Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served in infantry and intelligence units before becoming a Foreign Area Officer and a global strategic scout for the Pentagon. He has published three books on strategy and military affairs, as well as hundreds of columns for the New York Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and other publications. He is the author of the new book New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy.
FP: Ralph Peters, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Peters: I'm honored by the chance to reach your audience. Thanks.
FP: What inspired you to write New Glory?
Peters: New Glory is a book that literally took me a lifetime to write--in the sense that it contains decades of first-hand experience and observation in more than sixty countries. While I've written essays and columns over the years, I just sensed that the time was right to put it all together, to lay out as forthrightly and honestly as I could where I think the world is going--to offer a fresh vision of the world as it is and as it's going to be...no matter who might be offended by my views.
And, frankly, I was fed up with the countless "experts" all over the media who had never been anywhere or done anything, but who had an opinion on everything. You can't understand this complex world without going out to see it firsthand. The book's conclusions about where we've been and where we need to go strategically will surprise many readers, but they're based upon direct experience, not faculty-lounge chitchat. This book had been cooking inside me for a long time--and I'm glad I waited to write it. I needed all those years of getting dirty overseas to mature my thinking--and to escape Washington group-think.
FP: Tell us why the battle for Fallujah epitomized how we must fight -- and win -- the terror war.
Peters: Well, the First Battle of Fallujah, in the spring of 2004, was an example of how to get it as wrong as you possibly can. We bragged that we were going to "clean up Dodge." And the Marines went in, tough and capable as ever. Then, just when the Marines were on the cusp of victory, they were called off, thanks to a brilliant, insidious and unscrupulous disinformation campaign waged by al-Jazeera. I was in Iraq at the time, and the lies about American "atrocities" were stunning. But the lies worked and the Bush administration, to my shock and dismay, backed down.
Let's be honest: The terrorists won First Fallujah. And for six months thereafter Fallujah was the world capital of terror--a terrorist city-state. It was evident to all of us who had served that we'd have to go back into Fallujah, but the administration--which I support--made the further error of waiting until after the presidential election to avoid casualties or embarrassments during the campaign. Well, fortunately, in the Second Battle of Fallujah the Army and Marines realized they had to do it fast, before the media won again and the politicians caved in again. The military had been burned once and they were determined not to get burned again. And they did a stunning job--Second Fallujah was a model of how to take down a medium-size city. Great credit to the troops, mixed reviews for the politicos.
The bottom line is this: If you have to fight, fight to win, don't postpone what's necessary, and be prepared for the media's anti-American onslaught. Today, the media--with some noteworthy exceptions--are stooges of Islamist terrorists who, if they actually won, would butcher the journalists defending them.
We should never go to war lightly, but if we must fight, we have to give it everything we've got and damn the global criticism. There's a straightforward maxim that applies: In warfare, if you're unwilling to pay the butcher's bill up front, you will pay it with compound interest in the end.
FP: You note that terror of female sexuality underlies Islamic terror. You also make the point that a culture that hates and fears woman is incompatible with modernity and democracy. Can you illuminate these phenomena for us please?
Peters: No brainer on this one. Any society that refuses to exploit the talents and potential contributions of half of its population can't remotely hope to compete with the USA or the West in general. Worse, the virtual enslavement of women is as much a symptom of other ailments as it is a problem in and of itself. Where women are tormented by bitter old men in religious robes, there's never a meritocracy for males, either. And such societies are consistently racially and religiously bigoted. Take Pakistan: While the USA is operating at a phenomenal level of human efficiency in the 21st century, say 85%, Pakistan would likely measure in at 12 to 15%. They just keep falling comparatively farther and farther behind, they hate it, and, of course, they blame us. We're dealing with the abject and utter failure of the entire civilization of Middle Eastern Islam--not competitive in a single sphere (not even terror, since these days we're terrorizing the terrorists). It's historically unprecedented--and unspeakably dangerous.
As far as the inhuman, inhumane--and stupid--treatment of women in the Middle East, yep, Islam is scared of the girls. I wish Freud were alive--he'd really get a look at a civilization's discontents. If you're not terrified of female sexuality, you don't lock women up, insist on covering them up from scalp to toenail and stone them to death for their "sins." Every single Muslim culture in the greater Middle East is sexually infantile--to use the Freudian term. For all their macho posturing, the men are terrified of their feared inadequacy. It's like one big junior high school dance, with the boys on one side of the gym and the girls on the other--except the boys have Kalashnikovs.
Now, I realize this isn't the sort of thing most people consider as a strategic factor, but I am thoroughly convinced that the one foolproof test for whether or not a society has any hope of making it in the 21st century is its treatment of women. Where women are partners, societies take off--as ours has done for this reason and others. Where women are property, there's simply no hope of a competitive performance.
