Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ralph Peters, a retired military officer, a popular media commentator, and the author of 22 books. An opinion columnist for the New York Post, he is a member of the boards of contributors at USA Today and Armchair General magazine, a columnist for Armed Forces Journal, and a frequent guest on television and radio. He is the author of the new book, Wars of Blood and Faith: The Conflicts That Will Shape the 21st Century.
FP: Ralph Peters, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Peters: Always a pleasure. I always enjoy Frontpage's readiness to be intelligently provocative.
FP: Well thank you sir.
So what inspired you to write this book?
Peters: It's an accumulation. Over the past few years, we've all learned a great deal. On one hand, the concepts I argued for in the Army over a dozen years ago, such as the need to prepare for asymmetrical conflicts, urban combat and confrontations between religions, have stood the test of time; still, there are always fresh nuances and new insights for those willing to be open-minded. On the other hand, I was wrong about some things: for example, hoping against hope, I thought there was at least a slight chance that Arabs could build a functioning, if imperfect, democracy--and the Middle East is so wretched that change is essential--yet, we've all learned the hard way that Arab societies are incompetent to build even the most half-baked rule-of-law democracy. So...Wars Of Blood And Faith represents the further development of the thinking I've been doing for a few decades now, but it also represents an evolution in that thought based upon recent first-hand experiences in Iraq, Israel (during the war), Africa and elsewhere.
There are two sorts of "thinkers" out there that repel me: Those who change their positions every other day and have no consistency or integrity (or first-hand experience of what they're writing about), and, at the other extreme, academics who spend their entire lives defending their dissertations in the face of overwhelming evidence that they were wrong. My goal is to get it right--and I'm proud of my record over the years--but also to have the integrity to admit it when I get it wrong, for example when I believed that the Bush administration was really willing to fight to win in Iraq--which it hasn't been.
Live and learn. And be honest about it. The new book looks in-depth at our military's challenges, the threats to our security, and the dangers associated with globalization (Tom Friedman, bless him, gets it almost exactly wrong). And, I hope, the book's fun to read. Sometimes, in this grotesque and bloody world, you just have to shake your head and laugh.
FP: What are your thoughts on the role religion plays in wars of religion – and the denial that appears to exist on this issue in our national debate?
Peters: It's amazing, isn't it? The book takes on this issue at length. In Washington, both Dems and Republicans continue to insist--against tidal waves of evidence to the contrary--that religion has nothing to do with religious wars. When I brief the D.C. crowd, I tell them that it pays to listen to what your enemy says now and then. And our enemies have declared uncompromising religious war on us. We don't have to like it. And this isn't a religious war from our side (at least, not yet). But our deadliest enemies truly believe that they are on a mission from their God to kill us. And they're out to prove it. Yet, the Washington crowd keeps trying to explain everything in term of 20th-century sociology, economics or American misdeeds. Well, sorry, folks. All those factors may matter, but they're secondary to the fanatical faith of the terrorists and other assorted murderers we face. If religion isn't really a factor, where are the Western atheist suicide bombers?
The problem is that the Washington crowd is secular from start to finish. Even those who go to a church or synagogue every week have been so thoroughly secularized intellectually by their educations and the circles in which they live their professional and personal lives that they have no sense of the power of unbridled faith, of the spectacular power of revelation, of the suddenness of conversion--or even of the basic human need for something greater than the self in which to believe. We mock al Qaeda for clinging to the past, but Washington is equally desperate to hold fast to the last century's secular interpretation of all human actions.
We face enemies who want to please their God with blood sacrifices. And we just want to please the lawyers.
FP: One of your main themes is that The Age of Ideology is over. Can you talk a bit about that?
Peters: Absolutely. It ties in to the last question, and it really is central to my thinking about the wars we face today and will face in the coming decades. From 1789 until 1991, humanity took a bizarre detour from history's highway. For two centuries, egomaniacs, such as Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, Trotsky, Nkrumah and their ilk, convinced themselves that they and they alone could sit down and design a better system for human social, economic and political organization than the mass of humanity could do on its own. Even more incredibly, they were able to convince hundreds of millions of human beings that they were on to something. Mass delusion, at its worst. And, of course, when individual human beings didn't measure up to the system, the system responded with Auschwitz and Buchenwald, the GULag and Mao's Cultural Revolution, the horror of North Korea and no end of shattered economies, starving masses and self-perpetuating brutality. That was the Age of Ideology, folks.
As an aside, democracy is not an ideology. It's a technique matured over centuries--of the people, by the people and for the people--that functions well in societies with a taste for justice and decency, but which produces disappointing results in tribal or otherwise traditionally factionalized societies. I believe wholeheartedly in the supreme greatness of democracy--but I have to face the fact now that some societies, such as Iraq's, lack the moral bearings to make democracy as we know it work.
Anyway, the Age of Ideology is over. Done. Finished. Kaputt. And thank God. But the bad news is that it only means we've returned to the human mainstream, to wars of blood and belief, fought over ethnic and religious issues. These are the default identities over which human beings have slaughtered each other since the days of myth. And the wars tend to be bloody and uncompromising.
