Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

What Kind of War? (the Periodical Observer - Foreign Policy & Defense)

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

What Kind of War? (the Periodical Observer - Foreign Policy & Defense)

Article excerpt

"A Strange War" by Eliot A. Cohen, in The National Interest (Thanksgiving 2001), P.O. Box 622, Shrub Oak, N.Y. 10588-0622.

The attack of September 11 was a battle in a war Americans didn't quite know they were fighting, declares Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Not for him any talk of the attack as a crime to be remedied by bringing the culprits to justice. It was a political act.

The war may be or may become a "clash of civilizations," in Samuel Huntington's famous phrase, but at the very least it is a "strange" war. "Strange" because it doesn't fit the neat categories of military doctrine, with its "end states and exit strategies." Cohen says that the Crusades are an instructive, if politically incorrect, example. "They involved armies as the recognizable forces of states along with a welter of entrepreneurs, religious orders, and bandits. They saw strange and shifting alliances in which religious fanaticism could give way to cynical calculations of individual and state interest."

The foe in this war, in Cohen's view, is not just Osama bin Laden but "larger movements in the Arab and Islamic worlds" that tap deep rivers of "hatred and resentment."

The war's causes are as old as the Muslim resentment of the ascendant West that began when the Turks were driven back from Vienna in 1683, and as new as the appearance of bin Laden, a historically "decisive personally. …

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