As is well known, on September 11, 2001, the United States endured an attack by Al Qaeda, an organization that was dedicated to the Wannabe sect of Sunni Islam, and which dreamt of the restoration of an Islamic Caliphate, someday.
Since that date, the United States has been continually at war, to some degree. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but never not. Iraq was invaded by the US in what may perhaps be regarded as an undeclared war, even though there was no clear connection, and indeed no connection, between the Wannabe jihadist and the secular Baathist Iraqi state that we defeated. U.S. forces entered government-less Afghanistan and drove out the Taliban, the Islamic Punjabi Sunni movement allied to Al Qaeda, which is and was principally Arabic. The war in Afghanistan continues on with the Taliban struggling to remain and return, fighting against an Afghan government we support. In Iraq, the defeat of Saddam Hussein's Baathist dictatorship resulted in a civil war between Al Qaeda allies who evolved into ISIL or ISIS, depending upon which term you prefer. Initially defeated that group regrouped and came back in such force that it occupied large sections of Iraq and neighboring Syria and changed Al Qaeda's goal of an eventually restoration of a Sunni Caliphate to an immediate restoration of one, one which indeed it declared to be in present existence.
War is never predictable, and it was not a war that we wanted or started. But a war none the less. So the question remains? How have we done, and how are we doing?
Prologue: How did we even get here?
Before we look at the question, at some point it's worth asking how we got here in the first place.
I'd note, on that, that often during war it's not healthy, nor necessary, to really ask that question. Was it necessary on December 7, 1941, to ask how it was that the Japanese Imperial Navy had launched an air raid on Pearl Harbor? I think not. The moral imperative at that time was to address Japanese aggression, not debate the history of the Japanese since Admiral Perry. This question, however, might be necessary to answer now, given that he war has lasted so long, and it's been unique in some ways.
Indeed, this was the moral imperative at the time. Folks wanting to debate and discuss the history of Japan since the US opened it up would have been well off the mark at hte time.
And I use the term "the war" advisably. Others might not, and some of them advisable as well. And that gets, I suppose, to part of the point here. We're in a war with a certain world outlook, and we were before September 11, 2001. We had been at war with it probably since some point in the 1990s perhaps, or at least for a year with the attack on the USS Cole in October 1990. Be that as it may, perhaps we were not incorrect in not realizing that, and indeed for those who would argue that viewing this as other as a war is a better option are not without their point.
To really look at the roots of this we need to go way back, and indeed we should do that if we are to understand the nature of the enemy that attacked us.
Americans in particular, and Westerners in general, have a hard time with conceptualizing the war we are in, and its probable length (Europeans less so) as our world outlook is so different from other cultures, which is to say that the European and European American outlook is distinctly Christian. Even non Christian's in the West have a Christian outlook on the world, and it's fair to say that their outlook is both Catholic and catholic in a larger sense. That's due to our history and the remaining impact of it, even though we dimly perceive that.
As a result of that our culture emphasizes the concept of all men being equal in nature, free will, and indeed as an aspect of that, free choice. Additionally, the Hellenic nature of early Christianity (most, maybe all, of the early Gospels were written in Greek, contrary to what some commonly believe, and the version of the Jewish writings commonly cited by the New Testament, which we call the "Old Testament", was the Septuagint, a Greek translation of those texts.) caused much of the Hellenic world view to be incorporated into Christianity. At least some Christian theorists have maintained that this was far from accidental, but rather Providential, in that Christ's appearance in the Middle East came at the point at which Greek thought and the Greek language was common in the region.
Other cultures and non Christian religions, however, do not have this wort of world outlook and Islam does not. This reflects its early history. Indeed, early in its post Muhammad history there was a struggle between a Hellenized branch of Islam and the rest of it, with the Hellenized branch loosing. When people cite to early Muslim theologians who take a world outlook similar to our own they often fail to note that those who held that view fell more than a little out of favor, and aren't looked upon by Muslims today as influential.
Now, the early history that I'll give here is certainly not one that a Muslim is likely to give, but it's the one that's most likely correct, and it is the source of the problems that Islam has in its relationship to the modern world today.
