What If the U.S. Fails in Iraq? | Tomorrow's World

What If the U.S. Fails in Iraq?

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If the United States cannot create a democratic regime in Iraq, will militant Islam gain the upper hand? What do world history and Bible prophecy tell us about the consequences of U.S. failure in this troubled region?

The United States has committed its military might and national prestige to a controversial war in Iraq, but things are not going as planned. What will be the consequences if the U.S. fails in its stated mission to establish a modern democratic state in Iraq?

In April 2003, a military coalition led primarily by United States forces removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Policymakers hoped to replace his Baathist tyranny with an Iraqi democratic state that would serve as a beacon of modernity in the Middle East, and as a counterweight to the increasing power of radical Islam in the region. At the time, the U.S. government also gave as a reason for the invasion the need to remove weapons of mass destruction. Humanitarian motives included the hope to free the Iraqi people from a murderous dictator and to counter a growing terrorist threat.

Nearly four years later, many are asking: "Was it worth it?" "Can it still work?" Few are asking the deeper questions, such as, "What is the U.S. doing in Iraq from a strategic and historical perspective?" Fewer still—particularly in the U.S.—understand that it is Europe, not the U.S., that has the most at risk in Iraq.

Earlier this year, in a January 10 speech to the nation, U.S. President George W. Bush outlined some of the consequences of failure in Iraq: "Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September 11, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq."

President Bush understands that the stakes are high, and that the U.S. shares an interest in the success of a stable Iraq. But what if, either politically or militarily, he is unable to "finish the job"? Failure in Iraq does not necessarily require a military defeat. When the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 2006 to reduce Hezbollah's growing military capabilities, the Muslim world hailed the campaign as a victory for Hezbollah—even though Hezbollah lost many fighters and was pushed out of southern Lebanon. Simply surviving the Israeli onslaught was counted as success.

In Iraq, if a radical Islamist government takes power in Iraq after the U.S. withdraws, the outcome for Iraq and the entire Middle East will be worse than before, even without a "military defeat" on America's record. Is this an unlikely scenario? Muslims have repeatedly chosen Islamists when they have had the opportunity to vote. Or, if Iraq descends into sectarian chaos after a U.S. departure, an autocratic Islamist government would restore order.

Conflict Between Europe and Islam

A U.S. failure in Iraq will also change the European Union's view of itself and its relationship with the Middle East. But to understand the reasons for the coming European epiphany, we must understand Europe's tumultuous relationship with Islam for the last 13 centuries. A brief outline follows:

Life of Muhammad
Jerusalem and Syria conquered by Muslims, ending three centuries of Roman rule
7th-8th centuries ad
Muhammad and other Muslim rulers spread the Caliphate (Islamic religious rule) across the Middle East and North Africa
Spain invaded by North African Muslims
Muslim advance through France stopped near Tours (Poiters), not far from Paris
Southern France invaded by Muslim forces
Late 8th–Early 9th centuries ad
Muslim conquests across Europe, including Sicily and southern Italy. Charlemagne resists Muslim armies in France and parts of Spain, beginning seven centuries of wars to reclaim Western Europe
St. Peter's Basilica in Rome sacked by Muslim army
First Crusade brings Catholic armies to the Middle East to retake lands lost in 637.
Jerusalem returns briefly to Catholic control
14th–16th centuries ad
Large parts of Eastern Europe fall to Ottoman Turk forces and come under the Caliphate
Catholic forces complete the reconquest of Spain; Muslims driven out at Granada
Vienna, Austria, resists last Muslim siege; Muslims begin retreat in Eastern Europe
Muslim forces defeated in Austria and Hungary

How did Muslims justify their wars with Europe? It is important to remember that Islam considers Judaism and Christianity, though originating from the same Abrahamic roots, as heresies. Princeton University's acclaimed historian Bernard Lewis writes, "In the Muslim perception, the Jews and later the Christians had gone astray and had followed false doctrines. Both religions were therefore superseded, and replaced by Islam, the final and perfect revelation in God's sequence" (The Crisis of Islam, p. 44).

