June 24, 2004 | Op-ed

Post-Modern Terrorism

Authored by Dr. Earl Tilford

World War IV is total war on a global scale. While numerous nations are arrayed against a myriad of terrorist organizations, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, a terrorist network that traces its origins to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan over a quarter century ago. In Iraq, US and coalition forces face not only al Qaeda terrorists but also Hezbollah fighters, a group supported by Iran. Israel, meanwhile, battles Hamas and Hezbollah along with the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade and other groups associated with Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

World War IV seems complex but keep in mind during World War III (the Cold War) while American forces fought North Vietnamese regulars and National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) guerrillas in South Vietnam, we also fought the Pathet Lao in Laos and Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. From Greece and Yugoslavia to Korea and Vietnam and the Caribbean and jungles of Central America, the Cold War involved a large number of nations and groups. Nevertheless, it all came together as part of a struggle between competing worldviews.

The “War on Terror” is no less complicated and similarly encompassing. Since it is an Information Age war in which knowledge is power, it is essential to understand who we fight and what they aim to achieve. Our enemies are more than savage barbarians with a penchant for decapitating the innocent. They are integral to a concerted effort to redefine the world order.

Al Qaeda presents the most expansive and acute threat to the United States. As a part of its global threat, al Qaeda fighters oppose US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Additionally, al Qaeda poses an immediate threat to the stability of pro-Western and traditional Moslem regimes like Saudi Arabia. Its ultimate strategic goal is to establish a radical Islamic world order. 

Al Qaeda uses terror as its primary tactic in achieving its goals. All terrorists employ violence against the innocent but different organizations use it in specific ways. Among the many terrorist organizations world wide, al Qaeda and, to a lesser extent Hezbollah, are most expansive in their uses of terror if only because their strategic goal of affecting a world Islamic revolution is more encompassing. In this regard, al Qaeda and Hezbollah are post-modern terrorist groups.

What's the difference?  Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade are focused on Israel.  While Arafat has no reservations against sending suicide bombers to blow themselves apart among Israeli soldiers and civilians alike, he is less likely to use chemical and biological or radiological weapons (even if he could get them) since these weapons of mass destruction cannot distinguish between Jews and Palestinians. Ultimately, since Arafat wants to turn all of Israel into a Palestinian state, he probably would avoid making it uninhabitable. Al Qaeda, in its global jihad, is not so constrained. Just as post-modern philosophers seek to redefine moral reality, post-modern terrorists want to redefine political reality with a similar radical totality.

The ultimate goal of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and associated organizations like the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines, is to redefine the global political landscape with a world-wide Islamic revolution. Theirs is a holy war against the Judeo-Christian West, not just Israel. They are confident Israel will fall like a ripe olive once the United States is run out of the Middle East. Then Arafat will create a Jew-free Palestine from Gaza in the South to a “liberated” Jerusalem in the west to Haifa in the north. Religious diversity will not be a feature of the Islamic world order.

Ultimately, superior strategy wins wars. Osama bin Laden has a three-stage strategy designed to achieve Islamic world domination.

Stage One:  Take control of the Middle East. Most immediately prevent a US-backed democratic Moslem regime from succeeding in Iraq. Then take power in a destabilized Saudi Arabia. A dominant Iran will then bring the Gulf States and North African Moslem regimes into a radical Islamic fold. The end result may resemble Armageddon if Israel squares off in a nuclear war against an Iranian-led Arab coalition.

Stage Two:  Take control of secondary Moslem countries starting with Turkey and Pakistan. Bosnia, the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines will fall along with parts of China.

Stage Three:  Isolate, dominate and then destroy the Judeo-Christian countries of Western Europe, South and North America—including the Great Satan itself, the United States. By 2100, al Qaeda will have its Islamic world order.

This is World War IV. Forget the sleazy sickness of Abu Ghraib. Stop mouthing meaningless slogans like, “Bush lied, soldiers died.” Steel yourselves for a long, bloody fight. This is a war we must not lose.

Dr. Earl H. Tilford is a professor of history at Grove City College and he is a fellow with The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He enjoyed an extensive military career and after retiring from the U.S. Air Force, served as an associate professor of history at Troy State University in Montgomery and professor of military history at the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College. In 1993 he became director of research at the U.S. Army's Strategic Studies Institute in Carlisle, Pa., where he worked on a project that looked at possible future terrorist threats. He has authored three books on the Vietnam War and co-edited a book on Operation Desert Storm. He has lectured throughout the U.S. and abroad on the Vietnam War and, more recently, the future of armed conflict. Contact him at [email protected].