. As a result of the pope’s determination to provide strong backing to the two Catholic countries, the Vatican extended recognition even before the Community did. The United States followed the European lead. Thus the leading actors in Western civilization rallied behind their coreligionists. Subsequently Croatia was reported to be receiving substantial quantities of arms from Central European and other Western countries. Boris Yeltsin’s government, on the other hand, attempted to pursue a middle course that would be sympathetic to the Orthodox Serbs but not alienate Russia from the West. Russian conservative and nationalist groups, however, including many legislators, attacked the government for not being more forthcoming in its support for the Serbs. By early 1993 several hundred Russians apparently were serving with the Serbian forces, and reports circulated of Russian arms being supplied to Serbia.

Islamic governments and groups, on the other hand, castigated the West for not coming to the defense of the Bosnians. Iranian leaders urged Muslims from all countries to provide help to Bosnia; in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, Iran supplied weapons and men for the Bosnians; Iranian-supported Lebanese groups sent guerrillas to train and organize the Bosnian forces. In 1993 up to 4,000 Muslims from over two dozen Islamic countries were reported to be fighting in Bosnia. The governments of Saudi Arabia and other countries felt under increasing pressure from fundamentalist groups in their own societies to provide more vigorous support for the Bosnians. By the end of 1992, Saudi Arabia had reportedly supplied substantial funding for weapons and supplies for the Bosnians, which significantly increased their military capabilities vis-à-vis the Serbs.

In the 1930s the Spanish Civil War provoked intervention from countries that politically were fascist, communist and democratic. In the 1990s the Yugoslav conflict is provoking intervention from countries that are Muslim, Orthodox and Western Christian. The parallel has not gone unnoticed. “The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has become the emotional equivalent of the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War,” one Saudi editor observed. “Those who died there are regarded as martyrs who tried to save their fellow Muslims.”

Conflicts and violence will also occur between states and groups within the same civilization. Such conflicts, however, are likely to be less intense and less likely to expand than conflicts between civilizations. Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. In 1991 and 1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each other for centuries. As of early 1993, despite all the reasons for conflict, the leaders of the two countries were effectively negotiating and defusing the issues between the two countries. While there has been serious fighting between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting between Western and Orthodox Christians in the Baltic states, there has been virtually no violence between Russians and Ukrainians.

Civilization rallying to date has been limited, but it has been growing, and it clearly has the potential to spread much further. As the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia continued, the positions of nations and the cleavages between them increasingly were along civilizational lines. Populist politicians, religious leaders and the media have found it a potent means of arousing mass support and of pressuring hesitant governments. In the coming years, the local conflicts most likely to escalate into major wars will be those, as in Bosnia and the Caucasus, along the fault lines between civilizations. The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civilizations.


The west is now at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations. Its superpower opponent has disappeared from the map. Military conflict among Western states is unthinkable, and Western military power is unrivaled. Apart from Japan, the West faces no economic challenge. It dominates international political and security institutions and with Japan international economic institutions. Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a directorate of the United States, Britain and France, world economic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany and Japan, all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries. Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collective noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western powers.› Through the IMF and other international economic institutions, the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate. In any poll of non-Western peoples, the IMF undoubtedly would win the support of finance ministers and a few others, but get an overwhelmingly unfavorable rating from just about everyone else, who would agree with Georgy Arbatov’s characterization of IMF officials as “neo-Bolsheviks who love expropriating other people’s money, imposing undemocratic and alien rules of economic and political conduct and stifling economic freedom.”

Western domination of the U.N. Security Council and its decisions, tempered only by occasional abstention by China, produced U.N. legitimation of the West’s use of force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and its elimination of Iraq’s sophisticated weapons and capacity to produce such weapons. It also produced the quite unprecedented action by the United States, Britain and France in getting the Security Council to demand that Libya hand over the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects and then to impose sanctions when Libya refused. After defeating the largest Arab army, the West did not hesitate to throw its weight around in the Arab world. The West in effect is using international institutions, military power and economic resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political and economic values.

That at least is the way in which non-Westerners see the new world, and there is a significant element of truth in their view. Differences in power and struggles for military, economic and institutional power are thus one source of conflict between the West and other civilizations. Differences in culture, that is basic values and beliefs, are a second source of conflict. V. S. Naipaul has argued that Western civilization is the “universal civilization” that “fits all men.” At a superficial level much of Western culture has indeed permeated the rest of the world. At a more basic level, however, Western concepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations. Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures. Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by the younger generation in non-Western cultures. The very notion that there could be a “universal civilization” is a Western idea, directly at odds with the particularism of most Asian societies and their emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another. Indeed, the author of a review of 100 comparative studies of values in different societies concluded that “the values that are most important in the West are least important worldwide.” In the political realm, of course, these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to induce other peoples to adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights. Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has developed in non-Western societies it has usually been the product of Western colonialism or imposition.

The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in Kishore Mahbubani’s phrase, the conflict between “the West and the Rest” and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western power and values. Those responses generally take one or a combination of three forms. At one extreme, non-Western states can, like Burma and North Korea, attempt to pursue a course of isolation, to insulate their societies from penetration or “corruption” by the West, and, in effect, to opt out of participation in the Western-dominated global community. The costs of this course, however, are high, and few states have pursued it exclusively. A second alternative, the equivalent of “band-wagoning” in international relations theory, is to attempt to join the West and accept its values and institutions. The third alternative is to attempt to “balance” the West by developing economic and military power and cooperating with other non-Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.


In the future, as people differentiate themselves by civilization, countries with large numbers of peoples of different civilizations, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, are candidates for dismemberment. Some other countries have a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another. These are torn countries. Their leaders typically wish to pursue a bandwagoning strategy and to make their countries members of the West, but the history, culture and traditions of their countries are non-Western. The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey. The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey have followed in the Attatürk tradition and defined Turkey as a modern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West in NATO and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the European Community. At the same time, however, elements in Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addition, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western society, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey as such. Turkey will not become a member of the European Community, and the real reason, as President Özal said, “is that we are Muslim and they are Christian and they don’t say that.” Having rejected Mecca, and then being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look? Tashkent may be the answer. The end of the Soviet Union gives Turkey the opportunity to become the leader of a revived Turkic civilization involving seven countries from the borders of Greece to those of China. Encouraged by the West, Turkey is making strenuous efforts to carve out this new identity for itself.

During the past decade Mexico has assumed a position somewhat similar to that of Turkey. Just as Turkey abandoned its historic opposition to Europe and attempted to join Europe, Mexico has stopped defining itself by its opposition to the United States and is instead attempting to imitate the United States and to join it in the North American Free Trade Area. Mexican leaders are engaged in the great task of redefining Mexican identity and have introduced fundamental economic reforms that eventually will lead to fundamental political change. In 1991 a top adviser to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari described at length to me all the changes the Salinas government was making. When he finished, I remarked: “That’s most impressive. It seems to me that basically you want to change Mexico from a Latin American country into a North American country.” He looked at me with surprise and exclaimed: “Exactly! That’s precisely what we are trying to do, but of course we could never say so publicly.” As his remark indicates, in Mexico as in Turkey, significant elements in society resist the redefinition of their country’s identity. In Turkey, European-oriented leaders have to make gestures to Islam (Özal’s pilgrimage to Mecca); so also Mexico’s North American-oriented leaders have to make gestures to those who hold Mexico to be a Latin American country (Salinas’ Ibero-American Guadalajara summit).

Historically Turkey has been the most profoundly torn country. For the United States, Mexico is the most immediate torn country. Globally the most important torn country is Russia. The question of whether Russia is part of the West or the leader of a distinct Slavic-Orthodox civilization has been a recurring one in Russian history. That issue was obscured by the communist victory in Russia, which imported a Western ideology, adapted it to Russian conditions and then challenged the West in the name of that ideology. The dominance of communism shut off the historic debate over Westernization versus Russification. With communism discredited Russians once again face that question.

President Yeltsin is adopting Western principles and goals and seeking to make Russia a “normal” country and a part of the West. Yet both the Russian elite and the Russian public are divided on this issue. Among the more moderate dissenters, Sergei Stankevich argues that Russia should reject the “Atlanticist” course, which would lead it “to become European, to become a part of the world economy in rapid and organized fashion, to become the eighth member of the Seven, and to put particular emphasis on Germany and the United States as the two dominant members of the Atlantic alliance.” While also rejecting an exclusively Eurasian policy, Stankevich nonetheless argues that Russia should give priority to the protection of Russians in other countries, emphasize its Turkic and Muslim connections, and promote “an appreciable redistribution of our resources, our options, our ties, and our interests in favor of Asia, of the eastern direction.” People of this persuasion criticize Yeltsin for subordinating Russia’s interests to those of the West, for reducing Russian military strength, for failing to support traditional friends such as Serbia, and for pushing economic and political reform in ways injurious to the Russian people. Indicative of this trend is the new popularity of the ideas of Petr Savitsky, who in the 1920s argued that Russia was a unique Eurasian civilization.‡ More extreme dissidents voice much more blatantly nationalist, anti-Western and anti-Semitic views, and urge Russia to redevelop its military strength and to establish closer ties with China and Muslim countries. The people of Russia are as divided as the elite. An opinion survey in European Russia in the spring of 1992 revealed that 40 percent of the public had positive attitudes toward the West and 36 percent had negative attitudes. As it has been for much of its history, Russia in the early 1990s is truly a torn country.

To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be generally supportive of and enthusiastic about this move. Second, its public has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to Turkey. It is not clear that any of them exist with respect to Russia’s joining the West. The conflict between liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equality and prosperity. A traditional, authoritarian, nationalist Russia could have quite different goals. A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist. It would be virtually impossible for him to do that with a Russian traditionalist. If, as the Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the relations between Russia and the West could again become distant and conflictual.


The obstacles to non-Western countries joining the West vary considerably. They are least for Latin American and East European countries. They are greater for the Orthodox countries of the former Soviet Union. They are still greater for Muslim, Confucian, Hindu and Buddhist societies. Japan has established a unique position for itself as an associate member of the West: it is in the West in some respects but clearly not of the West in important dimensions. Those countries that for reason of culture and power do not wish to, or cannot, join the West compete with the West by developing their own economic, military and political power. They do this by promoting their internal development and by cooperating with other non-Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge Western interests, values and power.