Much of the really early history if Islam is poorly known. Unlike Christianity, which spread enormously rapidly and which had foundational writings nearly immediately after Christ's Crucifixion, Islamic texts, including the version of the Koran now used, seem to have had about a three century or so gap before their appearance following Muhammad's death. For that reason, there's a lot we don't know about Muhammad or early Islam, unlike Christianity which has an early history that's extremely well documented (although many Christians are wholly ignorant of it). Even Muhammad's real name is a mystery, as the world "Muhammad" is almost certainly a title, not a name. The first depiction of him, coming on a coin, shows a figure with a miter and a cross, and that provides quite a clue as to who he likely really was.
Young Muhammad encountering a Christian monk in his youth. In Islamic tradition the monk predicted his mission as a prophet, but what's more likely is that this demonstrates an exposure by the illiterate Muhammad to Christian theology very early on. Christianity itself took no note of Islam until well after Muhammad's death at which time it was noted simply as another Middle Easter heresy, which it no doubt was.
At the time of its first appearance Islam was treated as a Christian heresy, as that's almost certainly what it actually was. Muhammad, who was illiterate, was married to a Christian woman before he started his proselytiziation. She had an uncle who was a Gnostic priest. Chances are very high that Muhammad was a Gnostic through these influences.
Depiction of Khadīja bint Khuwaylid, Muhammad's first wife, who died in 619. Twelve more wives would follow. She was a Christian and in Islamic tradition converted to her husband's new faith. But what was that faith? Chances are high that an infant Islam was more Christian than the religion that exists today, but probably in a Gnostic from. Indeed, its easy to see how the illiterate Muhammad could have taken the basic Gnostic message and added a few elements to come out with a heretical evolution of Gnostism, which itself was a heresy.
Indeed, he may have never ceased being one, as we know little about what he actually did from direct contemporary sources. But assuming that this is not the case, what he seems to have been is an example of a Christian preacher who was poorly educated and who began to reinterpret his religion heavily, or began to excuse personal vices as allowed behavior. This is not an atypical story. In Muhammad's case, moreover, the gap between his actions and the writings concerning them is sufficiently long so that his teachings, whatever they were, may have evolved in the meantime, perhaps considerably. We could think of him, in this sense, of being somewhat like Rasputin, whom people often imagine to have been a Russian Orthodox monk, but who in fact was not ordained and was simply a layman with a self declared religious mission.
Muhammad, veiled, advances on Mecca. The residents of Mecca, a town with was home to a wide variety of religions, were not keen on Muhammad when they first encountered him.
This combined would explain why some aspects of Islam closely mirror Christian teachings, including some that closely mirror Gnostic beliefs in circulation at the time, while some radically depart from them. It would also explain why so much of Islam it self seems self contradictory in some aspects. Islam both praises peace and advocates war, but in the context of Muhammad's own experiences this makes sense. Proselytizing, at first unsuccessfully, in the Arabian Peninsula and suffering as a result, when he returns with followers they were armed and charged was a holy mission. Finding themselves far from home and their wives, he found that the taking of female slaves was just fine. Finding himself personally attracted to multiple women, rather than carry the cross of the attraction, he found it sanctioned. Finding women in general problematic, he placed most of them in Hell in the afterlife. Finding lust a personal cross in his lifetime, he found that it would be perpetually satisfied in the afterlife. Had he not encountered difficulties of the type he did, and had he not gone into the Arabian peninsula, probably originally simply as a Gnostic lay minister, he probably would have simply been a nameless forgotten Gnostic, and to some extent he actually may be. The beliefs now attributed to him may, in fact, not have been so fully, and some would say not at all.
At any rate, that early history does indeed charge Islam with license to act violently in its name, and to dominate over everything where it exists. It expanded by the sword.
But it hasn't always acted fully in that way, and it doesn't act fully in that way everywhere now.
It did early on, as it spread. Distinctly different from Christianity, it spread by the sword and nearly exclusively by that means. Where it came to conquer it frequently didn't succeed in converting for centuries. Christian communities in remote North Africa held out for nearly a millennia after it came to politically dominate t here. It spread by violent means all the way until the armed progress of Islam was arrested at Vienna in 1529, by which time the Protestant Reformation had already commenced. Had the Ottoman's not been turned at Vienna, Europe would now be Islamic without question. Further to the West, however, Islam had already been turned back, starting much earlier with the Battle of Tours and, in 1492, by the final reconquest of the last remaining Islamic principality in Spain.
