Two thousand six is coming to an end much as it began: with war, terrorism, bloodshed and moral confusion. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Somalia in the Horn of Africa, warfare continues between regular military establishments and irregular radical Islamist forces (which range from straight-out terrorist groups to private militias, death squads, warlords and criminal elements).
In the Horn of Africa, historically Christian Ethiopia has declared war -- not on the Somali government with which it is allied -- but against the Council of Islamic Courts, an Islamist entity in Somalia with probable al Qaeda connections that aspires to govern -- perhaps a la the Taliban. As of Tuesday morning, the Ethiopian attack with tanks, helicopters and fighter jets is advancing "decisively" on all fronts.
But just as American military forces moved decisively in Iraq in 2003, only to face rising irregular opposition, we probably have not heard the last of the Ethiopian/Somali conflict -- which could enflame the entire Horn and environs from Sudan to Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Tanzania -- as well as Somalia and Ethiopia. According to the Associated Press, some observers believe that the Horn is being targeted as the third front (after Iraq and Afghanistan) "in militant Islam's war against the West."
On the terrorist front, the Associated Press reported on Christmas Eve from London that: "Islamic militants want to attack the Channel Tunnel between England and France during the holiday season, a British newspaper said Sunday, citing French and U.S. security sources. The Observer said the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE, warned the French government of the threat in a Dec. 19 report after a tip-off from the CIA.
"The newspaper cited unidentified French officials as saying the plot was being directed from Pakistan and involved militants in western Europe, possibly Britons of Pakistani descent. ... The newspaper also said that militants with links to al Qaeda were plotting a wave of attacks on an unidentified European country, with the plot planned and run from Syria and Iraq. ... British officials warned Friday that there is a high threat of an attempted terrorist attack over the Christmas and New Year period ... "
Of course, rumors of terrorist attacks have become the background noise of our times -- to such an extent that they are largely discounted by most of the public. Also in that background noise of civic life is the growing assertiveness of many Muslims in the West. The year 2006 began with the Danish cartoon publications, the alleged blasphemy of which drove violent Muslim demonstrations around the world. Later in the year, Pope Benedict's lecture on reason, violence, Islam and the West also generated worldwide violent demonstrations by some Muslims -- including the murder of a Christian nun.
The year also saw the provocative acts of the "flying Imams," which were used by various American-Muslim "civil rights" advocates to try to persuade airlines and law enforcement officials to not challenge Muslims whose conduct would naturally arouse suspicion and fear. Were these assertions legitimate expressions of concern for unfair treatment of Muslims, or are they part of a calculated campaign of intimidating both our government and the public into exempting Muslims from normal and legitimate law enforcement scrutiny? And if the latter -- to what end?
This fall, an article in a scholarly military journal analyzed the doctrine behind the increase in American Special Forces troops to about 50,000 currently -- toward a target of about 65,000 troops. This unprecedented increase in Special Forces is premised, pointed out the article, on the probable need to fight radical Muslim terrorists in rough country such as -- but not limited to -- Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. But the burden of the article was the assessment that the Special Forces build up was premised on the assumption that such places would be where terrorists would gather and work. However, the article pointed out, there is increasing evidence that the terrorists are also likely to assemble in the urban cities of Europe -- a terrain in which we would need different fighting (and legal and diplomatic) tactics which would require either re-trained Special Forces or other military/intelligence/law-enforcement-type American forces and doctrines.
Let me emphasize, to my knowledge it is not currently American military doctrine to plan and train for European urban warfare between American and Islamist terrorist forces. But serious scholars and analysts are beginning to wonder whether it should be. Of course specialists have to think about even remote contingencies. Whether such a contingency is remote, nonexistent or likely is at this point speculative.
Indeed, there is little about the threat from radical Islam that is not speculative. Those of us who find the darker potentialities sufficiently plausible to require active American and Western preparation are considered alarmists by those who expect the future to vary only by degree from the present state of relative inter-civilizational peace. I hope they are right.
But as we come to the end of the difficult year 2006, nothing has emerged to refute these darker fears, and in fact, evidence -- admittedly ambiguous -- continues to assemble to support them. Certainly from Iraq and Afghanistan to Africa, Europe and America, 2006 has been a good year for the forces that may be out to destroy our way of life.