Almost without exception, Western countries are reducing their military power; under Yeltsin’s leadership so also is Russia. China, North Korea and several Middle Eastern states, however, are significantly expanding their military capabilities. They are doing this by the import of arms from Western and non-Western sources and by the development of indigenous arms industries. One result is the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer has called “Weapon States,” and the Weapon States are not Western states. Another result is the redefinition of arms control, which is a Western concept and a Western goal. During the Cold War the primary purpose of arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the post-Cold War world the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that could threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do this through international agreements, economic pressure and controls on the transfer of arms and weapons technologies.

The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and other electronic capabilities for achieving that goal. The West promotes nonproliferation as a universal norm and nonproliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that norm. It also threatens a variety of sanctions against those who promote the spread of sophisticated weapons and proposes some benefits for those who do not. The attention of the West focuses, naturally, on nations that are actually or potentially hostile to the West.

The non-Western nations, on the other hand, assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. They also have absorbed, to the full, the truth of the response of the Indian defense minister when asked what lesson he learned from the Gulf War: “Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear weapons.” Nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and missiles are viewed, probably erroneously, as the potential equalizer of superior Western conventional power. China, of course, already has nuclear weapons; Pakistan and India have the capability to deploy them. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Algeria appear to be attempting to acquire them. A top Iranian official has declared that all Muslim states should acquire nuclear weapons, and in 1988 the president of Iran reportedly issued a directive calling for development of “offensive and defensive chemical, biological and radiological weapons.”

Centrally important to the development of counter-West military capabilities is the sustained expansion of China’s military power and its means to create military power. Buoyed by spectacular economic development, China is rapidly increasing its military spending and vigorously moving forward with the modernization of its armed forces. It is purchasing weapons from the former Soviet states; it is developing long-range missiles; in 1992 it tested a one-megaton nuclear device. It is developing power-projection capabilities, acquiring aerial refueling technology, and trying to purchase an aircraft carrier. Its military buildup and assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea are provoking a multilateral regional arms race in East Asia. China is also a major exporter of arms and weapons technology. It has exported materials to Libya and Iraq that could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons and nerve gas. It has helped Algeria build a reactor suitable for nuclear weapons research and production. China has sold to Iran nuclear technology that American officials believe could only be used to create weapons and apparently has shipped components of 300-mile-range missiles to Pakistan. North Korea has had a nuclear weapons program under way for some while and has sold advanced missiles and missile technology to Syria and Iran. The flow of weapons and weapons technology is generally from East Asia to the Middle East. There is, however, some movement in the reverse direction; China has received Stinger missiles from Pakistan.

A Confucian-Islamic military connection has thus come into being, designed to promote acquisition by its members of the weapons and weapons technologies needed to counter the military power of the West. It may or may not last. At present, however, it is, as Dave McCurdy has said, “a renegades’ mutual support pact, run by the proliferators and their backers.” A new form of arms competition is thus occurring between Islamic-Confucian states and the West. In an old-fashioned arms race, each side developed its own arms to balance or to achieve superiority against the other side. In this new form of arms competition, one side is developing its arms and the other side is attempting not to balance but to limit and prevent that arms build-up while at the same time reducing its own military capabilities.


This article does not argue that civilization identities will replace all other identities, that nation states will disappear, that each civilization will become a single coherent political entity, that groups within a civilization will not conflict with and even fight each other. This paper does set forth the hypotheses that differences between civilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict; international relations, historically a game played out within Western civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects; successful political, security and economic international institutions are more likely to develop within civilizations than across civilizations; conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of world politics will be the relations between “the West and the Rest”; the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states.

This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypotheses as to what the future may be like. If these are plausible hypotheses, however, it is necessary to consider their implications for Western policy. These implications should be divided between short-term advantage and long-term accommodation. In the short term it is clearly in the interest of the West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization, particularly between its European and North American components; to incorporate into the West societies in Eastern Europe and Latin America whose cultures are close to those of the West; to promote and maintain cooperative relations with Russia and Japan; to prevent escalation of local inter-civilization conflicts into major inter-civilization wars; to limit the expansion of the military strength of Confucian and Islamic states; to moderate the reduction of Western military capabilities and maintain military superiority in East and Southwest Asia; to exploit differences and conflicts among Confucian and Islamic states; to support in other civilizations groups sympathetic to Western values and interests; to strengthen international institutions that reflect and legitimate Western interests and values and to promote the involvement of non-Western states in those institutions.

In the longer term other measures would be called for. Western civilization is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilizations have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To date only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civilizations will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.

Samuel P. Huntington was Professor at Harvard University, where he was also director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He was one of the co-founders of the influential magazine Foreign Affairs.

Die geheime Waffe der Elite oder Über die moralische Verwahrlosung des öffentlichen Raums

December 27, 2008

In Zeiten von Handy-Klingeltöne, Käse-Quatsch-Shows  und Ratgeber-und Bevormundung-Sendungen, werden Otto-Normal-Verbraucher Gegenstand des öffentliches Diskurses, während alles was öffentlich ist, privatisiert wird. Damit wird das Politische zur Unterhaltung degradiert. Differenzierung und Komplexität sind eben nicht zur Unterhaltung tauglich.

Dies ist gewiss die sicherste Methode um jegliche Kritik an dem System ins Lächerliche zu ziehen und von den wirklich wichtigen Themen abzulenken: wenn jeder Politiker sein Privatleben erzählen darf, und jeder Hans und Franz ein Promi werden darf, ist das System doch perfekt und gerecht. Der sakrale Charakter des öffentlichen Raums verliert langsam an Bedeutung, je mehr Menschen ihn zu ihrem privaten Wohnzimmer mißbrauchen, stellt in dieser Hinsicht die kroatische Schriftstellerin und Heinrich-Mann-Preisträgerin Dubravka Ugrešić in der heutigen Ausgabe der Neuen Zürcher Zeitung fest:

“Die Grenze zwischen Privatheit und Öffentlichkeit ist unscharf geworden in einer Zeit, die ungeniert nach Selbstverwirklichung drängt. Wo dem Einzelnen unter dem Eindruck des Beobachtetwerdens einst die Kontrolle der persönlichen Gefühle auferlegt war, droht sich dies heute ins Gegenteil zu verkehren. Die Strasse gerät zur Bühne des eigenen Selbst – die Freiheit, die sich einer herausnimmt, wird zur Unfreiheit der anderen.”

Zum Artikel.

Two Battles That Saved the West: Lepanto 1571 and Vienna 1683

December 14, 2008

Revisiting a topic from the first Bradley Lecture Series in 1988-1989, Michael Novak delivered the fourth installment of The American Enterprise Institute’s twentieth-anniversary Bradley Lecture Series on December 8, 2008, at Washington, D.C. The author is a leading Catholic theologian, former U.S. ambassador, and George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Click here to download or listen to audio of the lecture at The American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Special thanks to Veronique Rodman, AEI’s Director of Communications, for recording and streaming the event.

How Europe Escaped Speaking Arabic

by Michael Novak

The Western world has never taken Islam with the full seriousness it has earned. Down through history, once Islamic armies have conquered a land, with very few exceptions, that land has remained Muslim.

A Christian will wish in vain that the great circle of Christian lands around the Mediterranean (and on up into Syria, Iraq, Iran, and northwards into Georgia) had not fallen irretrievably into Muslim hands, most of them before 732 A.D. For Christians who think that the future of the world favors movement in their direction, a study of the latent dynamism of Islam is not a little unsettling.

Edward Gibbon, finishing up his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-78), was able to imagine how easily serene little Oxford could have been dominated by tall Islamic minarets before his birth, and the accents in its markets would have been Arabic: ” . . . the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet” .

Gibbon was writing about the decisive battle of Poitiers in 732 A.D., when at last a Christian leader, Charles Martel, drove back the Muslims from their highwater mark in Western Europe with such force that they went reeling backwards into Spain. From there, it took Spain another 750 years – until 1492 – to drive Islamic armies back into North Africa, whence they had invaded. Even so, the Islamic terror bombers who just a few years ago killed more than a hundred commuters in Madrid did so (they announced) to avenge the Spanish “Reconquista” of 1492. For Islam, to lose a territory once Muslim is to incur a religious obligation to wrest it back.

It had been a marvel in 732 that a mere one hundred years earlier, Mohammed had launched his army from Medina, to conquer in rapid fire so many of the most glorious capital cities of Christianity – Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Hippo, Tunis, Carthage, and then all of Spain. More amazingly still, Muslims went very quickly further into the Far East than Alexander the Great ever had.

Even today, in the eyes of influential Muslims, the expansion of Islam (although it covers a huge swathe of geography) is far from finished. The religious obligation at the heart of Islam is to conquer the world for Allah, and to incorporate it all into the great Islamic Umma. Only then will the world be at peace. Submission to Allah is the reason why the world was created.

In any case, Islam began making war on the Christian world from the very first moments of its birth. For a thousand years afterward, it fell to southern Europe, and in particular the Pope, to give active military resistance to the “Saracens” (as the Islamists came to be known in the West). From 632 A.D. until about 1292, Arab nations led the Muslim onslaught on the West. After that, the Turks established their dominion (the caliphate) over most of the Arab world. For hundreds of years a huge sea war ensued for control of the Mediterranean. But war by land was not called off.

The Turks expanded their empire in all four directions on the map. For more than a century they made attempt after attempt to take down the largest and richest of the Christian capitals, Constantinople, whose walls they finally breached in 1453. There followed great plunder, huge fires of destruction, the desecration of Christian basilicas and churches, murder, torture and thousands of Christian men, women, and children marched off in long lines toward slavery in the East.

A long line of great warrior-sultans sponsored Turkish advances in shipbuilding, gunnery, military organization, and training. By the mid 1550s, they had slowly conceived of a long-term offensive, a pincers movement first by sea and then by land, to conquer the whole northern shore of the Mediterranean. They first launched a massive sea attack in 1665 on the crossroads of the Mediterranean, the strategically placed island of Malta, and were repelled after an epic siege (which in itself is one of history’s great stories). Their penultimate aim was to take all Italy; then all Europe. 