It's worth recalling, which is rarely done now, that by and large Islamic occupation of Christian lands was never pleasant for Christians. While its frequently noted that Muhammad called these people the "People of the Book", in apparently reference to the Old Testament, they were definitely not equals, merely tolerated. Subject to punitive taxation and less than third class citizens, they endured for centuries, but never in pleasant circumstances. In a few locations, notably Iraq, Turkey Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, they endured into current times, sometimes doing well, and other times not so much.
But Islam quit expanding in 1529. And Europeans started expanding their world in the 1600s. And a much different sort of situation took place.
From the 1600s through the mid 20th Century Europeans came to dominate an increasingly large expanse of the globe, including many Muslim nations. Europeans never reconquered (which is what it would have been) Turkey the seat of the Ottoman Empire, but they came to essentially occupy or influence much of the rest of the Islamic world save for the Arabian Peninsula itself, which they did not attempt to take in any fashion. And in Turkey, the forces of secularism itself came to displace Islam up until very recently.
This provides an interesting counter story. From the 1600s Islam was in retreat, but not in the face of Christian expansion, but in the face of European economic expansion. European colonialism was not religiously motivated, but motivated by financial interests. While Christian missionaries typically followed in the wake of European colonialism, they were never the motivation for it, and indeed in the case of the French, they actually reflected a bit of a counter culture to the dominant secularism of the French republics. This is hugely significant to our story as while Christian missionaries were enormously successful in most places that Europeans conquered, in North Africa and the Middle East they met with little success, which is further interesting when its recalled that in much of this region a a remnant of Catholic or Orthodox Christianity remained, as well as a remnant of Oriental Judaism. Indeed, that may be why it did not succeed, as it was not the case that anything new was really being introduced and lines had hardened long ago.
Beyond that, however, while the opposite is commonly assumed by snotty moderns, by and large in the 19th and 20th Centuries European colonial powers not only did not sponsor missionary activity they didn't accord any advantage to those who converted, and that also likely played a role in what occurred, as we will see. In the case of hte English, moreover, that was always true. The United Kingdom itself was distinctly anti Catholic in its early colonial period, but at least as of point at which it acquired Quebec it never acted on that. Indeed, it was remarkably tolerant of every Faith in the regions in which it ruled. 18th Century France and Spain did combine a missionary aim with their colonial enterprises but they'd stopped doing that by the 19th Century and, after the French Revolution, French missionaries, while they were taking advantage of the French presence, were often out of sync with their own governments. Everywhere the Europeans ruled missionaries had the ability to go, and the advantage of legal protection, but by and large they had very little, if any, state assistance. And converts were not given an advantage in local administration.
European missionaries were often spectacularly successful in this era in many places, but what's notable about that is that the conversions were highly genuine, which likely explains why in many places today the Christian churches are highly vibrant. Unlike conversions under the Caliphates to Islam, there wasn't an advantage to be gained by converting, however, during the period of high European colonialism of the 19th and 20th Centuries. In the Middle East, the British and the French had the policy of being tolerant towards all the native religions and protecting them, and affording all of them roughly equal opportunities in colonial administration, keeping in mind that in many instances these roles were definitely inferior to those afforded to Europeans. Given that, the opportunities and the prejudices were pretty much equally doled out on an ethnic, but not a religious, line. So in a place like the Middle East, which had a very long existing Christian and Jewish minority, there wasn't a big reason for Muslims to convert other than religious ones. That's to the European's credit, but it forms part of the background to the complicated story.
What did take root, however, was European political thought, but oddly, that part that took was the highly radicalized variation. As the local populations developed politically and began to have nationalist yearnings they tended to gravitate towards European political extremes, which welcomed them. That this occurred is highly understandable as the European mainstream was large tolerant of, or supportive of, colonialism. So, in looking to break the chains with their colonial masters, they tended to integrate with the extreme forces at work. Communism, socialism and fascism all found their expressions in Middle Eastern nationalist movements. Very significantly for us today, all of these forces were very secular and in fact many of them were quite hostile to Islam, which they saw as a force that would hold their populations back from reaching the political state they sought. So, when revolutionary movements broke out in the Middle East in the 30s through the 60s, they were not Islamist as a rule.
