A Duel to the Death

War is nothing but a duel on a larger scale. Countless duels go to make up war, but a picture of it as a whole can be formed by imagining a pair of wrestlers.  Each tries through physical force to compel the other to do his will; his immediate aim is to throw his opponent in order to make him incapable of further resistance.
– Carl von Clausewitz, On War, page 1.

World War IV, a duel between competing world views — a total war for cultural, religious, political and economic hegemony — has entered a new phase. For the moment, and perhaps for some time to come, al Qaeda and associated groups remain at the center of this war; but their roles have changed, and there are new antagonists.

Nearly five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden, as well as his deputy, Egyptian terrorist physician Ayman al Zawahiri, and al Qaeda’s head-thug in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, remain at large. They must be hunted down and eliminated.

The good news is that while figures released by the National Counterterrorism Center indicate that terror attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005, to a total of 11,111, the nature of those attacks has changed.  For one thing, 30 percent of terror attacks took place in Iraq. While terror attacks have proliferated, al Qaeda itself seems less awesome, with its primary capabilities now manifested in occasional videos calling for jihad.

Moreover, there have been no al-Qaeda strikes to rival those well-planned events that took place over the last 13 years, from the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993; through the attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es-Sala’am, Tanzania, in 1998; to that fateful September 2001 day of viciousness that will forever remain etched into our national consciousness.

In the last three years, attacks like those in Madrid, in the Egyptian Sinai, and in London were conducted by local groups inspired — but not directed — by al Qaeda. Globally, the worldwide response to these attacks must be ruthless. Suicide bombers determined to die are impossible to dissuade, but the terrorists who recruit, arm, and dispatch them on their deadly missions can be ferreted out. All terrorists must be faced with one simple reality: terrorism will get you killed.

World War IV, however, is intensifying. Iran’s determination to build a nuclear arsenal and its vow to wipe Israel off the map, along with similar threats it has made to the West, have escalated the war to new levels.  While the United States and Iran have been at war for decades with Hezbollah and associated terrorist groups, which have attacked Americans and U.S. interests throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, a nuclear-armed Iran is strategically unacceptable. When all else fails (and “all else” likely will fail), the world will look to the United States to prevent an Iranian-fostered nightmare.

American air-strikes may well be answered with new waves of terrorism against the West. Nevertheless, on the bloody scales of total war, what nuclear detonations can do to major American and European cities far outweighs the destructive potential of even a legion of maniacal suicidal Jihadists. Meanwhile, the Axis of Evil (Iran, Syria and North Korea) may soon grow to include Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia, emphasizing the global and total nature of what will be a very long war.

In 147 BC, during the Third Punic War between the competing empires of Rome and Carthage, Rome dispatched its legions under Scipio Aemilianus to end definitively a century of conflict. Upon arrival in Africa, Scipio vigorously pressed a land and sea blockade of Carthage, enforcing starvation and disease on the city’s population.  The next year, a determined Roman attack resulted in bloody house-to-house fighting in which 90 percent of the population of Carthage had perished by starvation, disease or had been killed in battle. By order of the Roman Senate, and despite Scipio’s objections, the city was then completely destroyed and the survivors sold into slavery.

Over the next four centuries, Rome led the Mediterranean world.  Although never loved, Rome was feared by its foes and respected by kingdoms submissive to Roman suzerainty. During the next few centuries of the Pax Romana, Western civilization based upon Judeo-Christian principles of human dignity and justice took root.

World War IV is a war for the future of humanity.  The evil that emanates from Tehran, Damascus, Havana, Bogotá, Caracas and Pyongyang can prevail only if the United States fails to lead.  The United States alone has the power to prevail over these threats.  This deadly duel between competing world views — between good and evil — will define both America’s place in history and the future of humanity.  And this is a duel to the death.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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