The northern pincers movement by land was aimed at an attack up through the Balkans for the onquest of Budapest and then, in a northeast arc into Slovakia and Poland. In this way, the Muslim forces would essentially encircle Italy from the North.

Because by 1540 the Reformation was separating the Christian nations of the north from Rome, the Sultans soon recognized that the Christian world would no longer fight as one. The next hundred years or so would be the most fruitful time since Mohammed to fulfill the destiny of Islam in Europe.

The Preliminary Battles on Malta (1565) and at Famagusta (1571)

Each new caliph of the Islamic empire was expected to expand the existing Muslim territories, in order to fulfill the mission given Islam, and to gain for the leader the necessary popularity and legitimacy. So it was that in the pleasant springtime of 1571, an entire Muslim fleet under Ali Pasha was ordered by the Sultan to seek out and destroy Christian dominance of the Mediterranean Sea, all the way up to Venice. During the summer, Ali Pasha raided fort after fort along the Adriatic Shore, picked up thousands of hostages as slaves, and sent at least a small squadron to blockade for two or three days the approaches to St. Mark’s Square in Venice, not least to plant a seed of terror about worse things to come.

Meanwhile, another large Muslim force soon conquered Cyprus, most practicing ritual cruelties on the defeated population of Nicosia, setting fire to churches, beheading the older women, and marching all younger Christians of both sexes into slavery. The Muslim armies then headed north for the fortress of Famagusta, the last Venetian stronghold on the island, the “extended arm” of the trading posts and protective forts of the Venetian navy in the entire eastern Mediterranean. An army of 100,000 opened the siege, against a force of 15,000 behind the walls.

Under the energetic generalship of the elderly General Marcantonio Bragadino, the small band of defenders held out for week after week, despite receiving more than 180,000 incoming cannonballs. The defenders ran so short of food that in the end they were eating cats, until they consumed their last one. The Muslim general was outraged by the length of the siege, which had already cost him 80,000 of his best men, despite the fact that Famagusta’s fate was sealed from the first days. Yet there were still long days and sometimes nights of hard hand-to-hand fighting just outside the walls. Muslim losses kept getting fully replenished by sea, and the Muslim forces grew stronger even as the Christians got down to their last six barrels of gunpowder, and had only four hundred men still able to fight.

On August 1, General Bragadino finally accepted surrender terms, which guaranteed safe passage of all his men to sail home to Venice, and safety to all citizens of the walled city. He walked with the full scarlet regalia of his office out from the walls and down to the tent of the Alfa Mustafa, the victorious commander. There the two leaders conversed. Then something went wrong, and Mustafa grew visibly angry and called for his men to behead the full complement of 350 survivors who had laid down their arms to march out with Bragadino. All 350 bleeding heads were piled up just outside Mustafa’s tent.

Mustafa then ordered Bragadino’s ears and nose chopped off, and forced the man to go down on all fours wearing a dog’s collar around his neck, to the jibes, mockery, and horror of the onlookers. Bags of earth were strapped over Bragadino’s back and he was made to carry them to the walls of the fortification, and to kiss the earth each time he passed Mustafa. As the old man grew fainter from the loss of blood from his head, he was tied to a chair, put in a rope harness and hoisted up to the highest mast in the fleet, so that all survivors of the city might see his humiliation. Then Bragadino’s chair was dropped in free-fall into the water and brought out again. The tortured Venetian was led in ropes to the town square and stripped. At a stone column (which still stands today), Bragadino’s hands were tied outstretched over his head, and an executioner stepped forward with sharp knives to carefully remove his skin, keeping it whole. Before the carver had reached Bragadino’s waist, the man was dead. His full skin was then stuffed with straw, once again raised up to the highest mast, and sailed around to various ports as a trophy of victory, and finally taken back to Istanbul for permanent exhibition.

Meanwhile, Don Juan had put the Christian fleet of some 200 vessels on course toward Lepanto, where Ali Pasha was refitting his vessels in the safe protection of an impregnable harbor. On board the Christian ships, the Spaniards were under secret orders to avoid fighting, only to keep their honor by going along, while urging reasons to turn back. By contrast, when a fast corsair dispatched from Famagusta arrived to deliver the tale of the last dishonors visited on General Bragadino and his 350 surviving soldiers, the blood of the Venetians boiled. They now allowed no question of turning back. They were determined to avenge the horrors suffered by their comrades in arms.

The young Don Juan was buoyed by this new resolve. Now he would be able to keep the vow he had made to Pope Pius V, to seek out and destroy the threatening enemy. The young admiral – he was twenty-two when he became commander of this fleet – felt confident in his battle plan. He had taken care to have his whole fleet rehearse their roles in the quiet seas of the Adriatic, just before turning toward Lepanto.

Don Juan and many of his men spent much of the night before battle in prayer. The fate of their civilization, they knew, depended on their good fortune on the morrow. The uncertainties of the changing winds and choppy seas, and the speed of the two onrushing lines of ships rapidly closing on each other, would erupt in unpredictable havoc. The odds against the Christians in ships were something like 350 ships to 250. But the Christians had a secret weapon.

The Greatest Sea Battle in History: Lepanto, October 1571

For more than three years Pope Pius V had labored mightily to sound alarms about the deadly Muslim buildup in the shipyards of Istanbul. The sultan had been stung by the surprising defeat of his overwhelming invasion force in Malta in 1565. The savagery of Muslim attacks on the coastline villages of Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece was ratcheted upwards. Three or four Muslim galleys would offload hundreds of marines, sweep through a village, tie all its healthy men together for shipment out to become galley slaves, march away many of its women and young boys and girls for shipment to Eastern harems, and then gather all the elderly into the village church, where the helpless victims would be beheaded, and sometimes cut up into little pieces, to strike terror into other villages. The Muslims believed that future victims would lose heart and swiftly surrender when Muslim raiders arrived. Over three centuries, the number of European captives kidnapped from villages and beaches by these sea pirates climbed into the hundreds of thousands. 

The reason for this kidnapping was that the naval appetite for fresh backs and muscles was insatiable. Most galley slaves lived little more than five years. They were chained to hard benches in the burning Mediterranean sun, slippery in their own excrement, urination, and intermittent vomiting, often never lying down to sleep. The dark vision that troubled the pope during the late 1560s was of even more horrible calamities to befall the whole Christian world, bit by bit. But unity in Europe was hard to find, and even more scarce was the will to fight for survival.

Finally, Don Juan of Austria, the younger brother of the King of Spain, an illegitimate son, stood erect and summoned allies to repel the much-anticipated Muslim advance. He aimed at leading a large fleet to go after the new Muslim fleet preemptively, before they could depart from their home seas. Having seen Muslim ferocity first hand, the Venetian public was eager to contribute a fleet to the task. Their support was crucial, for Venice was in those days the shipbuilding and gunnery capital of the world, producers (for a profit) of the most innovative, most versatile, stoutest, and most seaworthy armed vessels in the world. The best sea captains of Venice were the most eager to avenge their friends and fellow citizens. 

For years, Venice had preferred peace with the Muslim East, in order to carry on their lucrative international trade. Now there was a cause that took precedence over the traditions of commerce. Genoa, too, contributed a fleet under their famous but now elderly Admiral Andrea Doria, these days a less bold warrior despite the glory of his earlier exploits.

The Knights of Malta, the premier sea warriors of the time, offered their small but highly skilled fleet in support of the Pope’s appeal, and agreed to work cooperatively with Don Juan.

The latter, whom his contemporaries described as a modest and humble man, characteristically set aside his own ego for the sake of the cause that engaged him. He pledged to the armada a large contingent supplied by Spain and Portugal. By the end of September 1571, eager to get their job done before winter turned the seas choppy and unfit for battle, the four distinct parts of the Christian fleet sailed past Italy, hugging the coasts, sending teams of observers to land to pick up the latest intelligence on the Muslim force. Finally, they learned that an enormous Muslim fleet, nearly 100 ships larger than their own, was sailing near to land toward the Gulf of Lepanto. No more talking, Don Juan told his leading admirals; now, battle.

Keeping the Knights of Malta in reserve just a short distance behind the main battle line, Don Juan assigned the impassioned Venetians the important left flank, with its leftmost ships close to the shore line. He himself commanded a hundred vessels at the center. In plain sight was his capitol ship, the Real, its banners of leadership visible to all. To the right flank he assigned the venerable Andrea Doria and the Genoese fleet. The plan was to hold his ships in as long and straight a line as seamanship in a besetting wind would allow, while heading directly for the Muslim line.

At his front, however, Don Juan placed a nasty surprise for Ali Pasha. Six new, taller, sturdier ships packed with cannons (especially in the bow) and heavily laden with lead and shot placed themselves a mile forward of the Christian line. They looked flat on top, like merchant ships. No one had ever seen such ships before. They lacked a bow rising up skywards, the one necessary weapon for vicious ramming. For the purpose of these new galleasses, as they were called, was not to ram oncoming ships but to blast them with an array of cannons. Their shot could carry a mile with great accuracy. When the galleasses turned sideways, they could blast with even more cannons, designed for shorter ranges, often aiming their cannon just at the waterline of their foes. They had the power to sink a smaller, lighter, faster Muslim galley with a single burst.

At first, the two fleets spotted each other on the horizon as single masts, then small numbers, and only as the two fleets closed to about two miles of each other could any one of the two hundred thousand sailors, marines, and janissaries on board catch a glimpse of the lines and dispositions of the fleets. The Muslims preferred to attack in a crescent rather than a straight line, but the winds at their back and tricky tides from the shoreline to their north forced them to straighten up their lines. Those who gazed on the massive array of ships and sails were filled with awe. On deck, one of those to be wounded in this battle, the great author Miguel de Cervantes wrote of “the most noble and memorable event that past centuries have seen.” Just over six hundred ships in two amazingly orderly lines, each stretching three miles from end to end, silently bore down on one another as the distance between them closed. The Muslim fleet outnumbered the Christian fleet by nearly a hundred ships. A sense of destiny weighed upon all who watched and waited.

