When Alexander Dugin, the man described by Foreign Affairs as “Putin’s Brain,” labels Russia not merely a state in the international system, but a “civilization-state,” Western observers should take heed. Similarly, when Wahhābists (like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS) and Iranian Mahdīsts (like the Ayatollah Khameini) call for the restoration of the long-dead Caliphate and “death to America!” Americans should pay attention. Such groups are telling us plainly how they view the world, what is driving them toward challenging the United States, and why they plan on destroying us.
While many would claim that all these groups need is greater economic opportunity–jobs (to be fair, that is certainly a factor)–they overlook a critical component of the equation: the immaterial, the spiritual, part of the ideology dominating America’s enemies today. For, it must be noted that neither the Neo-Eurasianists of Russia nor the jihadists of the global Muslim community view the world in such materialistic ways as the globalists of the West do. What these groups are really focused on are the cultural, religious, and ethnic divisions of the world, rather than the materialistic ones. Therefore, as Mark Juergensmeyer outlines in his excellent book on the matter, “Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence,” these conflicts constitute existential, “cosmic” wars.
Juergensmeyer defines “cosmic war” as, “larger than life” spectacles that “evoke great battles of the legendary past, and they relate to metaphysical conflicts between good and evil.” Such conflicts, he continues, are “intimately personal but can also be translated to the social plane.” Most importantly, however, according Juergensmeyer, cosmic warfare “transcends” the human experience. Indeed, “its perpetrators have placed such religious images of divine struggle–cosmic war–in the service of worldly political battles.” In the case of terrorism in the modern world, “acts of religious terror serve not only as tactics in a political strategy but also as evocations of a much larger spiritual confrontation.” But this view of human conflict today as transcendent of materialism applies not only to jihadists, but also to Chinese nationalists, the aforementioned Neo-Eurasianists of Russia, the Kim regime of North Korea, as well as the Islamist terror networks and Iran.
Former Army Intelligence Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters wrote a book some time ago entitled “Wars of Blood and Faith.” As Colonel Peters puts it,
“This will be a century of contradictions: The age of super technologies is also the new age of superstition, of great religions reduced to cults that worship bloodthirsty bogeymen. Seek to deny it though we may, we face decades of religious wars–between faiths, but also within faiths. The defining struggle of our time–the source of conflicts great and small–will be between those who believe in a merciful god and those who worship a divine disciplinarian. This philosophical divide will kill many millions.”
“Desperate, failing civilizations will confront triumphant ones. While racial hatreds tragically persist, wars within racial groups will kill more human beings than conflicts between races. Humans may hate a distant enemy in theory but prefer to kill their neighbors in practice. Tribes–a term forbidden twenty years ago–are back [even in Europe].”
Ralph Peters’ writings over the last 18 years have repeated these themes (and have been frighteningly prescient).
Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” reminds us that, “Civilizations are the ultimate human tribes, and the clash of civilizations is tribal conflict on a global scale.” Huntington elaborates that, “Relations between groups from different civilizations […] will be almost never close, usually cool, and often hostile.” He concludes his assessment with an accurate prediction, “Hopes for close intercivilizational ‘partnerships,’ such as were once articulated [by the leaders of Russia and America after the Cold War] will not be realized.” He buttons up his assessment with the quip that, “Emerging intercivilizational relations will normally vary from distant to violent, with most falling somewhere in between.” As Huntington alludes to, this is what former Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin meant when he warned the world that Russo-American relations could come to approximate a “cold peace.”
Huntington’s work challenged his former student, Francis Fukuyama’s utopian assertion that the end of the Cold War represented the “end of history.” Moreover, Huntington outlined how the world was going fragment along what referred to as “cultural fault lines.” Indeed, the central theme of his work was that, “civilizations are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world.”
Yet, the notion that history ended when the Cold War did has had an intoxicating effect on our policymakers. For the last 20 years, America coasted on its enormous victory, on the fact that it was the sole remaining Superpower, and the notion that Neoliberalism would save the world (wrong!) Meanwhile, America’s enemies–both the usual suspects, like China and Russia, as well as non-state actors, like al Qaeda–gathered strength. As America was mired in endless partisan warfare on the homefront; as we were all ensconced in the Cult of Free Trade, jihadist terrorists, rogue states, and rival actors all worked toward one goal: upending the American-led world order.
There is little doubt that at the end of history, or the start of what Charles Krauthammer referred to as the “unipolar moment,” many globalists believed they were doing the right thing. Unfortunately, as utopians (such as the globalists) are wont to do, they did not anticipate human nature because they did not have a firm grasp on history. After all, how could they? In a quasi-Marxian fashion, the globalists believed they had vanquished history! However, it is not their intentions that I seek to judge. As St. Bernard of Clairvoux said, “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.” We must judge the results of their actions over the last two decades. When we do that, it is difficult to find anything other than abject failure.