In the collective culture of the Middle East, we're dealing with a deeply neurotic, if not outright psychotic civilization. I wish I could be more positive. But the average Middle Eastern male just has snakes in his head. And, by the way, the place isn't much fun, either. A mega-mall or two does not make a civilization.
FP: You make the observation that “Islam produced a strain of violent homoeroticism that reaches into al-Qaeda and beyond.” Please expand on this reality a bit for us.
Peters: Another issue "sober" Washington wouldn't consider as a strategic concern, but this ties in with the fear of and disdain for women. If you read the notes and papers they left behind, it's evident that the hijackers of 9/11 were a boy's club with strong homoerotic tendencies. Read Mohammed Atta's lunatic note describing how women must be kept away from his funeral to avoid polluting his grave. Does that sound like a guy with a happy dating history? Of course, sex between men and boys is a long tradition from North Africa through Afghanistan (fear of women always leads to an excessive fixation on female virginity--so she won't know her husband's inadequate--as well as homoerotic undercurrents).
They don't talk about it, of course--it's supposed to be anathema--but very few Middle Eastern mothers would trust their good-looking young sons around many adult males. This has deep roots, right back to the celebrations of the Emperor Babur's fixation on a pretty boy in the Baburnama. And the related dread of the female as literal femme fatale, as vixen, as betrayer, appears in much of the major literature--especially the "Thousand and One Arabian Nights," which, in its unabridged, unexpurgated version, is one long chronicle of supposed female wantonness and insatiability (the men are always innocent victims of Eve).
Pretty hard for the president to work this into a State of the Union message, but I'm convinced that sexual dysfunction is at the core of the Middle East's sickness--and it's certainly sick. Nothing about our civilization so threatens the males of the Middle East as the North American career woman making her own money and her own decisions. We don't think of it this way, but from one perspective the best symbols of the War on Terror would be the Islamic veil versus the two-piece woman's business suit.
There is no abyss more unbridgeable between our civilizations than that created by our respect for women and the Islamic disdain for the female. There are many aspects of our magnificent civilization that threaten traditional, backward societies, but nothing worries them so much as the independence of the Western woman--not that they approve of freedom of any kind.
FP: You write that the developments in Iran pose a great danger to the Islamists and great hope for the West. Tell us what the possibilities are. Perhaps a domino theory? (i.e, if the Iranians overthrow their religious despots, the rest of the Islamic world might do the same?)
Peters: No matter what the outcome in Iraq, the Middle East isn't going to change overnight. This is a very long process. But if you want an irrefutable indicator of how important Iraq's future is, just consider how many resources our enemies are willing to spend to stop the emergence of an even partially functional rule-of-law democracy in Iraq. The terrorists are throwing in everything they've got. Surely, that should tell us something.
Despite all the yelling and jumping up and down in the "Arab Street" (where someone needs to pick up the litter, by the way), the truth is that Arabs, especially, are afraid they can't do it, that they can't build a modern, let alone a postmodern, market democracy. The Arabs desperately need a win--they've been losing on every front for so long. If Iraq is even a deeply flawed success, it will be success enough to spark change across the region. But we must not expect overnight results. This is all very hard. We're not just trying to change a country--we're asking a civilization to change, to revive itself.
Iraq matters immensely. But no matter the outcome, it will be a long time before we see the rewards. It's an agonizingly slow process--which is tough for our society, which expects quick results.
And if Iraq should fail, despite our best efforts, it won't really be an American (or Anglo-American) failure. The consequences will be severe, but we'll work it off at the strategic gym. A failed Iraq will be another tragic Arab failure.
This is our best shot, but it's their last chance.
FP: You observe that Islamist terror sprouts from the failure of Arab and Islamic civilization, that they are humiliated, envious and seek to destroy the reminder of everything we have done right. Please illustrate this picture for us.
Peters: Back to our disdain for new strategic factors: Certainly economic statistics and demographics, hydrology and terms of trade all matter. But the number one deadly and galvanizing strategic impulse in the world today is jealousy. And it's jealousy of the West in general, but specifically of the United States. Jealousy is a natural, deep human emotion, which afflicts us all in our personal lives--to some degree. But when it afflicts an entire civilization, it's tragic. The failed civilization of the Middle East--where not one of the treasured local values is functional in the globalized world--is morbidly jealous of us. They've succumbed to a culture of--and addiction to--blame. Instead of facing up to the need to change and rolling up their sleeves, they want the world to conform to their terms. Ain't going to happen, Mustapha.
I've been out there. And while anti-Americanism is really much exaggerated, where it does exist among the terrorists and their supporters, jealousy is a prime motivating factor. You've heard it before, but it's all too true: They do hate us for our success.