The huge green battle flag of Allah – his name embroidered on it in Arabic some 29,800 times – marked out the tall capital ship Sultana, on which the fearsome young admiral Ali Pasha held command. Pasha was puzzled by the six more or less flat barges out in front of the Christian lines. His own armed soldiers were reliant mostly on clouds of arrows. His sailors had mastered the arts of ramming, and disgorging massive boarding parties onto the enemy’s slippery decks, then beating down their defenders by a sort of fierce land warfare out on the open seas. In those days, sea warfare was like land warfare, only carried out on open decks side-by-side instead of in open fields. Ship was lashed to ship, sometimes a dozen together. Hand-to-hand combat was the key.

There is no point here in giving the whole narrative of the battle. Suffice it to say that in the center the volleys from the galleasses out in front destroyed one Muslim vessel after another. Masts snapped, the oars of the galleys were shattered, and huge holes opened up the thin wooden sides of the galleys to the boiling sea. The Muslim ships that were not sunk were easily boarded by the Christian ships coming alongside, built a little higher, and amply supplied not only with boarding nets but, even more important, with ranks of the old-style predecessors to rifles – the arquebuses – directing point-blank rifle balls into the unarmored flesh of Muslim archers. It is true that in a few cases whole clouds of Muslim arrows felled many in the Christian ships, including the great Venetian admiral Marcantonio Bragadino shot in the eye. Mostly, the Christian warriors wore the latest in body armor, which often repelled wooden arrows harmlessly. Nonetheless, at least one Christian ship was later found aimlessly afloat, with every single man dead or wounded.

At the last, the two capital ships Real and Sultana clashed head-on, and Don Juan led the final boarding party which in its ferocity drove Ali Pasha to the aft poop, where he soon fell with a bullet in his eye. The Muslim admiral’s head was cut off and borne aloft on a pike to be mounted on the bow of the Real. The seas around were filled with cloaks, caps, struggling bodies, the vast wooden wreckage of battle, and large splotches of red blood.

On the Christian left, the Venetians attacked with almost blind rage and broke the line of the Muslim right with relative ease. They were aided by a revolt of the galley slaves on board a number of Muslim vessels, who in the explosions on board had their chains broken, and poured up on deck swinging their chains to left and right. So great was the Venetian fury that even after the battle, many of its sailors spent hours using their pikes to kill Muslim sailors and soldiers struggling in the sea. They tried to excuse their bloodlust by saying that they never wished to see those individuals sailing against the West again.

In four hours the battle was over. More than forty thousand men had died, and thousands more were wounded, more than in any other battle in history, more even than at Salamis or, in years to come, at the Somme. Never again did the Muslim fleets pose a grave danger to Europe from the South, although of course Muslim fleets kept busy expanding their bases on the African coast, harassing Western ships and territories across the Mediterranean. Technology, especially that pioneered by Venice and by ocean-going Portugal and Spain, had made the decisive difference. As Victor Davis Hanson writes, it was to capitalism that the victory was owed, for it was open markets that spurred competition to keep improving gunnery and ships, and it was the great merchant and commercial cities that built these new technologies. After Lepanto, the arts of gunnery replaced the arts of the bow and arrow, however deadly for many centuries those weapons had proved to be. Ships were made stouter, taller, more able to carry heavy armaments–and new methods had to be sought to replace locomotion by galley slaves.

As news of the great victory of October 7 reached shore, church bells rang all over the cities and countryside of Europe. For months, Pius V had urged Catholics to say the daily rosary on behalf of the morale and good fortune of the Christian forces, and above all, a successful outcome to the highly risky preemptive strike against the Turkish fleets. Thereafter, he declared that October 7 would be celebrated as the feast of “Mary, Queen of Victory.” A later pope added the title “Queen of the Holy Rosary” in honor of the laity’s favorite form of prayer. All over the Italian peninsula, great paintings were commissioned – whole galleries were dedicated – to honoring the classic scenes of that epic battle. The air of Europe that October tasted of liberties preserved. The record of the celebrations lives on in glorious paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and many others.

The Northern Pincers and the Siege of Vienna, September 1683

Of necessity, our consideration of the Battle of Vienna must be briefer than our attention to Lepanto. But many of the same forces were at play as before, only this time by land, not by sea. The Protestant nations regarded the expanding Ottoman Empire as a Catholic problem. Few Catholic nations took the Muslim threat as seriously as it deserved. The French, in particular, had become used to buying off the Turks with trade and commerce, rather than resisting them in war. The French even preferred the defeat of their most dreaded rivals, the German-speaking Austrians. The nation Germany did not yet exist, only a number of smaller political units – Brandenberg, Saxony, Bavaria, and others, some Protestant and some Catholic. And so the Muslim overland advance through the underbelly of Europe seemed not only relentless but mostly unopposed.

The sultan of all Islam, Mehmet IV, spent his days in his unrivalled harems and on his huge hunting territories, some of them as large as nation-states. Thousands of mostly Slavic serfs were required to service his hunting party, in part by driving deer and other game animals his way. To uphold his obligations to Islamic expansion, however, Mehmet stirred himself to choose Kara Mustafa to be general of all his forces in the final conquest of Hungary, Slovakia, and the south of Poland – the greatest of all ventures on which the sultan’s historical reputation would rest. The sultan directly warned Mustafa not to try to take Vienna, for doing so would arouse the West to retribution. He gave Mustafa the long green cord of the Prophet to wear around his neck, both to signal the importance of his commission, and to warn him that failure meant that he must be hanged–must even hang himself.

For the drive northward, Kara Mustafa sent messengers throughout Anatolia, through Greater Syria, and out to the scores of Muslim nations from Morocco to India. He marched northwards with an ever-increasing army of more than three hundred thousand, many on horseback as cavalry to spread terror in advance of his main forces, other scores of thousands in his supply trains. This huge army took some five months to occupy Budapest, rest, and then push on northwards. They swatted resistance away like flies, and sometimes bypassed walled cities that refused instant surrender, to deal with them later with special severity.

By July 7, they were in sight of Vienna, which in those days was a walled and heavily fortified city, well designed by its military engineers to lay down fields of fire by which each strong point could assist its neighbors. Compared to today, Vienna within its walls was a small city, and yet large enough in those terrorized days to admit refugees from nearby villages who hurriedly sought safety. For the next weeks the sultan’s armies kept tightening the ring they had established on all sides of Vienna. Both Mustafa with his green cord around his neck and the leader of the Viennese defense, General Lubomirski, now knew that they were fighting to the death.

Meanwhile, the Turks launched massive engineering works, including many honeycombed tunnels beginning from long distances away, out of sight, and burrowing underneath strong points and vulnerable walls that ground troops might breach. These veteran and highly skilled sappers – the best in the world – dug all the way underground both to the wide moats at the base of the walls and still further underground to the very center of Vienna. Beginning in mid-August, without any warning, huge explosions tore gaping holes in one strongpoint after another, and sometimes beneath homes in the very center of the city. The twenty thousand or so warriors within the city fought with great determination and intelligence to drive back the screaming, bloodthirsty men who were storming through the breaches, while all around them Viennese civilians rushed to make repairs to the breaches in the walls. The Christians also sallied forth themselves, often at night, to drive far into the Turkish lines to blow up engineering devices and stockpiles of gunpowder.

Relentlessly, the Turks kept heaving up huge mounds – small mountains – of earth and sand just outside the walls, from which fire might constantly be poured down into the doomed city, from above its walls. With every Muslim attack, fewer and fewer Christian soldiers were left to repel them. In late August, supplies of meat ran out, and the population was reduced to eating horses and stray dogs. A very strict rationing of water became necessary. The elderly began to die off from starvation.

Meanwhile, the Christian relief forces were belatedly and all too slowly advancing from the north in four separate columns, from Catholic Germany and from Poland, to lift the siege. For nearly forty miles around the beleaguered city, Muslims had ravaged the land, and sent refugees fleeing by foot in all directions. Thus, making use of captured Muslim cavalrymen and foot soldiers, as well as the fleeing Christians, the Germans and the Poles picked up enough intelligence to learn that their best chances lay to the southwest, through the Vienna Wood. It would be hugely difficult terrain for cavalry, and also for quick forced marches by the infantry. But one other factor spoke for that line of attack: the supply trains and Mustafa’s luxurious tents, with their splendid harems and rich treasury, were also located on that side of Vienna. The approaching Christian generals met together to go over the plan of attack, and then rapidly set off to their southwest, far enough from the city to advance mostly undetected.

At intervals, back in Vienna, Mustafa had messages in German tied to dozens of rocks, which he had his catapults shoot over the city walls. One such message read:

Surrender now and you will be saved. Open your gates, turn your churches over to us and lay down your arms, and no one will be killed. If you resist the will of Allah, your leaders, and all of them, will be slain. Able men and women will be sold into slavery. You will be allowed no rights of worship, and your mighty walls will be thrown down. Fight and you die! Surrender and you live!

For more than four hundred years, hundreds of Christian villages and cities had received such messages. The duplicity and primitive brutality of Muslim conquerors were well known to hundreds of thousands of Christian families, through the fate of relatives in other overrun communities. Nevertheless, sometimes terror overwhelmed them and they surrendered. At Vienna, behind fearless and determined leaders, they chose to die fighting rather than to surrender. So the issue inside Vienna became whether food and gunpowder would give out before the long-promised army of relief would arrive. Dauntless messengers slipping in and out of Vienna kept hope at least flickering. The commander in Vienna promised he could hold out until September 1. The advancing army of relief replied that they would need almost two weeks more than that. Only gritted-teeth determination could bridge that gap in time.

One thing the Muslim armies were not trained to do, as were the Christian armies of that time, was to fight on two fronts – against the city ahead and against any oncoming forces that might arrive to break the siege. For this, Kara Mustafa relied on his mobile cavalry, some twenty thousand Tatars from the Asian steppes in camp about twenty miles south of Vienna. Because of the density of the Vienna Wood to the southwest of the city, this was the one region which the cavalry could cover only lightly. Still, if even small bands of mounted Tatars had infiltrated the hills and valleys of the Wood, no Christian soldiers could have made it through the narrow passes. Unaccountably, Mustafa forbade the Tatar leader to launch an attack on the Wood.