Look at it this way: the globalists believed that their policies were expanding wealth to more places and more people than ever before. But, in so doing, such globalists were merely empowering themselves, disenfranchising Americans outside of the coastal metropolises, and conferring unwarranted amounts of wealth and power unto America’s adversaries. While Fukuyama waxed eloquent about the “end of history” and Bill Clinton insisted that post-Cold War life was essentially about “the economy, stupid!”, populism and nationalism took hold throughout the world–even in large segments of the United States and Europe.
History never really ended after the Cold War, did it? The tempo and pace of American military intervention increased (although, to be sure, those conflicts never reached the level of either of the world wars or the Cold War, thankfully). In fact, by 1993, one could argue that the post-Cold War honeymoon had already ended. By this time, not only had Desert Storm been fought, but the Balkans were imploding, America was mired in Somalia, Haiti was unfurling, North Korea almost went nuclear, the Rwandan genocide occurred, and by 1996, China and the U.S. had experienced the terrifying Taiwan Strait Crisis and Bin Laden had issued his fatwa against the United States. Rather than ending, as Robert Kagan wrote, “history has returned.”
But, most American leaders in what Michael Walsh refers to as the “Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party,” (that incestuous cabal of coastal elites from both the Republican and Democratic parties who hold the levers of power) missed this. Even as they agitated for increased military action abroad; even as they lamented the increasing inequality in both America and throughout the world, the Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party running the U.S. (and the West) missed the forest for the trees. Meanwhile, American enemies, such as China and Russia laid low and bid their time. While America’s leaders continued to insist upon open borders and forced us all to worship at the altar of Free Trade, the Chinese waged unremitting economic warfare upon us. The Russians giddily embraced “Free Market” (read, State Capitalist) reforms in order to get their vast natural gas and mineral resources on the global market, thereby linking Europe and the West to Russia as never before (and making any attempt to stop Russian aggression or to put Russia in its place nearly impossible).
Terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and, later on, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham, railed against the “imperialism” of the West, as they readily employed the very same technologies that propelled globalization, and fashioned them into a cudgel to use in their jihad against the West.
Think about it: the very same economic policies and technology that allowed for globalization were used against the globalists. The internet was wonderful at linking the world together as never before…and China figured out how to use it to wage ceaseless cyber warfare against the U.S. International travel had become so ubiquitous that one could wake up in Washington, D.C. and go to sleep in Abu Dhabi in the same day. Yet, the same type of aircraft that allowed for such incredible travel, also allowed for the 9/11 hijackers to attack America on that fateful September day. The same easy flow of money across borders that allowed for investors to take wealth earned in Hong Kong and reinvest it into a startup venture in Los Angeles, can be used to covertly fund nuclear programs aimed at destroying America.
Even still, America’s leaders didn’t quite get the picture. Even as jihadists were laying siege to America, while American troops invaded Afghanistan and eventually Iraq, the hawkish President George W. Bush (like his dovish predecessors) refused to recognize the religious–the cosmic–component of the Global War on Terror (the name itself illustrates a dangerous failure to recognize and understand one’s enemies). Why is this? Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Across both Republican and Democratic administrations, since the end of the Cold War, American leaders have constantly missed the root cause of America’s problems. The globalists insist that the problem is material; if we have the right economic reform, the right level of taxation, the right trade policy, and the correctly sized military force, then all will be well.
When explaining the 2008 Great Recession to his staff, as Aaron Ross Sorkin recounts in his thrilling book, “Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System–and Themselves,” former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen was asked “how didn’t we [the government] see this [recession] coming?” To which Paulsen responded nonchalantly, “we were all making too much money.” In much the same blasé fashion, many brilliant people were warning us, but we were all too obsessed with our own utopian pieties. We all drank the globalists’ Kool Aid, not realizing what the long-term cost would be. Because of this short-sightedness and inattention, we all missed the forest for the trees.
In the U.S., as you’ve seen, inequality has reached staggering levels. Whereas the coastal cities expanded and the people in charge were enriched, a vast majority of the rest of the country suffered. Angelo Codevilla referred to this as the “country class” vs. the “ruling class.” But this isn’t just an American phenomenon and it isn’t your standard competition between classes. While it is economic, it is also geographical, cultural, and political. And it isn’t only in the U.S. where this battle is occurring. As I’ve noted on the breakdown of the state, the worldwide nationalist reaction to globalization is predicated on the notion that most people around the world believe that the social contract has broken down. Moreover, this conflict has manifested itself in particular ways exclusive to the regional and cultural uniqueness of each country experiencing this breakdown in the social contract.
More dangerously, the ardent believers in globalization are an insulated bunch. Living in their coastal metropolises, enriched thanks to cheap labor and international trade, they refuse to acknowledge that anyone would dare challenge their orthodoxy. When attempting to counter America’s enemies, they fall into the cognitive trap of “mirror imaging” that former CIA analyst Richard J. Heurer, Jr. identified in his book, “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis,” Heurer defines this phenomenon as, “filling gaps in the analyst’s own knowledge by assuming that the other side is likely to act in a certain way because that is how the U.S. will act under similar circumstances.”