Which doesn't mean traditional Islam went away. Rather, when oppressed by authoritarian forces, it went underground. Always part of the culture, it did not go away so much as it became a subversive force. It did so in Egypt, Iran, Algeria and Syria. While westernized, which is to say secular but authoritarian governments, sought to create new, Europeanized, Middle Eastern countries, they suppressed and repressed any other force, including the hard edge of Islam.
During the Cold War this did not perhaps matter much. With the entire world seemingly at play, secular forces in the Middle East benefited from Superpower sponsorship that allowed them to seem both permanent and dominant. The alignments themselves were more than a bit bizarre, however, as Middle Eastern politically totalitarian regimes tended to receive Soviet support, while traditional authoritarian, and what few democratic regimes there were, received Western support. So, governments such as Nasser's in Egypt or the Baath regime in Syria tended to be backed by the Soviets, even though their ideology could not be described as communistic. Regimes like that of the Saudis (which the British actually plotted to depose in the 1950s) received Western support even though they were no more democratic than that of the Baathist.
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, leader of Egpyt in the 1950s and 1960s. Personally an observant Muslim, his government wasn't a theocracy
This continued through the 1960s but by the 1970s it began to break down as alignments began to change. At the same time, suppressed Islamic forces began to emerge demonstrating the age old situation that minority movements tend to gain support where suppressed, but in a malignant form. In the 1970s they became strong enough to topple the Western backed government in Iran and they began to challenge the military dictatorship in Egypt and the Baath regime in Syria. The success of the Iranian revolution, in and of itself, greatly boosted Islamist movements everywhere in the Middle East.
Leaders of Algeria's FLN, the movement that successfully expelled the French from Algeria. Every one was no doubt at least nominally a Muslim, but it wasn't that which motivated them but rather Algerian nationalism.
By the 1980s there were very serious, and seriously radical, Islamist movements throughout the Middle East all of which looked towards a highly traditional interpretation of the religion. By that time they'd taken a run at the government in Syria, assassinated Anwar Sadat in Egypt, and threatened the governments in Algeria and Tunisia. And they'd made the sectarian strife in Lebanon an added nightmare. All of this was regarded as serious in nature, but as a regional problem. They were regarded more, for example, as a threat to Israel and oil exportation than as an outright threat to the United States itself. Elsewhere, the civil war in Afghanistan that had broken out over the communist government's alignment with the USSR, which in turn had resulted in a Soviet invasion that would fail, left that country with a provisional government ruled as a radical Islamic theocracy. That development destabilized democracy in neighboring Pakistan, which had showed promise in that direction up until then.
Then came the First Gulf War.
The First Gulf War and the changing of the game.
An odd feature of wars is that looking back they appear inevitable, but really only because they actually occurred. Looking at them in context, it's frankly amazing that some of them actually happened. The Vietnam War, for example, strikes me particularly that way. An American war in a region of the globe we had no traditional interest in. Pretty unlikely. But it happened none the less.
So too with the First Gulf War.
U.S. armor during the First Gulf War.
That war was about oil, that's easy to say, but not in the greedy sense we so often like to imagine. The dynamics of it were simple. Saddam Hussein lead his country into an invasion of neighboring Kuwait. It wasn't the first time Iraq had tried that. It was a pure territorial land grab. It's clear that the Western powers couldn't allow that to occur. Iraq was a fascistic state and unstable. Kuwait was a stable monarchy aligned with the West. Iraq would be pushed out, and it was.
The problem rapidly became what to do with Iraq, and the George Bush I administration decided to basically leave it in place, but restrained. I have been critical of this in the past, but that was probably the correct call. It was fascistic, but it was not Islamist, and it was a buffer state for the Middle East against Islamist Iran, which detested it, and which it detested. Liberal revolutionary movements attempted to overthrow the Baath government as it started to loose the war, but we did not support them. In retrospect, that was likely the correct course.