King Sobieski of Poland had drawn the privilege of advancing on the right flank, right through the heart of the Vienna Wood. His army’s double-time march through the Wood was arduous, by narrow valleys and slow but deep summer streams. Late on September 11, just as his men were making their initial contact with the Turkish outposts, and the final battle began to be joined, the King formed a resolution to attack on the morrow as swiftly and with as much surprise as possible, to overwhelm Mustafa’s bodyguard of cavalry and rush on with force as close to the supply trains as he could, and to conclude the matter on the next day. In the rough terrain where his troops broke out from the Wood on September 12, Sobieski held his famed hussars back. They were his best, his ultimate, weapon.

For hours all day long, left, center, and right flanks of the Christian army advanced far more steadily than expected, although the hand-to-hand fighting was furious, and the Turkish lines were yielding only a yard at a time. The last four hundred yards took an immense effort, but the Christian forces reached open ground with less than an hour of daylight left. This is when Sobieski made a huge gamble and boldly released his much-feared hussars. These famous horsemen wore special caps with strips of leather flying behind them in the wind, lined with feathers like the headdresses of American Indians, and the wind whistled through the leather with an eerie tone. As they charged across the open land the low, melancholy wail of the wind through their feathers frightened the Arabian horses – and their Turkish riders, too.

The sheer speed and force of the Polish hussars was too great and too surprising to be resisted. Mustafa escaped, but his tents and treasury were captured (one of his green velvet tents sits now in the Czartoryskis Museum in Krakow). The Muslim lines nearby broke, and their men began looting Mustafa’s rich supply wagons and pleasure tents on their panicky flight southward. The entire Muslim ring surrounding the city melted away, back whence it had come.

Mustafa, slowed by a bad wound to his eye, was rushed southward by his remaining bodyguards. From the first moments of crushing defeat he began plotting his reports to the sultan, shifting the blame onto one of his subordinates. Yet as the Christians pursued the once-great Muslim army down through Hungary, retaking one city after another from Muslim control, and in effect laying the groundwork for the future Austro-Hungarian Empire, the sultan’s anger against Mustafa finally exploded. Mustafa recognized what must happen. He was hanged on December 25, 1683, by the green cord that he had worn round his neck, a little more than three months after he had imagined he had Vienna in his grasp.


Thus, once again, this time by land, the Muslims had attempted to fulfill the Prophet’s command to spread Islam to all corners of the world decisively, with force. The sultans had long had the advantage of an enormous standing army ready for all seasons, and swiftly added to when larger ambitions demanded. This time, however, the siege-lifting battle outside the walls of Vienna marked the high-water mark of Muslim power. After September 11-12, 1683, that power kept receding, on into modern times.

Still, it should surprise no one that the date chosen to bring the new resurgence of modern Muslim ambition to the whole world’s attention was also September 11, 318 years after 1683. The announcement came in the vivid orange bursts of blossoming flame and dark black smoke from two of the tallest towers of the West’s financial capital. Muslim memory runs very deep, and so does the Muslim imperative to conquer the world for Allah, not just by force of arms but by conversion to Islam. The West has always refused to give this long and deeply rooted Muslim threat against the West’s own soul the sustained attention it requires.

Nonetheless, four centuries after Lepanto, three centuries after Vienna, today in most of the capitals of once-Christian Europe, there are more Muslims attending services in mosques on Fridays, than Christians at worship on Sundays. In some ways, the pluralism of the West is a blessing, even an advantage to the West – and yet its profoundest historical weakness lies in its own divided spirit. The ultimate issue between Islam and the West is not military force. It is the depth of intellect and engagement. In matters of the spirit, we seem always to become tongue-tied, as if lacking in spirited confidence. We do not insist on presenting better arguments in recognition of the inalienable rights to human liberty that our totalitarian opponents deny. Mere secular force will not do, when the fundamental battle is spiritual. Thus, the same movie seems to be played over and over.

That is the historical record, it seems, at least in regard to October 7, 1571, and September 11-12, 1683, after Lepanto, and after Vienna.

Media Contact:
Veronique Rodman
American Enterprise Institute
1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC  20036
Phone: +001 202-862-4870

11.11.1918: World War I Memorials

November 11, 2008

Ceremonies across the world today marked the ninetieth anniversary of the end of World War I. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty looks at the Balkans as one of many examples of regions where the war’s legacy is still playing out geopolitically.

Read full story.

Bosnian Crisis

October 22, 2008

In an op-ed in The Guardian, Richard Holbrooke, the chief architect of the Dayton Peace Agreement and Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served in Bosnia as the EU’s chief representative warn that that country is in real danger of collapse. As in 1995, resolve and transatlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis, they argue.

Read full story.

United States presidential election, 2008: The Next President

September 4, 2008

In the last cover story of the world affairs magazine Foreign Affairs, Richard Holbrooke says the opening-day challenges awaiting George W. Bush’s successor will make for a daunting agenda – one that will require both strength and a renewed sense of national purpose. Of issues ranging from Iraq and global warming to rising oil prices and world economy, Holbrooke says the next administration must correct the mistakes of the current one. And Holbrooke, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, believes that with the right strategy it will be possible for the United States of America to inspire and lead the world once again.

The Next President – Mastering a Daunting Agenda
by Richard Holbrooke

From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008

The next president will inherit leadership of a nation that is still the most powerful in the world – a nation rich with the continued promise of its dynamic and increasingly diverse population, a nation that could, and must, again inspire, mobilize, and lead the world. At the same time, the next president will inherit a more difficult opening-day set of international problems than any of his predecessors have since at least the end of World War II. In such circumstances, his core challenge will be nothing less than to re-create a sense of national purpose and strength, after a period of drift, decline, and disastrous mistakes.

He will have to reshape policies on the widest imaginable range of challenges, domestic and international. He will need to rebuild productive working relationships with friends and allies. He must revitalize a flagging economy; tame a budget awash in red ink; reduce energy dependence and turn the corner on the truly existential issue of climate change; tackle the growing danger of nuclear proliferation; improve the defense of the homeland against global terrorists while putting more pressure on al Qaeda, especially in Pakistan; and, of course, manage two wars simultaneously.

To make progress on this daunting agenda, the president must master and control a sprawling, unwieldy federal bureaucracy that is always resistant to change and sometimes dysfunctional. He will also need to change the relationship between the executive and the legislative branches after years of partisan political battle; in almost all areas, congressional support is essential for success. So is public support, which will require that the next president, more effectively than his predecessor, enlist help from the private sector, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the citizenry as a whole.

The presidency of the United States is the most extraordinary job ever devised, and it has become an object of the hopes and dreams – and, at times, the fears, frustration, and anger – of people around the world. Expectations that the president can solve every problem are obviously unrealistic – and yet such expectations are a reality that he will have to confront. A successful president must identify meaningful yet achievable goals, lay them out clearly before the nation and the world, and then achieve them through leadership skills that will be tested by pressures unimaginable to anyone who has not held the job. A reactive and passive presidency will not succeed, nor will one in which a president promises solutions but does not deliver – or acts with consistent disregard for what the Declaration of Independence called “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

Although not every issue the new president inherits requires change, every major one requires careful reexamination. In many cases, new policies and new people – loyal to the president and capable of mobilizing the support of the permanent bureaucracy – will be necessary. But a comprehensive national security policy is more than a collection of individual positions. A coherent vision for the United States’ role in the world must be based on its enduring national interests, its values, and a realistic assessment of its capabilities and priorities; not even the most powerful nation can shape every event and issue according to its own preferences. The days when a single word, such as “containment,” could define U.S. foreign policy will not return in this world of many players and many, many issues. Still, there is a need to define a broad overarching concept of the United States’ national interests. (The Bush era’s focus on the “global war on terror” was simultaneously too limited and too broad.)

To restore the United States to its proper world leadership role, two areas of weakness must be repaired: the domestic economy and the United States’ reputation in the world. Although the economy is usually treated as a domestic issue, reviving it is as important to the nation’s long-term security as is keeping U.S. military strength unchallengeable. This will require more than a cyclical upturn; to repair the economy in the long term, a new national policy on energy and climate change will be essential. And restoring respect for American values and leadership is essential — not because it is nice to be popular but because respect is a precondition for legitimate leadership and enduring influence.

The president should address both issues as early as possible in order to strengthen his hand as he tackles pressing strategic issues, including the five neighboring countries at the center of the arc of crisis that directly threatens the United States’ national security – Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. A few early actions that lie wholly within his authority can make an immediate impact. The most compelling such actions would be issuing a clear official ban on torture and closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which now holds only 260 prisoners. Because the Bush administration limited itself to punishing only those at the very bottom of the chain of command at Abu Ghraib, the damage to the United States’ image has been immense and continuing – the gift that keeps on giving to the United States’ enemies. Presidential directives making clear that the U.S. government does not tolerate or condone torture are necessary in order to separate the new administration from that costly legacy. As for Guantánamo, closing it is complicated, as Bush administration apologists (and many lawyers) say. Well, a lot of things in life are complicated. Guantánamo must not become the next president’s albatross, too; closing it, no matter how difficult, is not just desirable but imperative.


History is not immutable. But there is one pattern that comes very close to being a law of history: in the long run, the rise and fall of great nations is driven primarily by their economic strength. Rome, imperial China, Venice, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom – all had their day, and their international decline followed inexorably from their economic decline.

Starting in the late nineteenth century, nothing was as important to the emergence of the United States as its spectacular economic growth. That growth was fueled, literally, by cheap domestic oil. The United States always overcame its periodic economic downturns, even the Great Depression. It is therefore reasonable for Americans, who are optimistic by nature, to assume that the nation’s current economic difficulties are just another temporary cyclical setback. But a new factor has emerged, unlike any the United States has previously faced. With the price of oil quadruple what it was four years ago, Americans are witnessing – or, more to the point, contributing to – the greatest transfer of wealth from one set of nations to another in history. Politicians and the press understandably focus attention on the domestic pressures caused by the high price of oil – the “pain at the pump.” But the huge long-term geostrategic implications of this wealth transfer, so far virtually neglected, also require the next president’s attention.