The populations of the Middle East blew it. They've failed. Thirteen hundred years of effort came down to an entire civilization that can't design and build an automobile. And thanks to the wonders of the media age, it's daily rubbed in their faces how badly they've failed.
Oil wealth? A tragedy for the Arabs, since it gave the wealth to the most backward. The Middle East still does not have a single world-class university outside of Israel. Not one. The oil money has been thrown away--it's been a drug, not a tool.
The terrorists don't want progress. They want revenge. At the risk of punning on the title of the book, they don't want new glory--they want their old (largely imagined) glory back. They want to turn back the clock to an imagined world. The terrorists are the deadly siblings of Westerners who believe in Atlantis.
FP: It is clear you are not very fond of France and Germany. How come?
Peters: Actually, I love France and Germany. They're two of my favorite museums. And what's not to like about two grotesquely hypocritical societies who are, between them, responsible for the worst savagery in and beyond Europe over the past several centuries?
Anybody who really wants to see how I take "Old Europe" apart will just have to read the book. Too much to say to get it down here. But the next time the continent that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing plays the moral superiority card, let's remind them that no German soldier ever liberated anybody--and the most notable achievement of the French military in the past century and a half has been the slaughter of unarmed black Africans.
And just watch their brutal treatment of their Islamic residents. Old Europe--France and Germany--is just the Middle East-lite.
FP: Explain why you believe there are great benefits to America reaching out to India.
Peters: Human capital. Trade. Healthy competition. Strategic position. Common interests. Brilliant, hard-working people. Great food. That enough?
FP: Are there grounds to have hope about Africa?
Peters: Yes. There are plentiful reasons to be hopeful about parts--parts--of Africa. But much of the continent is every bit as disastrous as the popular image has it. My complaint is that we treat that vast, various continent as one big, failed commune. Well, Congo or Sierra Leone certainly aren't inspiring...but in the course of several, recent, lengthy trips to Africa, I was just astonished at the vigor, vision and strategic potential of South Africa. South Africa is well on the way to becoming the first true sub-Saharan great power--and it's another natural ally for us. Oh, the old revolutionary, slogan-spouting generation and their protégés have to die off--and they will. But, in the long-term, I expect great things from South Africa, that they'll control (economically and culturally) southern Africa at least as far north as the Rovuma River. The one qualifier is this: Their next presidential election will be the turning point, either way. If they elect a demagogue, South Africa could still turn into another failing African state. But if they elect a technocrat, get out of the way, because the South Africans are coming.
I explain much of this far better in the book than I can here. Suffice to say that, for all the continent's horrid misery, there are islands of genuine hope. And, of course, there's plenty of wreckage...and AIDS, civil wars, corruption (the greatest bane of all for the developing world). I'm not a Pollyanna. But over the years I've gotten pretty good at spotting both potential crises and potential successes--and South Africa, for all its problems, is a land of stunning opportunities with neo-imperial potential.
FP: Overall, as a former military man, tell us what the United States has to stop doing, and has to start doing, to win this terror war.
Peters: Knock off the bluster and fight like we mean it. To a disheartening degree, the War on Terror has been a war of (ineptly chosen) words. Look, this is a death struggle, a strategic knife fight to the bone. I wish our civilian leaders would stop beating their chests and saying that we're going to get this terrorists or that one--because when we fail to make good on our promises, the terrorists wins by default. More deeds, fewer words.
Above all, we need to think clearly, to cast off the last century's campus-born excuses for the Islamic world of the Middle East. We need to be honest about the threat, in all its dimensions. "Public diplomacy" isn't going to convert the terrorists who were recruited and developed while we looked away from the problem for thirty years. In the end, only deeds convince. And not just military deeds, of course, although those remain indispensable.
Most Americans still do not realize the intensity or the dimensions of the struggle with Islamist terror. Despite 9-11, they just don't have a sense that we're at war. And I'm afraid I have to fault the Bush administration on that count: Good Lord, we're at war with the most implacable enemies we've ever faced (men who regard death as a promotion), and what was our president's priority this year? The reform of Social Security. While I continue to support the administration's overall intent and efforts in Iraq and around the world, I believe the president has failed us badly by not driving home to the people that we're at war.
The Bush administration has done great and necessary things--but all too often they've done those things badly. And only the valor and blood of our troops has redeemed the situation, time after time, from Fallujah to the struggles of the future.
FP: Ralph Peters thank you for joining us today.
Peters: My pleasure, and my thanks. And allow me to say a special thanks to all your readers in uniform, those troops defending the values of our civilization and human decency in distant, discouraging places. Freedom truly isn't free.
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