In order to take Kuwait back it was necessary to stage our forces, and those of the other western allies, in Saudi Arabia. Even though the Saudis were threatened they understood the difficulties that this placed them in. Much less stable than they would appear, the Saudi monarchy is one of the most repressive regimes on earth. A Wannabe monarchy, in effect, like Franco's Spain it has not been afraid to suppress even the forces that support it and which brought it to power, on its own soil. Repression of real political movements and other religions other than the Sunni branch of Islam (and there are other religions that are there, and have long been) is extreme. The Saudis feared what having Western soldiers on their soil would mean.
But they had to allow it, and it occurred.
It might be noted here that there should be a real question as to whether the American lead effort in the Gulf War, which I think was necessary, was legal. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was an act of war. Our participation in the retaking of Kuwait was also a war. No Declaration of War was made. As this was more than a local police action, and this wasn't in the nature of our supporting an established government, such as the Vietnam War, so a Declaration of War appears, at least to me, to have been legally necessary.
Be that as it may, we quickly won that war but some US forces remained in Saudi Arabia. And in that country, amongst hard core Islamic adherents, in a land where Wannabeism had long been sponsored, it sparked outrage. Women in uniform, even restrained Western behavior, Christians on Saudi soil, it was all more than they could tolerate.
This gave rise to the Al Qaeda war on the United States.
Caliphatist war on the West
Al Qaeda arose in the Arabian Peninsula as a movement that really did not vary greatly from Wannabeism. It was an extreme form of Sunnism, and indeed it likely would have been regarded as heretical had Saudi Arabia not long sponsored Wannabeism. The difference, perhaps, between the officially extreme version of Sunni Islam and Islam as viewed by Al Qaeda is that Al Qaeda looked to the reestablishment of the Caliphate and the utlimate creation of a global Sunni monarchy. Not immediately, as even it, as illusionary as its goal clearly is, recognized that it could not bring that about overnight.
The black flag of the Wahhabi combatants that brought the House of Saud to power. The Islamic State has its own black flag.
As an extremist movement at war with the West, it could have no home in Saudi Arabia, and soon it became repressed there, but not before it had already struck at the U.S. Navy in the form of the attack on the USS Cole. From then on it, and closely aligned movements, would strike at the US whenever they could. The September 11, 2001 attack on the United States was when we really took notice of it, however.
Damage from the October 12, 2000 attack on the USS Cole. It's interesting to note that we widely remember September 11, 2001, for obvious reasons, but the opening shot had been fired on October 12 of the prior year.
By that time it had entrenched itself in Afghanistan for the simple reason that it was welcome there. That was already well known to us, and therefore the war in Afghanistan would become an inevitability after the September 11, 2001 attacks. It had to be. Afghanistan was effectively a country without a government that harbored a vile terrorist organization.
The second war against Iraq, however, didn't have to be. Indeed, again in retrospect, it didn't make sense and it was a mistake. Highly secular Baathist Iraq had no love for Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda despised it, claiming that the Baathist were "Communist".
Again, as an aside, the second war against Iraq was clearly an illegal war given that it was an invasion of that country and it required a Declaration of War that was never asked for. The war in Afghanistan, however, was different. Lacking a legal government of any kind, the lawless nation could not really be regarded as at war, so much as in anarchy, and our role there, while certainly a war in terms of what it entailed, was not legally one.
So where are we at?
Following September 11 we were a united country. So much so that the country supported an invasion of Iraq in spite of there being no real reason at the time to do it. In our minds, the war there blended with the one in Afghanistan. It was all one effort.
We removed the Taliban from control of Afghanistan and crushed Al Qaeda there. But we must admit that the country remains very unstable and the Taliban has managed to somewhat regroup and remains a threat. So, after fifteen years, we really haven't completed that job and we speak fairly routinely about simply leaving the country. Typical American short attention span has kicked in, apparently. Forgetting what Afghanistan can be, we choose to pretend the country is ungovernable, rather than press for the end of the job. That the country can be stabilized should not be doubted, as it has been a stable country in periods of its past. The question is whether we choose to complete the job or not. Right now, in spite of commemorating fifteen years past, its doubtful that we will.