Because the global elite cannot fathom that anyone would deign to question the basic assumptions of their secular orthodoxy, and because they control the levers of power across the media, academia, and government, an echo chamber is formed between and among the global elite. America’s national security community is influenced significantly by this thinking as well. In 1998, Admiral David Jeremiah lambasted this as the “everybody-thinks-like-us-mindset.” Thanks to the echo chamber, our elites assume that all nations share interests. More dangerously, these elites assume that foreign states define their interests exactly as America defines its own interests. Indeed, to such people, the very term “national interest” is anathema, which is an even greater problem. This explains why a majority of our intelligence and political leaders could not even countenance that Saddam Hussein not only did not have weapons of mass destruction, but that he was likely encouraging the view that he did, in fact, have them, to keep domestic rivals and his Iranian neighbors at bay.
Thankfully, globalization has reached its limit today. Those who advocate for the doubling down on globalization policies miss the fact that much of the world is rebelling against these policies. While America has crafted an international system in its favor, that system has direly needed shoring up, since at least 1993. Rather than spending the 24 years doing that, we basically placed ourselves on autopilot. This allowed for the fruits of globalization to be distributed unevenly. This global inequality led to the creation of conditions which allowed for America’s enemies to thrive. What’s more, it allowed for America’s political system to stagnate. These trends explain why Donald Trump’s election not only occurred–but was absolutely vital to preserving the American republican system. It explains why Brexit occurred. These trends explain why Marine La Pen is so popular in France and why the Alternativ für Deutschland party of Germany is on the rise. It also explains the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Now, thanks to the technological and economic advances of globalization, America’s enemies have refined their columbophobic (columbophobia is best defined as extreme antipathy to Americans and the United States) attitudes. They have embraced–even championed–the nationalistic and militaristic ideologies that are dividing the world and driving these regimes toward confrontation with the United States. Such actors, among them some of the most powerful states in the world, have essentially checked out of the international order. In so doing, they have laid the groundwork for essentially attacking the United States through unorthodox means.
America is in a civilizational war, or at least, a civilizational “cold peace,” with many states and groups who do not share our values. That war is asymmetrical, it is full spectrum, and there are no safe havens from it. The war is being waged internally, between the statists who favor the existing Left-wing status quo, and it is being waged abroad between the aforementioned foreign threats, all of whom have embraced nationalistic imperialism. Much of the Developing World is experiencing sharp declines in economic opportunity and, therefore, political instability. In this morass, radicals have stepped forward to win the hearts-and-minds of many people disaffected by the forces of globalization.
In many instances, scores of people who can flee these lands do so, if only to not be swept up in the chaos. They very often turn toward Western countries, since most Western states have such lax immigration policies. When they arrive in these new, foreign lands, these immigrants often find life difficult and are increasingly isolated and alienated from the generally secular, Western culture in the host country. They take advantage of the largesse of the host government but, very often, are unable to fully integrate into their new country. This makes such individuals ripe for radicalism. The open borders that so many globalists became enriched by also pose security risks to those who are not as insulated from the negative effects of open borders as the globalists are. This, then, explains why similar (though decidedly different) forces of nationalism, localism, and populism are coming to dominate in Europe and the United States.
Whereas all of the nationalist sentiment dominating the world is civilizational and cultural, there can be little doubt that the breakdown of the state and the inequality experienced by so many is the result of globalization. These forces have combined to create the world that Samuel Huntington warned us about. Colonel Peters was right: ours is a century of contradictions. Those contradictions mean that the post-Cold War order is dead. Still, though, conflict is not inevitable and cooperation, as folks like Ian Bremmer might assume, is not impossible. Each country must, therefore, embrace this new nationalism (especially the United States, since its nationalism is civic and not ethnic, as Mackubin Owens recently wrote). We must find solace and strength from this and enact policies predicated on these notions, in order to better prepare America to not only survive, but to thrive in this fragmented world.
Speaking in a radio address to America from London on 16 June 1941, Winston Churchill said:
“The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men’s souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
Churchill might as well have been speaking about our time, our century of contradictions, today. Samuel Huntington’s prognostications on the world being governed by cultural fault lines more than anything else was, possibly, the most apt assessment of the post-Cold War era. Globalization may not be dead forever, but it is on indefinite hiatus. Let us hope this remains so for some time. We can no longer accept the weakening of America in the name of globalism. Such policies empower our enemies and harm our citizens.
Our only hope? America must look to its values and its culture and seek out states that share those values and culture. Then, from there, build on that democratic alliance with other, illiberal states that share our security interests. We can make it through this tough time, but globalization and its attendant high priests who populate the usual think tanks, universities, government departments, and news networks are not going to yield those answers. Which brings me to the conclusion that this is is Samuel Huntington’s world and the rest of us are just fighting in it.