Consider the following, from the noted oil expert Daniel Yergin: the United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day, about 12 million of which are imported. Based on prices from the first half of 2008, that means the United States is transferring about $1.3 billion to the oil-producing countries every day – $475 billion a year. (At the more recent price, $140 for a barrel of crude, the amount is far greater.) The other major consumers, including China, the European Union, India, and Japan, are sending even greater portions of their wealth to the producing countries, for a total annual transfer of well over $2.2 trillion. These figures are climbing.

Suppose high oil prices continue for, say, another decade – a gloomy but not unreasonable scenario given the long lead-time required to wean the consuming nations off their expensive habit. The wealth now accumulating in the producing nations will lead over time not only to even greater economic muscle but also to greater political power. Some of these producing nations have very different political agendas from those of the United States, Europe, and Japan. Groupings of oil-rich nations with goals opposed to those of the United States and its European allies will become more common and act more boldly. More money will be available to fund dangerous nonstate actors who seek to destroy Israel or destabilize parts of Africa or Latin America – or attack the United States. There is a well-known example of this, although the West seems not to have learned any lessons from it: Saudi Arabia, which, although it has long worked with Washington to bolster world oil output and keep prices within an acceptable range, has simultaneously allowed billions of (ostensibly nongovernmental) dollars to go toward building extremist madrasahs and funding terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda. There will be more such complicated double-dealing in the future: Does anyone doubt that the current assertiveness on the international stage of, for example, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela comes from the economic muscle that accompanies their growing petrodollar reserves? (Venezuela now spends five times as much as the United States on foreign aid to the rest of Latin America.)

At the same time, the problem of climate change has reached a level that, in the view of many scientists, threatens the planet; many believe that there is only a decade to act to avoid a catastrophic tipping point, which would otherwise come somewhere around the middle of the century. Even as former Vice President Al Gore crossed the globe raising the alarm, the Bush administration wasted seven and a half irreplaceable years, refusing to address the issue. There was little sense of urgency in this administration or among its congressional allies; they opposed almost anything other than voluntary conservation measures – until the prices at the pump hit $4 a gallon. It was only at the end of 2007, under immense political pressure, that the Bush administration finally agreed to the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in 32 years. (By that time, fittingly, Gore had won the Nobel Prize.) Then, at the 2008 G-8 summit in Japan, George W. Bush agreed to a vaguely worded and essentially meaningless “aspirational” goal on the reduction of carbon emissions.

Over time, stronger conservation measures, together with investments in new technologies, will undoubtedly be put into effect. But if oil and gas prices fall from their current bubble-like levels, consumption will rise again. On the other hand, if prices stay high, consumption may fall, but the United States and its closest allies will continue to hemorrhage petrodollars. Either way, absent an effective energy and climate-change policy, the planet will suffer from continued warming. Drought and famine will increase in some of the poorest places on earth, food prices will continue to rise, and people will abandon areas that are no longer arable. Glaciers and icecaps will melt faster, ocean levels will rise, and more species of plants and animals will become extinct. The Bush administration’s neglect of these issues is beyond astonishing – it is as shocking, in its own way, as the administration’s performance in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The two major presidential candidates, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), both say that they take climate change seriously. But an examination of their positions on the issue shows important differences. Obama has a far more comprehensive plan, with an ambitious goal for emissions reduction, a market-based mechanism that has broad support among economists on the left and the right, and substantially greater investments than McCain’s plan in technologies that will help achieve these goals. McCain stresses removing environmental restraints on domestic and offshore drilling. This is hardly a serious long-term solution to anything; even if major new fields were found, they would have no effect on supply for at least a decade, and they would do nothing for climate change or conservation.

The search for effective energy and climate-change policies will require a national consensus on the seriousness of the situation and an action plan entailing compromises and sacrifices on everyone’s part, sacrifices normally associated with war – all without undermining economic growth. As a cautionary tale, it is worth recalling President Jimmy Carter’s fervent but unsuccessful attempt to rally the nation in a prime-time televised speech in April 1977. Wearing a much-mocked cardigan sweater, he said that his energy-independence project would be the “moral equivalent of war.” When someone pointed out that the initials of that phrase spelled “meow,” the press had a field day, ignoring the substance of Carter’s proposals. A true national debate was deferred for 30 years. One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts as president was to remove from the White House roof the solar panels Carter had had installed.

The twin challenges of energy dependence and climate change offer an opportunity for a breakthrough between the two most important nations in the world today, which also happen to be the world’s top two polluters. Together, China and the United States produce almost 50 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. In the last year, China has passed the United States as the world’s largest polluter. In 2007, two-thirds of the worldwide growth in global greenhouse gas emissions came from China, according to the Netherlands Environmental Association, which estimates that China now emits 14 percent more climate-warming gases than the United States does. On a per capita basis, however, it is still not even close — as every Chinese points out. The United States produces 19.4 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year; China (5.1 tons) trails not only the United States but also Russia (11.8 tons) and the countries of western Europe (8.6 tons). India checks in at only 1.8 tons per capita.

The effort to produce a new international climate-change treaty to supplant the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, is getting nowhere fast. A new agreement is supposed to be finished and ready to be signed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Do not count on it. With neither China nor the United States playing a leading role in the negotiations, many members of Congress are warning that there is no greater possibility of Senate ratification for the Copenhagen agreement next year than there was for the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s (in other words, none) – unless at least Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia agree to limits on their carbon emissions. And without China and the United States, the value of the treaty, although still real, would be limited.

Here is a seemingly insoluble Catch-22: the major emerging economies will not agree to any treaty containing meaningful limits on their emissions, and the U.S. Senate will not ratify an agreement that does not include them. There is, however, another approach that should be considered, without abandoning the Copenhagen process: multiple agreements in which various combinations of nations address specific parts of the larger problem. In such a collection of agreements, there would be a greater opportunity for genuine U.S.-Chinese cooperation. In particular, the two nations could reach bilateral agreements for joint projects on energy-saving, climate-change-friendly technology. The mutually beneficial goal would be an increase in energy efficiency and a reduction in carbon emissions in both countries. (Japan, the world’s most efficient energy consumer – and an indispensable ally of the United States – could participate in such arrangements; it has much to teach both nations, and it already has bilateral technology-exchange agreements with China.) From carbon capture to clean coal to solar and wind energy, there is vast untapped potential in joint projects and technology sharing – but no institutionalized U.S.-Chinese framework to encourage them.

On a recent trip to China, I raised the possibility of such bilateral agreements with senior Chinese officials, who showed interest and a willingness to explore the idea unofficially through nongovernmental channels. Their concern, freely expressed, was that any energy plan the West proposed would be just another device to slow down China’s economic growth. Whether true or not, this deeply felt view, shared by India and other major emerging markets in regard to their economic growth, must be understood and taken into account in order to make progress. Perhaps the window is already opening slightly: Wang Qishan, the powerful vice premier in charge of trade and finance, recently called publicly for joint research laboratories for renewable energy and pollution-reducing technologies. “Stronger co-operation between the two countries in energy and the environment,” he wrote in the Financial Times on June 16, “will enable China to respond better to energy and environmental issues and also bring about tremendous business opportunities and handsome returns for American investors.” In the careful language of one of China’s top officials, this is an unexpected and welcome signal. The next administration should not ignore it. Vigorous follow-up would not only address one of the world’s most pressing problems; it would also open up a new door for cooperation in the world’s most important bilateral relationship.


Given the dissatisfaction of Americans with the nation’s present condition, it is hardly surprising that both Obama and McCain have sought to emphasize the changes they would bring. Both have said that they would put more emphasis on Afghanistan – an early Bush administration success that has deteriorated dramatically as a result of neglect, miscalculation, and mismanagement. Both candidates have promised to strengthen U.S. relations with NATO allies. Both have expressed concern – although in very different language – over the recent behavior of Russia, especially in Georgia. (McCain has gone overboard, however, speaking in a highly confrontational manner and calling for the expulsion of Russia from the G-8, the group of highly industrialized states – something that he surely knows would never be agreed to by the other six G-8 members and a bad idea in its own right.) Both have promised to rebuild the armed forces and take better care of the wounded from Afghanistan and Iraq. Both are committed to the support and defense of Israel. (Although both have said they would close down the detention facility at Guantánamo and ban torture, a significant difference emerged in a recent Senate vote: Obama supported, and McCain opposed, an important statutory requirement to hold the CIA to the same standards for interrogation as the military, as mandated in the U.S. Army Field Manual.)

It is the differences between Obama and McCain that are truly revealing, and they offer important insights into the values and styles of the two men, their profoundly divergent attitudes toward the role of diplomacy, and their contrasting visions for the United States. Obama’s policy proposals – whether on climate change, energy, Africa, Cuba, or Iran – are forward-leaning; he proposes adjusting old and static policies to new and evolving realities. He emphasizes the need for diplomacy as the best way of enhancing U.S. power and influence. On trade, although McCain accuses Obama of neoprotectionism, in fact Obama argues for improving trade agreements to take into account elements such as labor and environmental standards – improvements that would give them more domestic support.

In contrast, McCain’s boldest proposals are neither new nor original: his vague “League of Democracies,” for example, sounds like an expansion of an organization, the Community of Democracies, created by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that still exists but is virtually ignored by the current administration. Although McCain says his league “would not supplant the United Nations,” he explicitly proposes that it take collective action when the UN does not. “The new League of Democracies,” he said last year, “. . . could act where the UN fails to act, to relieve human suffering in places like Darfur [and] bring concerted pressure to bear on tyrants in Burma or Zimbabwe, with or without Moscow’s and Beijing’s approval.” McCain calls this “the truest kind of realism.” Whatever McCain says, his “League,” unlike the forum created by Albright, would be viewed by everyone as an attempt to create a rival to the UN. Recent conversations I have had with senior officials in many of the world’s leading democracies confirm that not even the United States’ closest allies — let alone the world’s largest democracy, India – would support a new organization with such a mandate.

The UN has been undermined and underfunded for the last eight years, often making it weaker and more vulnerable to anti-American positions. The UN is, to be sure, a flawed institution. But it plays an important role in U.S. foreign policy, and if correctly used, it can advance U.S. national interests and play a more effective role in peacekeeping in such difficult areas as Sudan. Yet the UN can only be as strong as its largest contributor (which is also a founding member), the United States, wants it to be. Obama would improve and reform the organization in ways that would serve the United States’ interests, starting by asking Congress to pay the arrears that have grown once again, under Bush, to over $1 billion (an American debt of similar size was paid down after an arrangement made in the last year of the Clinton administration). Creating a new organization, instead of making a renewed effort at serious UN reform, would work against the very objectives McCain says he supports.

