Wednesday, February 25, 2004


George Tenet's remarks before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence lays out the interlocking structure of threats facing the United States -- and by extension the rest of the developed world. It's most striking feature is the absence of a Great Power threat to the general peace. The danger comes entirely from brutalized nations consisting largely of the Islamic and Third World countries so wholly collapsed that they are effectively "stateless zones". Into this cauldron of human misery two important ingredients have fallen. The first is an ideology which provides the disaffected and ignorant Islamic masses with a convenient explanation for their wretchedness: the modern world as represented by the United States; together with a means to end their suffering by plundering through the Jihad and the promise of earthly paradise under a restored Caliphate. The second is the growing availability of WMD technology and material to anyone willing to buy them. In Tenet's words "WMD technologies are no longer the sole province of nation-states. They might also come about as a result of business decisions made by private entrepreneurs and firms."

The addition of these two factors has effectively internationalized the chronic sectarian and factional conflicts which have simmered in these dysfunctional societies for centuries. The ancient enmities between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Jew, Chechen and Russian, recently of interest only to a narrow circle of historians, is being refought in modern capitals with the latest weapons. Devices of enormous destructive power are being placed at the service of old hatreds from places where the Middle Ages never ended, a concept which finds perfect expression in the Al Qaeda belief that the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings marks a first step in the return of Andalusia to the Muslim world.

Despite Tenet's brave recital of American successes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the rollup of the Pakistani nuclear weapons mart, he is unable to answer his own question. How does the civilized world "overcome a movement -- a global movement infected by al-QA`ida's radical agenda" suddenly empowered by technologies it is now able to afford? 

It was in many ways a rabble waiting for a leader. In the two generations since the end of the Second World War more than a billion people were abandoned to anarchies and tyrannies euphemistically called "developing nations". Most of them, little more than a stamp and a seat at the United Nations, have already ceased to function -- the 50 "stateless zones" of Tenet's speech. If left to the leadership of men like Osama Bin Laden, these steerless multitudes can snuff out the living nations, as growing entropy blots out a system. The logical response would be to seize control of the movement ourselves, to raise the disaffected masses against their own tyrants. It is step President Bush has vowed to take but it is so audacious and regarded so cynically by the left that it would be a wonder if the world actually took the only path that can save it.