We are presently fighting World War IV.
So say a number of scholars and military experts, particularly former CIA director James Woolsey. He says the Cold War between the Western democracies and global Communism was actually World War III. The Korean and Vietnam wars were combat theaters in this larger conflict, which included guerrilla wars in Latin America and Africa, espionage and counterespionage, diplomatic and ideological warfare, all conducted in the shadow of a nuclear standoff.
The current war on terrorism is also global in scale, with a multitude of fronts: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East; the Pakistan-India nuclear saber-rattling, Afghan terrorism, Philippine insurgency, and Indonesian militancy in Asia; the Russia-Chechnya conflict and the Serbian-Bosnian hatred in Eastern Europe; the drive to impose Islamic law in Africa; terrorist attacks against Europe and America. Unifying them is an ideology just as totalitarian as communism: radical Islam.
But if the world is in for a long ideological conflict punctuated by periodic outbreaks of violent assaults and small-scale warfare, perhaps a better name for it is Cold War II.
This war is different from earlier conflicts. Although the United States has overwhelming military and technological superiority-with an unprecedented ability to defeat armies and conquer traditional nation-states-this might is not necessarily enough to thwart tiny cells of suicide bombers living in ordinary neighborhoods, making bombs with fuel oil and fertilizer. No amount of military dominance, as we have in Iraq and the Israelis have in their own country, can completely stop committed terrorists.
If this is Cold War II, it can be stopped only the way the war with communism was stopped, with an ideological victory. And here, the West is at a disadvantage with its radical Muslim enemies. We are back to the condition Yeats described as the sequence of world wars was beginning: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
Western intellectuals demand freedom in their own lifestyles, but they undermine the ideologies that have given them that freedom, often being so filled with liberal self-loathing that they are taking the side of the Muslim terrorists. Whereas the struggle against communism pitted a civilization shaped by religious faith against a godless foe, in this war, we are the godless ones.
The radical Islamic hatred of the West is motivated partly by their revulsion at the cultural decadence of the West. The cultural influence of America overseas is no longer democratic ideals, political freedom, and economic prosperity as it was formerly, but rather sexual permissiveness, pornographic entertainment, legalized abortion, and an anti-cultural hedonism.
In the first Cold War, American liberals risked being branded as "fellow travelers," as favoring quasi-socialist policies that were too reminiscent of communism. In this second Cold War, Christians and other social conservatives who agree that our culture has become morally decadent will also be accused of being on the side of the terrorists. In fact, this has already happened.
But just as liberal democrats such as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were staunch warriors against communism, most Christians and social conservatives are more willing than pro-tolerance liberals to fight against those who execute gays, enslave women, censor entertainment, and stamp out every freedom.
The West won the war against communism by removing the conditions that made the ideology credible. In the early 20th century, industrialism did seem to be exploiting the workers, and Czarist Russia did indeed oppress the masses. Although these injustices were exaggerated and spun into an ideological straitjacket by Marxist propagandists, these social problems led many to embrace communism and revolution.
Soviet communism collapsed not only for military reasons but because by the end of the century, its ideology was refuted not by arguments but by facts. Under free markets, workers prospered to the point of owning their own homes, having two cars in the garage, and living a life of affluence that went beyond that of the Czar. Workers were no longer stirred by Marxist calls to cast off their chains, since, in a free society, they didn't have any, while those who lived in the workers' socialist paradise were the ones who found themselves chained.
Winning World War IV must likewise entail defeating the enemy's ideology, and this can only be done by cutting off the fuel for the fire. The terrorists can be defeated once and for all by a moral reformation in the West. The world must be shown how morality and freedom not only can coexist but support each other. This is precisely the contribution of Christianity, in which righteousness comes not from legalism or coercion but from the freedom of the gospel.