In his speech on nuclear proliferation delivered at the University of Denver on May 27, McCain said he would reconsider his long-standing opposition to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty if a renegotiation could “overcome the shortcomings that prevented it from coming into force” – a vague and elusive conditionality. Obama, in contrast, flatly favors this important treaty. Similarly, Obama has endorsed the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons, as outlined in the now-famous article by former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former Senator Sam Nunn. McCain has pointedly refused to do so.

Looking at these and other differences, it is clear that the U.S. electorate is being offered two different visions of the United States’ role in the world and two different attitudes toward diplomacy. On most issues, with the important exception of climate change, McCain supports or takes harder-line positions than the Bush administration. (For example, he expressed deep skepticism about the partial agreement President Bush announced in late June on the halting of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.) Although McCain prefers to describe himself as a “realist” or, more recently, a “realistic idealist,” looking broadly at his positions, it is impossible to ignore the many striking parallels between him and the so-called neoconservatives (many of whom are vocal and visible supporters of his candidacy).


Of course, no disagreement between Obama and McCain reaches the level of importance of their disagreements over Iraq and Iran. Policy toward these two countries will shape perceptions of the new president more than policy on any other issue; in some ways, the election is a referendum on Iraq. When McCain says that the United States is in Iraq to win, he means it – no matter what the costs or the duration of the war might be. No other issue engages him as deeply or as emotionally, and his feelings derive not from political calculation but from profound personal conviction. He believes that recent reductions in American and Iraqi casualty rates are proof that the United States is winning the war. As of this writing, however, he has not said that this highly welcome improvement in the situation would lead to significant troop withdrawals in 2009 beyond the removal of the “surge” troops whose departure has already been announced. He has repeatedly made clear that he is ready to leave troops in Iraq indefinitely rather than take the risks that he believes would accompany major reductions. He never acknowledges the risks and costs associated with continued deployments.

Obama, on the other hand, believes that military victory, as defined by Bush and McCain, is not possible – a judgment shared by the U.S. commanders in Iraq. He finds unacceptable the costs to the United States of an open-ended commitment to continue a war that should never have been started. Obama concludes that in the overall interest of the United States, it is necessary to start withdrawing U.S. ground combat troops at a steady but, he emphasizes, “careful” pace. This will, he predicts, put far more pressure on Iraqi politicians to reach the compromises necessary to stabilize the country than leaving the troops there. Emphasizing diplomacy as an indispensable component of U.S. power, Obama has also called for an all-out effort to involve all of Iraq’s neighbors in a regional diplomatic and political effort to stabilize the country.

McCain charges that his opponent’s position (which he and his supporters often misrepresent as “precipitous withdrawal”) would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, encourage the United States’ enemies, and weaken the nation. But he offers no exit strategy, no clear definition of achievable victory, and no plan for promoting political reconciliation within Iraq. His policy amounts to little more than a call for continuing the war because of the risks associated with trying to end it. Such a negative goal is not a sufficient rationale for putting still more American lives at risk.

Some of McCain’s opponents have misstated, at times, his position on a key point: he never said that the United States might have to fight in Iraq for a hundred years. But what he did say was equally unrealistic and highly revealing of his mindset. Using as his model South Korea, where 28,500 American forces remain 55 years after the armistice agreement, McCain said that he was ready to station U.S. troops in Iraq for at least that long, if not longer, even a hundred years. Such a multidecade commitment, even under peaceful conditions, is inconceivable in the xenophobic and violent atmosphere of the Middle East. In the end, McCain defines every other issue in terms of Iraq. “Its outcome,” he wrote in these pages late last year, “will touch every one of our citizens for years to come.” That may be true, but perhaps not in the way that he intends.

Obama stands McCain’s core argument on its head. “The morass in Iraq,” he wrote, also in these pages, “has made it immeasurably harder to confront and work through the many other problems in the region — and it has made many of those problems considerably more dangerous.” Like McCain, who favored the war even before it began, Obama has been consistent: he opposed the war from its outset. He is well known, of course, for his intention to start withdrawing combat troops as soon as possible. But because he recognizes the complexities of withdrawal, he has also emphasized (to little press attention) the need to be extremely careful at every step of that process. Obama has said that he would maintain flexibility in regard to whether to leave a residual force and follow an exact timetable. “This redeployment,” he wrote in these pages, “could be temporarily suspended if the Iraqi government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed. But we must recognize that, in the end, only Iraqi leaders can bring real peace and stability to their country.” He added, “The best chance we have to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties [the Sunnis and the Shiites] to find a lasting political solution. And the only effective way to apply this pressure is to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.”

The dispute between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration over a “status-of-forces agreement” highlights this issue. When the Iraqi prime minister insisted on a timetable for U.S. withdrawal (suggesting a three- to five-year adjustable schedule), why did both the current administration and McCain demure? Bush had often said that the United States would leave when it was not wanted; now he objects to a reasonable request from a sovereign state, seeming to prove the charge that the United States seeks a permanent presence in Iraq. Obama, on the other hand, calls it “an enormous opportunity . . . to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops.” In July, reports surfaced that the administration might withdraw one to three combat brigades still in Iraq after the departure of the surge troops. If true, both candidates could claim they were right; Obama could plausibly say that this was what he had called for all along, and McCain could say that it justified his support for the surge.

At the heart of the United States’ geostrategic challenge lie five countries with linked borders: the United States’ NATO ally Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In this arc of crisis, incoherence has marked U.S. policy since 2003. This five-nation area falls into three different regional bureaus in the State Department. Washington preaches different policies on democracy in neighboring countries, confusing everyone – pressuring Israel and the Palestinians, for example, into letting Hamas, the terrorist organization, run in the 2006 Palestinian elections, with disastrous results, while backing away from democracy promotion in Egypt. There is little coordination or integration of policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, although the two countries now constitute a single theater of war. No single concept beyond the vague “global war on terror” – defined in any way that suits the short-term needs of the administration – has guided U.S. strategy. Relations with all five countries have deteriorated.

Any serious policy will require dealing with all the countries in this region, as well as Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. This unfortunately includes the very unpleasant reality at the center of this region, Iran. Both Obama and McCain agree that preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state must be a major priority. Both would tighten sanctions. Neither would remove the threat of the use of force from the table. But from that point on, their emphasis and language differ significantly. Obama has said repeatedly that he is ready to have direct contacts with Iran at whatever level he thinks would be productive, not only on nuclear issues but also on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran’s support for terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah (which Iran has equipped with tens of thousands of rockets aimed directly at Israel’s heartland). McCain not only opposes such direct talks but also has famously said that the only thing worse than a war with Iran would be a nuclear Iran. Obama’s forthright approach has been met with cries of alarm from McCain and his supporters, as though the very thought of talking to one’s adversaries were in and of itself a sign of weakness, foreshadowing another Munich. This position is contradicted by decades of U.S. diplomacy with adversaries, through which U.S. leaders, backed by strength and power, reached agreements without weakening U.S. national security. Diplomacy is not appeasement. Winston Churchill knew this, Dwight Eisenhower knew it, and so did John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.

This singular difference between Obama, on the one hand, and George W. Bush and McCain, on the other, offers an important insight into the underlying philosophies and values of the two candidates. Although McCain and his advisers have sometimes looked for ways to distance him from Bush, his position on Iran (as with Iraq) is tougher than that of the Bush administration. This is, one can safely assume, McCain’s real view, which he sometimes expresses in pungent and humorous language (“Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” he once sang at a public rally). Coupled with his criticism of the Bush administration’s deal with North Korea and his call to throw Russia out of the G-8, his position suggests a deep, visceral aversion to talking to one’s adversaries, perhaps stemming from a concern that such dialogue might be viewed as weakness. It also shows an innate skepticism of diplomacy as a frontline weapon in the United States’ national security arsenal. Although both Bush and McCain attack Obama as weak, Obama’s position is in fact closer to the traditional default position of almost everyone who has ever practiced or studied diplomacy or foreign policy. Even loyal pro-McCain Republicans, such as James Baker, Robert Gates (before he became secretary of defense), Henry Kissinger, and Brent Scowcroft have disagreed with the McCain position on Iran and Russia.

Of course, there is no certainty that serious talks are possible with the real power center of Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his inner circle. It is therefore important, before starting down the diplomatic track, to have a clear idea as to what should be done if talks either are refused or make no progress. Contacts should begin through private and highly confidential channels to determine if there is a basis on which to proceed. The ongoing low-level communication through the U.S. and Iranian embassies in Baghdad, although limited in scope and unproductive so far, could allow for initial probing with little risk of compromise, and there are several ongoing private “track-two” efforts that could also be useful. The model that comes to mind, not surprisingly, is the one that President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Kissinger, used to open a dialogue with China in 1971, after 22 years of noncontact. Nixon’s decision to talk to one of the most repressive regimes in the world, at the height of the insanity of the Cultural Revolution, came at a time when Beijing’s treatment of its own population was certainly worse than that of Tehran today. China was also supporting guerrillas fighting U.S. troops in Southeast Asia. Yet Nixon and Kissinger talked to Mao Zedong — and changed the world. (The way not to proceed is to emulate Reagan’s move in 1987, at the height of the Iran-contra drama, when he secretly dispatched his national security adviser, Robert McFarlane, to Tehran carrying a chocolate cake decorated with icing in the shape of a key.)

Would an effort at dialogue with Iran produce results? Could it reduce the overt anti-Israel activities of the Iranian government, which poses an existential threat to the Jewish state? Could it stop the Iranian nuclear program? Is there enough common ground to enlist Iran in a regional project to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan? None of these questions can be answered in advance, but most scholars and experts believe that there are sufficient parallel interests to make the option worth exploring, just as Obama (and all the other candidates for the Democratic nomination) has suggested. Combined with the threat of tougher sanctions – and with the use of force remaining on the table – this carrot-and-stick approach would not threaten the security of either Israel or the United States, and it would strengthen the United States’ position elsewhere in the world, especially with other Muslim states, regardless of its outcome.