Muslims, therefore, saw their thousand-year assault on Europe as "holy war"—jihad. By contrast, in the 1800s, they saw a century of European incursions into the Middle East as "imperialism." Lewis observes, "For them [Muslims], the word imperialism has a special meaning. The word is never used by Muslims of the great Muslim empires—the first one founded by the Arabs, the later ones by the Turks, who conquered vast territories and populations and incorporated them in the House of Islam. It was perfectly legitimate for Muslims to conquer and rule Europe and Europeans and thus enable them—but not compel them—to embrace the true faith" (ibid., p. 55).

It is no surprise, then, that Western and Muslim perceptions of the Crusades differ widely. After centuries of Muslim victories, the Arab jihad was contained and then finally repelled by Europeans. To the east, Byzantine armies defended Constantinople against Arab attacks, while to the west the "Reconquista" gradually forced Muslims out of the Spanish peninsula. The Italian peninsula returned entirely to Catholic rule. During these wars, Catholic Europeans launched several efforts to reclaim for their faith the birthplace of Christ, which Muslims had conquered in 637ad. Aside from a few brief victories, the Crusades were almost total failures. Historian Lewis comments on how the Crusades have come to be viewed: "Awareness of the Crusades as a distinctive historical phenomenon dates from the nineteenth century, and the translation of European books on history. Since then, there is a new perception of the Crusades as an early prototype of the expansion of European imperialism into the Islamic world. A more accurate description would present them as a long-delayed, very limited, and finally ineffectual response to the jihad" (ibid., pp. 50–51).

Arguably, the West gained a comprehensive victory over the Caliphate only after the Ottoman Empire was defeated after World War I. Today's Muslim radicals want to restore that Caliphate. Daniel Benjamin, a National Security Council member in the Clinton administration, explained to interviewer Kwame Holman: "Osama bin Laden and his followers have a distinctly different view of the universe than we do.… they believe that their violence is divinely mandated. And so they're also acting on a metaphysical plane—if you will—and for them, this is all there is—this is the great struggle to reestablish a caliphate—a Muslim super state like there was in the 7th century" (NewsHour, September 13, 2001).

Radical Muslims believe it is their religious duty to restore Islam to the Dar-al-Islam (the "House of Islam"—any lands that have ever been under Muslim rule, including parts of Europe), and then to the Dar-al-Harb (literally the "House of War"—those non-Muslim lands that through war must be brought under Islam).

President Bush is under no illusions about the terrorists' goals; he clearly described their ambitions in a September 5 speech to the Military Officers Association of America last year: "This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. We know this because al Qaeda has told us. About two months ago, the terrorist Zawahiri—he's al Qaeda's second in command—declared that al Qaeda intends to impose its rule in 'every land that was a home for Islam, from [Spain] to Iraq.' He went on to say, 'The whole world is an open field for us.'… Again, hear the words of Osama bin Laden earlier this year: 'Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.'"

Strategic Threats

In World War II, German and Japanese fascists were a strategic military threat to the United States, because they had large armies, navies and air forces that could invade and occupy territory. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a true strategic threat because of its nuclear missiles, its vast military establishment and its international campaign for military and political hegemony.

Certainly, oil-rich Muslim nations can endanger the U.S. economy by disrupting petroleum supplies. But it is important to recognize that Islam cannot now mount an army sufficient to conquer the United States. Though terrorism can cause serious economic and psychological harm, it cannot pose a strategic threat to American territory.

By contrast, with a thousand years of military invasions and occupations going back to the eighth century, Islam has a long history as a strategic threat to Europe. Unlike Americans, Europeans have suffered—on European soil—centuries of wars with Muslims. Europeans are slowly starting to realize that, given the history of jihad in Europe, a restored Islamic Caliphate would again pose a strategic threat to Europe.

Indeed, Islamists are openly reminding Europeans of this threat. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shocked the E.U. last year when he publicly announced, "We have advised the Europeans that the Americans are far away, but you are the neighbors of the nations in this region. We inform you that the nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to Palestine, and you may get hurt. It is in your own interest to distance yourself from these criminals [Israel]. This is an ultimatum" ("Ahmadinejad Does Europe," Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2006, p. A18).

The "far away" Americans would benefit from the success of their policy in Iraq, but—whether the Bush administration intended it or not—the greatest strategic beneficiary would be the Europeans. Therefore, from a strategic and historical perspective, the American invasion of Iraq operates as a preemptive strike against Islamist radicalism and the reestablished caliphate, as a proxy for the Europeans. If the U.S. fails in Iraq, Europe loses twice. Not only would a U.S. defeat give radical Islam greater ability to focus its future ambitions on Europe; a dispirited U.S. would be less likely to take part in further military engagements, and the European perception of U.S. protection for Europe would diminish or disappear. If the U.S. fails, Europe may have no choice but to "go it alone" and band together to provide for its own defense against any future Islamist threat—just as it did in centuries past.