Our war in Iraq massively destabilized Mesopotamia and our bungling of that has in turn brought about a disaster. As the Baath regime collapsed Al Qaeda moved in and a new war commenced. That religious war was successfully concluded by making alliances with Sunni chieftains, but not before Al Qaeda in Iraq had evolved into the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a new strain of the same movement which determined to bring about t he Caliphate right now, thereby taking the delusion into the presence. Biding its time, it struck after we prematurely pulled out of an Iraq whose civil government fully aligned itself with the Shiia's of Iran and thereby made itself massively unpopular with the Sunnis. Taking advantage of destabilization in Syria, and the isolation of that regime, it rose up with success there by taking advantage of an existing rebellion and then spread it self into Iraq, where it remains. The tide does seem to be turning against it, but it has a lot of fight left in it yet.
The problem is, however, that ISIL, while declaring the Caliphate in existence right now, has changed Al Qaeda's "strike at the west" strategy to a new one, which basically amounts to strike everywhere, with everybody. It has appealed ti Muslims in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the West with an amazing degree of success, and its organization is so loose that it can effectively take credit for barbarities that stretch from Iraq to Florida. We are so stunned by this that we can hardly effectively recognize that its a fact, preferring to rationalize and excuse the attacks that come closest to us.
An Existential War
We're so accustomed to thinking of war in territorial terms, and ultimately all war is about territory, that we have not been able to really grasp that the current war is for all the territory, everywhere. Indeed, in real terms this war shares that feature with the long struggle with Communism. We face an enemy that conceives of itself having a global mission. Unlike the Communist, however, it also conceives of that struggle in a sort of eternal terms that can withstand the loss of territory, which the Communist never did, fearing that territory lost was lost for ever.
To use the terms so often applied to the Vietnam War, this is somewhat of a war for "hearts and minds". We and our enemy conceive of it in that fashion, but they further conceive of it as a war against Devine Good and evil. We may talk of good and evil in this war, but our leaders have a very immediate and sometimes washed out concept of that means. Our enemies don't. They are charged with a world outlook that's definiative and vast. It appeals to people who look for meaning in their lives. In order to defeat them, if we are to, we have to have a cogent world view as well.
But do we?
Earlier on this blog I've argued that we do not, and I'll argue it here again.
I'll also note that this was not always the case for us.
Here's one of the places I recently noted the nature of our struggle, although it is not the only one:
We're in a war, whether we like it or not, with a variant of Islam that retains a very, very primitive view of the world and men and women's role in it. Hardly any of us would agree with the social aspects of our opponents movement, but in opposing it, we actually have to have a point.
We don't have much of one.
Which is why I will say, form time to time, that we could lose the war.
We could, truly, simply because we're fighting for. . . well what is it? The right to wear pants that are too tight? The right for men to self identify as gerbils? What was it?
Okay, I know what our core values are, and so do you, but how often does anyone actually think on those core values and where they come from? Not very often. But our opponents do.
Indeed, endowed with a strong sense of right, wrong, and the order of the world, even if we don't agree with it, our opponents have been remarkably successful in recruiting simply by using our libertine example as a recruiting too. And, part of that it might be noted, has been a distressing success rate with Europeans, including European women.
When we think of Islamic extremist groups in Europe, or the US, we tend to think that they're all radicalized Syrians, basically. But that's very far from true. Some of them are, but others are radicalized first generation Muslims in Europe, and more than a few have been Europeans with no Middle Eastern heritage. What's going on here?
Well, agree with it or not, Islam stands for something. That's much less true of the modern West.
Now, I'm sure people will react that we stand for democracy, and liberty. But do we?
I think we do, but in such an unthinking way that our examples are pretty hollow, as we've forgotten what democracy and liberty, in the modern context, were supposed to mean. They are not the same as social rationalization and libertine.
Indeed, democratic thought is deeply embedded on a concept of the natural rights of man. And the natural rights of man is a principal that stems from the concept of a natural law. Natural law holds that there are certain fundamentals, observable as "self evident", that all people have. People, although not poorly educated modern lawyers, like that idea as it is self evident and it seems so very fair.
