Now the civilians of Mali are about to come under the protection of some of those civilians and their toys. Between Somalia and Nigeria, Al Qaeda already has far too much of a presence in Africa. But Mali is its biggest footprint yet.
Having learned nothing from Libya, the same gang jumped eagerly into Syria. Hardly a day passed without shrill editorials insisting that we do something about Syria before it’s too late. The pace of those editorials has slowed down as the Syrian opposition has made it clear that it is allied with the local Al Qaeda affiliate and depends on it to do much of the fighting. The Brave Syrian People were following in the footsteps of the Brave Libyan People who were following in the footsteps of the Brave Afghan People.
There’s no telling what all this will mutate into, but our brief history here suggests that it will be ugly and fast.
Chaos breeds conflict in the region that eventually resolves into tyranny. And then an empire or two falls into the dust and the whole cycle begins again. The Ottoman Empire collapsed, the British Empire faded away like a sad song and the Soviet Union called it quits. Each of those events unleashed a new wave of violence and chaos, nationalistic movements and terrorist groups rushing to take advantage of the new opportunities.
The Arab Spring coincided with the collapse of the fourth empire. The Pax Americana. Hardest hit were the countries closest to the United States. Of the Middle Eastern countries who are close to the United States and aren’t oil giants, only Israel and Jordan survived the spring intact. And Jordan isn’t out of the woods yet.
The fall of the British Empire destroyed many of the region’s monarchies. The fall of the USSR and the U.S. marked the end of the Arab Socialists. And that just leaves the Islamists as the only game in town. But if Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait go under, then a fifth empire will collapse and take them with it. Oil made it possible for backward countries ruled by fat sheiks to become players on a global and regional level. It even made it possible for them to set their sights on colonizing the West. But if the energy revolution finally kicks in and the rest of the world stops crawling to OPEC, then a new wave of chaos will begin again.
The fifth empire, that jumble of slave-built skyscrapers and foreigner-tended oil industries, that mass of overpopulated cities and straggling countrysides, the clutter of minarets and billboards, palm trees and satellite dishes, is writhing in its own chaos, its own madness and violence, but surging out to colonize America and Europe.
While French soldiers battle Salafists in Mali, there are Salafists in the basements of Paris who are planning to do to France what they have done to Mali. And the demographics are on their side. America tried to fix Somalia and now there’s a Somali on trial for plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. America tried to fix Iraq and there are plenty of Iraqis locked up in American jails. To say nothing of the United Kingdom and Pakistan.
The West is trying to impose its moral norms on the Muslim world with bribes and interventions, while the Muslim world imposes its norms on the West by settling and blowing up Western cities. Within that chaos, the passenger planes depositing their cargoes of Pakistanis, Jordanians and Somalis at Heathrow, JFK and Charles de Gaulle Airport (the latter two names being quite fitting considering JFK’s impact on immigration policy and de Gaulle’s impact on North Africa) and the fighter jets and drones flying over North Africa and the Middle East, are a hundred small wars.
Those wars occupy our attention, but they are symptoms, not causes. The conflicts that we have seen are all the outcome of a prolonged process of political decay in the West. They are flares warning that power abhors a vacuum and fills it with bullets and bombs, with small wars that get bigger and bigger until they become the war. The big war whose battles will decide who rules and who is ruled.