Beats me. But Michael Ledeen thinks he knows, and he’s a pretty astute observer, so let’s turn the floor over to him for a while. First, Michael says, we need to stop looking at events country by country and recognize that a global war is in progress:
The war is easily described: there is a global alliance of radical leftists and radical Islamists, supported by a group of countries that includes Russia, at least some Chinese leaders, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua). The radicals include the Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist organizations and leftist groups, and they all work seamlessly with the narcotics mafias. Their objective is the destruction of the West, above all, of the United States.
That’s pretty straightforward, but the details can become dizzying, as events are constantly creating shifting patterns:
War is foggy, and alliances are often very unstable, especially at moments when the whole world is up for grabs. Look at Egypt, for example. At one level, it’s a sectarian fight: the “secular” military vs. the “Islamist” Muslim Brotherhood. So nobody should be surprised when the Brothers burn churches and murder Christians. But the top military dog, General Sissi, has some pretty impressive Islamist credentials. Indeed, his elevation at the time of the Brothers’ purge of Mubarak’s generals was frequently attributed to his close ties to the Brotherhood. …
A Saudi of my acquaintance showed up in Cairo a few days ago with a bunch of checks, some currently cashable, others postdated over the next twelve months, all hand-delivered to Sissi and his guys. Their advice to the Egyptian military is to mercilessly crush the Brothers, and their advice will likely be adopted, both because the junta knows that death awaits them if they lose (2 Egyptian major generals and 2 brigadier generals, along with many colonels, have been assassinated by the Brothers in the current spasm), and because only the Saudis can foot the huge bill facing Egypt just to provide the basics for the people. …
Notice that this bloody confrontation has nothing to do with the celebrated Sunni-Shi’ite war that is so often invoked to “explain” current events. It’s all happening within Sunni Egypt (although the Shi’ite Iranians are certainly meddling–surprise!–on behalf of the very Sunni Brothers). And there are plenty of “foreign fighers,” just as there were in Iraq, just as there are in Afghanistan….
Things get even more confusing if you move from Egypt to Syria and Iraq:
Assad is actually a figurehead, the real capital of Syria is in an office of the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. A leader of the Syrian opposition made this clear, saying that Hezbollah and Iran were the real powers in Syria, and there’s plenty of evidence for his assertion, including dead Hezbollahis and Quds Forcers.
So Al Qaeda’s fighting Iran in Syria, right? That fits nicely into the Sunni vs. Shi’ite meme, thereby relieving a mental cramp or two. But wait: our very own Treasury Department, which is as good as we’ve got when it comes to deciphering the crazy quilt network of global terrorism, told us in no uncertain terms a couple of years ago that there was a secret deal between AQ and the mullahs. Moreover, the tidal wave of terrorism that has crashed on Iraq is universally termed a resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has been Iranian-sponsored since Day One (just ask the late unlamented Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sent to paradise by US Special Forces). Which gives us a big mental cramp indeed: an Iranian (Shi’ite)-sponsored (Sunni) Al Qaeda assault against (Shi’ite) Iraq, and right next door an Iranian-assisted (Sunni) Al Qaeda, alongside other (mostly Sunni) foreign and domestic fighters against a (kinda Shi’ite) regime under the control of (totally Shi’ite) Tehran.
Best to get back to the big picture, where things, happily, are not too bleak:
Let’s get outside these little boxes and look at the big board. There’s an alliance plotting against us, bound together by two radical views of the world that share a profound, fundamental hatred of us. If they win, it’s hell to pay, because then we will be attacked directly and often, and we will be faced with only two options, winning or losing.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’re divided, and slaughtering each other. And it’s not always possible for us to sort out what “each other” even means. But one thing is quite clear, and I know it’s an unpopular idea, but it’s a true fact: they’re not an awesome force. The radical left has failed everywhere, and so have the radical Islamists. Both claim to have history (and/or the Almighty) on their side, but they go right on failing. The left is now pretty much in the garbage bin of history (you can hire Gorbachev for your next annual meeting if you can afford his speaking fee), and the “Muslim world”–sorry to be so blunt–is a fossilized remnant of a failed civilization. Look at the shambles in Iran, look at the colossal mess the Brothers unleashed on a once-great nation.
So we’ve got opportunities, lots of them.
Michael has believed for a long time that the main key to the puzzle is Iran, and that America’s policy toward Iran should be to ally itself with the dissident majority, consisting largely of young people, who want to rid themselves of the mullahs and rejoin civilization. Bringing about reform in Iran may or may not defuse the left-Islam alliance that is the main threat to world peace, but it would undoubtedly be a huge step in that direction.