Radical Islam is spreading in the same sort of way that postwar Communism once swamped post-colonial Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But this time there are only weak responses from the democratic, free-market West. Westerners despair over which is worse — theocratic Iran, the Islamic State, or Bashar Assad’s Syria — and seem paralyzed over where exactly the violence will spread next and when it will reach them.
There once was a time when the United States encouraged the Latin American transition to free-market constitutional government, away from right-wing dictatorships. Now, America seems uninterested in making a similar case that left-wing dictatorships are just as threatening to the idea of freedom and human rights.
In the late 1930s, it was pathetic that countries with strong militaries such as France and Britain appeased Fascist leader Benito Mussolini and allowed his far weaker Italian forces to do as they pleased by invading Ethiopia. Similarly, Iranian negotiators are attempting to dictate terms of a weak Iran to a strong United States in talks about Iran’s supposedly inherent right to produce weapons-grade uranium — a process that Iran had earlier bragged would lead to the production of a bomb.
The ancient ingredients of war are all on the horizon. An old postwar order crumbles amid American indifference. Hopes for true democracy in post-Soviet Russia, newly capitalist China, or ascendant Turkey long ago were dashed. Tribalism, fundamentalism, and terrorism are the norms in the Middle East as the nation-state disappears.
Under such conditions, history’s wars usually start when some opportunistic — but often relatively weaker — power does something unwise on the gamble that the perceived benefits outweigh the risks.