Again, our enemies want to exterminate us. We want to reason with them. They kill as many of the innocent as they can--while we court-martial our soldiers for every mistake. Which brings us back to the problem of a political elite--on both sides of the aisle--that no longer feels obliged to serve in uniform, that is utterly out of touch with the average man and woman, which takes polls more seriously than religion, and which believes that all of the world's problems can be solved through negotiations. Well, good luck.
The United States of America will pull through. But we're going to pay an awful price along the way, thanks to the wilful naivety, selfishness, self-absorption and cowardice of our political "elite."
FP: What are the lessons so far of both Iraq and Israel's war with Hezbollah?
Peters: If you're not willing to out-kill your enemies, you lose. Period.
FP: Ok. Sounds clear enough to me.
What are the roots of the terror being perpetrated against us?
Peters: The utter failure of Islamic civilization between Morocco and Pakistan. The Islamic world's values, traditions, structures and practices are thoroughly uncompetitive in the 21st century (and already were in the last century). All that they hold dear holds them back. Islamists and their sympathizers are humiliated by their self-wrought failures, angry at our success, sick with jealousy, and desperately in need of a hot date. The greater Middle East is one vast psycho-ward. And no, I'm not being flippant or exaggerating--the region's Muslim societies are mentally and morally diseased.
Hatred is satisfying. Revenge (even against the innocent) is gratifying. And death is a release from the miseries of a failed existence. As a result--as I've remarked over the years--we face ruthless killers who regard death as a promotion. But, of course, our leaders assure us that religion has nothing to do with any of this.
FP: What are your thoughts on Obama wanting to attack Pakistan? That is after all where the terrorists are lurking.
Peters: It's a classic example of the fateful mix of hubris and naivety on Capitol Hill. Mr. Obama has yet to supply any details, so let me help him out: Sure, we can invade Pakistan. Of course, we'll need a draft to round up enough troops. And we'll have to kill, as a minimum, a few hundred thousand Pathan tribesmen and their families, and we'll have to remain as an occupier for many years. Oh, and Pakistan's got nuclear weapons and it's already torn by civil strife. But no worries there for good, old Barak--who was too important to serve in the military himself (military service is just for chumps like me or for those who are, as John Kerry pointed out, so stupid they're stuck in Iraq).
Now, I'm all for targeted air strikes and special ops raids in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan where al Qaeda has been re-grouping. But, hey, I've actually been there. It's some of the toughest terrain in the world, and the mountain ranges are vast. A classic military invasion isn't the answer. So, if Obama wants to invade, I'd just like to hear the details of his plan. Of course, he hasn't got one. He's just blowing smoke. He knows less about military matters than I do about neurosurgery. The difference between us is that he's convinced he's qualified to operate.
In the Queen's English, the guy's a wanker.
FP: “Eurabia” is a true nightmare scenario, correct?
Peters: No. Malthusian linear projections never fulfill themselves (and hysteria is never productive). But, beyond that, the notion that Europe, the continent that's exported more death and destruction than any other, is going to just shuffle wimpily to its doom is crazy. The Europeans have been playing pacifist dress-up while we protected them, but, sufficiently threatened, they'll revert to their historical pattern--which is to over-react. Europe's Muslims may prove to be the real endangered species; after all, Europe's history of dealing with rejected minorities veers between genocide and, for the lucky, ethnic cleansing. For me, the question isn't whether Muslims will take over Europe, but whether Europe will simply expel them or kill any number of them first. Sound far-fetched? How would the Holocaust have sounded to an educated German (or Brit, or American) in 1932? Europe is a killer continent. When the chips are down, it will kill again.
Meanwhile, Europe's Muslims are behaving so stupidly that their folly can't be measured with any tools at our disposal. Even as British pols pander to radical clerics, the average Brit has had enough of coddling mullahs who preach the destruction of all non-Muslims (and closing the pubs). In mid-July, in Germany, the major organizations representing the millions of Turkish residents refused to come to a conference held by the chancellor to address integration. The Turkish leaders demanded--demanded--that the German parliament first rescind a new immigration law that would have prevented Turks from importing child-brides, isolating them as virtual prisoners and beating them to death. Oh, and the Germans also wanted new immigrants to have a vocabulary of 300 German words upon arrival--just enough to say, "Help, husband killing me." No self-respecting Turk was going to stand for that.
You get the point. Europe has never had a model for integrating non-white immigrants, and they don't really want one. Meanwhile, from Denmark to Marseilles, Muslim residents make outrageous demands that only anger the average voter. Eurabia? You have a better chance of finding honest lobbyists in Washington than you do of seeing the crescent over the spires of Notre Dame.
FP: Ralph Peters, it was a pleasure and privilege to speak with you.
Peters: Y'all just keep on poking the system in the eye. It needs it. And Frontpage does a great job.