But what is seemingly forgotten in our modern world is that a natural law that recognizes natural rights will care not a wit about an individual's sense of what rights would be, were he creating them. That's something else entirely. Indeed, that's so debased that its' basically sick.
Natural law credits nature, and if we're to understand what our entire concept of the world, government, liberty and the like is based on, we have to do the same. We have free will, but we are not free to will what we will. We cannot, that is, create 6 billion individual realities, there is only one. Everyone's window on that reality will be different, at least somewhat, but that doesn't mean that there's more than one reality, it means that we're too small to grasp the whole.
Anyhow, properly viewed, we believe in individual liberty as we believe that people are endowed with free will. But that means that people are at liberty to act in accordance with the nature and the natural law, but they can't change it. Nature, and its law, is bigger than we are, and unchanging.
That may seem not to fit in here (and this post is stunningly rambling, I'll admit) but it very much does. We have looked out at the rest of the world since 1776 and maintained that we are the champions of liberty and justice, as that's part of the natural law. We've sometimes done it badly, but we've done it well enough that we've been a major factor in bringing about a "liberal" sense of the world globally. We've certainly had the assistance of the the political and philosophical cultures of other European powers in that, even though not all of us have quite the same sense of these things as a national culture. I'd maintain, however, that down on the street level the overall concepts are not far removed from each other. That is, the ethos of 1798 may have been the spark of 1917, but at the same time, the average Frenchman, up until mid 20th Century, held views more akin to an Irish tenant farmer than a member of the Parisian mob.
Since 1917, however, that being the returning and focusing of 1798, we've struggled with an opposing view that detests the concept of anything but an animalistic view of our species and which has been largely at war with nature. In more recent years even though its political expressions have failed, it philosophical ones have not, and since the turmoil of the late 1960s most western political thought, both at home and abroad, has been devoid of any deep meaning. Long habituated to our political culture, we have not noticed much until recently as it slipped its moorings and became fully devoid of a deep meaning, although many now do sense that, but others have noticed.
In the Islamic world some certainly have, and in a Europe that took in a lot of Muslim immigrants post World War Two, post Colonial retreat, and post Algerian defeat, many residing there, where assimilation is poor, undoubtedly have. In the years following 1968 a Europe that had grasped that its political and cultural outlook was fully Christian in origin now doesn't know what it even is. It's for "fairness" and "human rights", but it doesn't know what those concepts are grounded in. We aren't doing all that much better, although we are doing better, which is frankly why our enemies view us somewhat differently.
For a people who retain a sense of a deep purpose, a larger culture that is grounded on nothing more than "if it feels good, do it", comes across as abhorrent, because it truly is abhorrent. That it is abhorrent provides the basis for young Europeans, particularly European women, crossing over into the minority culture. It's notable that more than a few of these women have been Scandinavian or British, as these areas are where the fall is amongst the most expressed.
This doesn't mean, of course, that they're right, and we're wrong, overall. I'm not urging that we all become radical Muslims and salute the black flag. Not hardly. Rather, I'm urging that we take a deep look at the deep things.
Our enemy, to put it simply, has a world outlook that looks outside of the world, to an eternal something. Right now, in the West, we pretty much stand for the proposition of absolute relativism. The problem with that is not only is it not emotionally satisfying, it's demonstratively false.
There is, very obviously, a set of absolutes as nature exists. No matter what a person's view is of nature, it doesn't care much about that view. It is clearly outside of us, and it clearly has its own set of laws. Early on, and indeed up to very recently, we clearly understood that ourselves. Now we don't. This is so much the case that five of the current Supreme Court justices actually believe that the law protects any sexual union as long as it makes individuals feel good. That's stupid.
And it puts us at a disadvantage against an enemy that recognizes a natural law, even if its a debased version of it.
So, in a war like this, gaining territory will help, but it won't determine the war. This is a war of ideas. They have some. We have. . . low, low prices and Justice Anthony Love! Kennedy. We aren't going to win a war based on that.
So, in terms of how we're doing. Well, we're loosing interest in winning in Afghanistan and Iraq is a mess. We will probably prevail in Iraq, but we have some serious thinking to do. What do we stand for? We need to think about that. We have the high side of the argument, if we don't simply wash it all away.