If Tehran rebuffs an opportunity to have meaningful talks with Washington, it will increase its own isolation and put itself under greater international pressure, while the United States will improve its own standing. Of course, this journey, once begun, will require adjustments along the way. Diplomacy is like jazz – an improvisation on a theme. Let it begin next year, as part of a new foreign policy in which diplomacy, conducted with firmness and enhanced by U.S. power, and consistent with American values, returns to its traditional place in the United States’ national security policy.

Such an approach toward Iran, coupled with the drawdown of U.S. combat units in Iraq, would have an important additional benefit: it would enhance the value of a return by the United States to its role as a serious, active peacemaker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As with so many other issues, the Bush administration wasted most of its eight years not attending to this one, only finally engaging with it in 2007, with the “Annapolis process” launched by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That effort will not lead to anything more than, at best, a loose framework agreement before the administration’s time runs out. The next president must engage personally with this issue, as every president from Nixon to Bill Clinton has in the past.


Although both Obama and McCain agree on the importance of the “other war” – that in Afghanistan – this alone is not sufficient. Current U.S. policy in Afghanistan is a failure. American voters should hear in more detail what each candidate would do about it. For McCain, the question arises as to where the additional resources needed would come from if he continues the war in Iraq. Obama has already pledged at least 10,000 more troops.

Since the U.S.-led coalition’s initial success in driving the Taliban from the cities, the basic U.S. plan and timetable in Afghanistan have been upended time and again by events that were not foreseen and policies that were inept. This past year, disaster was staved off only with the dispatch of additional British, Canadian, French, and U.S. troops. The right course now does not lie in a huge increase in NATO forces, although additional forces will be required for the southern and eastern parts of the country. The Taliban cannot win in Afghanistan; their terror tactics and memories of the “black years” repel most Afghans. But by not losing, by staying alive and causing continual trouble, the Taliban are achieving a major objective – preventing success by the central government, tying down large numbers of NATO troops, rallying “jihadists” from around the world to a remote but oddly romantic front. Faced with this challenge, the central government has shown that it is simply not up to the job. Meanwhile, the international community, a vast and uncoordinated collection of nongovernmental organizations, international agencies, and bilateral organizations, does enormous good but, paradoxically, sometimes undercuts its own goals by creating an ever-deeper dependency on foreigners for services that Kabul cannot deliver.

The situation in Afghanistan is far from hopeless. But as the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth: it will last a long time – longer than the United States’ longest war to date, the 14-year conflict (1961-75) in Vietnam. Success will require new policies with regard to four major problem areas: the tribal areas in Pakistan, the drug lords who dominate the Afghan system, the national police, and the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan government. All present immensely difficult challenges, but the toughest is the insurgent sanctuaries in the tribal areas of western Pakistan. Afghanistan’s future cannot be secured by a counterinsurgency effort alone; it will also require regional agreements that give Afghanistan’s neighbors a stake in the settlement. That includes Iran — as well as China, India, and Russia. But the most important neighbor is, of course, Pakistan, which can destabilize Afghanistan at will – and has. Getting policy toward Islamabad right will be absolutely critical for the next administration – and very difficult. The continued deterioration of the tribal areas poses a threat not only to Afghanistan but also to Pakistan’s new secular democracy, and it presents the next president with an extraordinary challenge. As a recent New York Times article stated, “It is increasingly clear that the Bush administration will leave office with Al Qaeda having successfully relocated its base from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal areas, where it has rebuilt much of its ability to attack from the region and broadcast its messages to militants across the world.” Nothing – not even Iraq – represents a greater policy failure for the outgoing administration.


The focus here on a few major issues does not mean that others can be ignored. If history is any guide, issues that are neglected too long often emerge at the top of the policy agenda – Somalia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Myanmar (also known as Burma), Tibet, and Zimbabwe are only a few recent examples. So even as a new administration starts to deal with the arc of crisis, it must also pay close attention to issues that could easily overwhelm it, in much the way Rwanda did Clinton’s administration in 1994, when the president’s focus was on Bosnia. A good example is Sudan, where, in addition to there being a deepening crisis in Darfur, the North-South agreement, once hailed as a genuine Bush-era success, is now in danger of collapse. It is likely that its key provision (national elections followed by a referendum on independence in the South) will be ignored or repudiated. By 2010, the odds are that Sudan will once again explode into a major North-South conflict, with the perennial risk of involvement by its neighbors. Preventing such a scenario will take intense efforts, led by the United States and the Africa Union and requiring the active involvement and support of China.

U.S. relations with the Muslim world will require special attention; efforts so far to encourage moderate Muslims to deal with extremists have not worked. A new, creative approach to public diplomacy must be developed. Then there is the odd problem posed by the “democracy agenda” of the last six years. The Bush administration’s inept advocacy of a fundamental human right has contaminated one of the nation’s most sacred concepts. Bush did the dream of democracy a huge disservice by linking it to the assertion of U.S. military power. Pressuring other countries to adopt the superficial aspects of a complex and subtle system of governance is simply not the route to follow in promoting American values or security interests. Yet the goal is correct and should not be abandoned – only presented in a style and a tone far more sensitive to how it is perceived in other lands. The next administration should focus more on human rights (a phrase curiously absent from the Bush lexicon) and basic human needs while still encouraging the development of democratic forms of government, accompanied by the evolution of a pluralist political culture, the rule of law, and improvements in material conditions, especially through job creation. If there is progress in these areas, democracy will follow, in ways that countries will determine for themselves – with U.S. encouragement. That is the lesson of Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and several promising young democracies in Africa.

It was in Africa that President Bush produced his greatest success – his anti-AIDS program, one of the few bipartisan policies of the last eight years. The United States has spent over $13 billion on the program since 2003. It has saved well over one million lives so far and incentivized other nations to do more. But the Bush administration’s Africa policy has been notably deficient in addressing the strategic, economic, and environmental dimensions of Africa’s plight. It has failed to deploy the instruments of statecraft in addressing Africa’s debilitating cycle of violence – in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and the obscure but explosive Horn of Africa. The world needs a strategy to address Africa’s endless conflicts, and that strategy must include a political approach to conflict resolution. The next administration must attend to the crises and mobilize support from its allies and from the African Union. The Bush administration played a useful role during the postelection crisis in Kenya (as did Obama, who gave interviews to Kenyan media and the Voice of America), but nowhere else on the continent has the United States been particularly effective. The UN is a key player, but the United States must lead the effort to get more resources for UN peacekeeping in Africa, or else such efforts will have no chance of success. In Obama’s extraordinary trip to Africa in 2006, he gave early hints of the promise of his candidacy. When I visited Kenya a few months later, I felt the excitement that his visit, including his undergoing a public HIV test in Nairobi, had generated. The conventional wisdom on Africa is that it is a hopeless case. This view – which amounts to triage by continent – is neither true nor acceptable morally, politically, or strategically.

In Latin America, the United States must begin to redress the widespread skepticism toward U.S. leadership – but not by making implausible promises to eradicate poverty and inequality or to stop drug trafficking and rampant crime. The greatest boost the next president can give to the realization of the long-elusive consolidation of a social contract in Latin America starts with recovering the social contract at home. Immigration reform and policies to alleviate economic anxiety, from introducing universal health care to making major investments in education and infrastructure, will create the surest path to rebuilding U.S. public support for what is now de facto integration with Latin America, whether through capital or language, commerce or culture.

To advance U.S. interests, Washington needs a different relationship with Mexico and strategic ties with Brazil. In Mexico’s case, thriving trade along a 2,000-mile border, vast population networks, and shared vulnerability to increasingly pervasive organized-crime syndicates require sustained presidential attention, as Bush promised but was unable to deliver. In Brazil — the world’s ninth-largest economy, a leading global producer of food and ethanol, an emerging petroleum giant, a potential nuclear power, and a major emitter of greenhouse gases – the next president can find a partner to advance key global initiatives, help define the shape of multilateral institutions, and act as a diplomatic ally in confronting the toughest regional challenges.


The United States is not a helpless giant tossed on the seas of history. It is still the most powerful nation on earth, and within certain limits, it can still shape its own destiny and play the leading role in a multipolar world. It can still take the helm in addressing the world’s most pressing problems (as President Bush did effectively on only one issue, AIDS). There are many issues waiting for inspired and, yes, noble U.S. leadership, backed up by enlightened U.S. generosity that is also in the United States’ own interest. The United States is still great. It deserves leadership worthy of its people, leadership that will restore the nation’s pride and sense of purpose. That task must begin at home, but the world will be watching and waiting.


It is a well-established historical fact that what candidates say about foreign policy is not always an exact guide to what they will do if elected. Historians point to a myriad of examples: Franklin Roosevelt’s 1940 promise to not send “your boys . . . into any foreign wars,” Lyndon Johnson’s statements in 1964 that he would not send ground troops to Vietnam, Richard Nixon’s 1968 references to a nonexistent “secret plan” to get out of Vietnam, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 pledge to upgrade U.S. relations with Taiwan to “official” status, Bill Clinton’s 1992 promises to take a strong stand on Bosnia and stand up to the “butchers of Beijing,” George W. Bush’s 2000 call for a “more humble” foreign policy that would never again have the United States involved in “nation building.” If a candidate takes a position that, on reaching the White House, he concludes is wrong, it obviously would be irresponsible to stick with that position; national interest must take precedence over statements made in the heat of a campaign. However, reversals of campaign positions, no matter how necessary, are painful for any politician and certain to be used against him by his opponents regardless of the circumstances. (A memorable experience for me involved Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. ground troops from South Korea, a pledge he reaffirmed publicly shortly after the election. I had argued against it, but as Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, I then had to defend it publicly while, under the direction of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, working to reverse it as quietly as possible — which was finally done, after two difficult years, in the summer of 1979.)

Whatever their ultimate fate, however, campaign positions are key indicators of the priorities and thinking of each candidate as he approaches the most powerful and difficult job in the world. It is therefore valuable to examine them carefully.

Reprinted with kindly permission of The Council on Foreign Relations.