In this environment, European initiatives such as its Rapid Reaction Force take on even greater significance. The E.U. Rapid Reaction Force was established in 1999 and is still in its infancy. The E.U. has theoretical aspirations for an 80,000 strong E.U. army to enforce a common foreign policy, and Poland in November 2006 proposed a force of 100,000, but this force is not yet operating at the level many Europeans envision for the future. Long reliant on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Europe's balance of power would be changed dramatically by the creation of a truly effective E.U. military. NATO has been the primary defense of Europe since the 1950s, and U.S. military might was the backbone of NATO during the Cold War, effectively resisting the Soviet strategic threat. Increasingly, however, E.U. officials see a need to organize and fund their own revived military establishment. With increasing awareness of the threat from militant Islam, and decreasing confidence in U.S. policy or military strength, demand for a powerful European force will only grow.

The European Identity

Germans, French, Italians and Poles may differ widely in language, but they have long shared the cultural unity of a common faith. Ancient cathedrals dominate the landscape in most European cities. Pope Benedict XVI has stressed the role of the Roman Catholic Church as the glue binding Europeans into a common European culture—a theme he inherited from his predecessor John Paul II, who said: "The history of the formation of the European Nations keeps abreast with their evangelization. Consequently, despite the spiritual crises that have marked the life of the Continent in our day, its identity would be incomprehensible without Christianity… Only a Europe that does not eliminate but rediscovers its Christian roots, will be able to take up the challenges of the third millennium: peace, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, the safeguarding of creation. All believers in Christ of the European West and East are required to make their own contribution through open and sincere ecumenical cooperation" (Regina Caeli, May 2, 2004).

Yet there is a growing perception that this common element is being undermined not only by secularism, but also by a rapidly growing Muslim population in Europe. As was made plain by the controversy last year over drawings of Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper, many of Europe's Muslims are quick to demand religious tolerance, but not so quick to give it.

In this environment, many who support the Vatican's view of European history and culture have worked for a "Christian Identity Clause" in the proposed E.U. constitution. Such language was finally omitted from the last drafted version of the constitution, so many Catholic Europeans considered it providential when France and the Netherlands voted to reject the constitution—sending it back to the drawing board where the "Christian Identity Clause" could again be considered.

The winds of Islamic identity are sweeping through the Muslim world, and that wind is now blowing toward Europe. But in the face of a perceived cultural and strategic threat from Islam, might those same winds bring a renewal of Catholic identity to a secular Europe? The Vatican hopes so!

News Before It Happens

The history of Europe can tell us much about our present problems, but world events can be illuminated even further by the "future history" revealed in Bible prophecy. God tells us the news before it happens. As a result, people of faith can see current events in the context of a completed flow of history.

God told the prophet Isaiah: "For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:9–10).

The prophet Daniel accurately foretold the contentions that a series of rulers would engage in to control the area around Jerusalem. Kings of the North would struggle with kings of the South. But beginning in Daniel 11:40, the prophecy skips just ahead of our time to "the time of the end"—the days at the end of this age, immediately before the coming of the Messiah. In these verses, we see a ruler to the south of Jerusalem arise and become powerful. He attacks or "pushes" against a northern power, which Bible prophecy shows to be a successor to the Roman Empire—a European power.

"At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through. He shall also enter the Glorious Land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall escape from his hand: Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon. He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and Ethiopians shall follow at his heels. But news from the east and the north shall trouble him; therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many. And he shall plant the tents of his palace between the seas and the glorious holy mountain [Mt. Zion in Jerusalem]; yet he shall come to his end, and no one will help him" (Daniel 11:40–45).

Will a reestablished Caliphate give us the prophesied king of the South, and are we now seeing the steps preliminary to his rise? Will a renewed strategic threat from the Middle East revive Catholic identity and militarism in Europe? Keep studying your Bible to understand these prophecies, keep watching the Tomorrow's World telecast, and keep reading the Tomorrow's World magazine to stay up to date on these vital world events in the context of Bible prophecy.


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