What This War Is All About

June 28, the day in 2004 that the Americans transferred sovereignty to Iraqis and proconsul Paul Bremer hastily departed Baghdad, is a day freighted with historic significance.

On June 28, 1914, 90 years before, Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip fired the shots that killed the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and led, five weeks later, to World War I.

On June 28, 1919, German representatives, their country under an Allied starvation blockade, prostrate before a threat by Marshal Foch to march on Berlin, signed the Versailles treaty that ended World War I, and set the stage for Hitler and World War II. Seen as an Allied triumph in 1919, Versailles proved a disaster.

Thus, it is a good time to attempt to draw up an interim profit-and-loss statement of what President Bush has accomplished in what he calls the “War on Terror.” Who is winning this war?

To answer that question, we must first ask and answer antecedent questions. What is the war about? What are we fighting for? Who, exactly, is the enemy in this war? What is he fighting for?

Since 9-11, the president’s objectives have been to exact retribution for the massacre, overthrow the Taliban enablers of Osama, run Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, remove Saddam, disarm Iraq and defend America. He has attained them all. Yet, 54 percent of Americans believe invading Iraq was a mistake. The nation understands that something has gone wrong.

The nation is right. For what this war is really about is who shall rule in the Islamic world. Will it be the men who share our views and values? Or will it be True Believers who will purge that world of what they see as our odious and corrupt presence?

What our enemies seek in the great Sunni Triangle from Rabat to Chechnya to Mindanao is what the Iranian Revolution achieved: to be rid of the Americans and of rulers that they view as vile puppets of the United States, to purify their societies and to unite their world against the West.

If this is indeed the ultimate goal of the radical Islamists, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a strategic victory for the enemy.

Consider what has happened as a result of our war on Iraq. An enemy of Islamic fundamentalism, Saddam, has been removed. His secular Ba’ath Party is gone. A vacuum has opened up in Iraq that the Islamists and their allies may one day fill. The Arab world has been radicalized and supports the Iraqi resistance in its drive to defeat and expel the Americans.

The destabilization of the Saudi monarchy through terror has begun. Rulers in Arab countries have been forced to distance themselves from the Americans if they wish to retain the support of their people. Western tourists are staying away from the Middle East, Western investment is on hold, and Western workers have begun to depart Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

“There exists today a hatred of Americans never equaled in the region,” Egyptian President Mubarak told Le Monde. “In the beginning, some people thought the Americans were helping them. There was no hatred toward Americans. After what happened in Iraq, there is an unprecedented hatred and the Americans know it.”

This longtime friend added, “American and Israeli interests are not safe, not only in our region but in other parts of the world, in Europe, in America, anywhere in the world.” The war on Iraq into which his neo-conservative advisers prodded the president seems to have ignited the very “war of civilizations” between Islam and America that the president said he wanted to avoid.

Raised to believe in the innate goodness of America and the nobility of her purposes, President Bush finds it hard to believe the best recruiting tool Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgents have is the presence on Iraqi soil of the U.S. soldiers he sent to “liberate” Iraq.

Of late, the president appears to have begun to understand that our presence is a primary cause of the war of resistance and that, when this phase ends, the real war, the civil war to decide which Iraqis rule in Iraq, begins. Will it be Iraqis who wish to belong to the modern world? Or Iraqis who wish to be part of the anti-American Islamic revolution?

War, Clausewitz reminded us, is but the extension of politics by other means. All wars, even wars in which terror is the weapon of choice of the enemy, are about, as Lenin said: “Who? Whom?” Who shall rule whom? And even in an Arab world where monarchs and autocrats now rule, the victors will be those who win the hearts and minds of Arab peoples.

This is the war we are losing. And to win this struggle, the United States needs to do three things that may go against the political interests of both parties: Stand up for justice for the Palestinians. Remove our imperial presence. Cease to intervene in their internal affairs.

We Americans once stood for all that. And if we go only where we are invited, we would be invited more often to come and help.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of seven books, including A Republic Not An Empire.