Contrary to the impression of some readers, I am an admirer of the United States, and something of an aficionado of American history. America’s Civil War remains one of my favorite wars, in part because it is one of the few wars literally fought to the death. It ended only when the rebel Southern states no longer could put enough men into the line to fight. Among modern wars in the Western world, only Europe’s Thirty Years War stands comparison. Fully one-quarter of all military-age men in the slave states died in the Civil War, which President Lincoln (here the English historian Paul Johnson is correct) pursued as a religious crusade.

As he made clear in his Second Inaugural address, now chiseled into the wall of his memorial, he saw the devastation as divine judgment. Somewhere Lincoln remarked that in every Southern town there existed a class of men fit only to hunt, dance, gamble and duel, and that there existed no solution for such a problem except to kill them all. I suspect Lincoln knew all along how horrible the resolution of the conflict would be. Had Americans had an inkling of what lay in store for them, someone doubtless would have assassinated Lincoln before rather than after the war. They would have permitted the South to secede, and slavery would have spread like cancer from the Mason-Dixon Line to Tierra del Fuego. It was America’s (and humanity’s) great good luck that Northerners deluded themselves that they could put down the rebellion in a matter of weeks. Once into the war, they found the courage to pursue it to the bitter end.

America now has entered another war from which, if they could envision the hardships and sacrifices ahead, Americans would shrink back in horror. It is better, I suppose, for them not to know. The truth will not make you free, contrary to St. John (and the lobby at CIA headquarters). Oftentimes it will scare you silly. If the letterbag at Asia Times Online reflects the opinions of well-informed Americans, we have nothing to worry about.

I should leave the matter there, but pride requires me to clarify one point, namely my use of the fighting-word, “racism.” Referring to Washington’s racism toward the Islamic world, I mean precisely what President Bush means by “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Like the Labour Zionists whom the genial Jabotinsky derided, the West shows contempt for the Islamic (especially the Arab) world by attempting to buy it off – with modern weapons for the Egyptian regime, promises of economic development, and intervention on behalf of Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia. Did someone mention Kosovo? Is it not obvious that American diplomacy provoked Milosevic into a confrontation precisely in order to stage a “Wag the Dog” war on behalf of Albanian Muslims, as a sop to the Islamic world?

The Arabs are not so stupid as to mistake manipulation for friendship, and not so cheap as to be bought off by American military hardware. Much of the elite of the Arab world, perhaps a majority of its most energetic and intelligent young men and women, despises the United States for trampling on what they consider the patrimony of Islam by virtue of its global hegemony. They cannot be placated, because their culture (“the stuff out of which we weave the illusion of immortality,” I said in a recent essay) is at peril. In the camp of the United States one finds the enervated, corrupt puppets of the new empire, the hated foreign-aid kleptocrats. Compared to them the feckless South Vietnamese army looked like gods and heroes. These are the “moderate Arabs” upon whom America counts to catch the rustlers. Imagine a group of Afghans who speak no English turning up in a Western movie pursuing the bad guys, asking passersby in Tajik, “Which way did they go?”

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. It matters little where America begins the war. The war will escalate, on terms not of America’s choosing. America eventually will prevail, but in a way and with costs not measurable in the nightmares of the readers of Asia Times Online.

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