When the War on Terror was first declared, many knowledgable military people referred to it as "World War IV" (World War III having been the long hot/cold struggle of the Cold War).
Each of the World Wars the United States has been involved in were necessary, "just" wars. We won World War I, World War II, World War III, and we're trying very hard to win World War IV, though "loyalty issues" back home are making this more of a struggle than it should be.
And, just to establish -- Iraq is a just and necessary part of the War on Terror. They were clearly our enemies, we had every reason to believe they still had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and they had proven willing to use terrorism against the United States (if you doubt this, see specific citations in a previous post).
We should have won in Iraq some time ago, but domestic opposition sufficiently delayed and obstructed the US military effort to have caused delays which eventually turned into a tug of war with what would otherwise have been a lackluster enemy.
But, largely because of the troubles back home, the War on Terror in mid-2007 seems like it could potentially spiral out of control due to a variety of worrisome geopolitical considerations.
First, if you think most of the major powers of the world do anything for altruistic reasons, or because they respect some theoretical international law as sacred, quit kidding yourself. The US and Britain, with a scattered few other examples, are the only countries which have ever done that, and even those exceptions are inconsistent.
Consider that France, Germany (pre-Merkel) and Russia all opposed the United States action against Iraq not because they preferred an international response. They did so because they profited from having Saddam Hussein in power AND -- of key importance -- they saw an opportunity to use the situation to weaken the United States' position on the world stage, and thereby improve their own power standing.
If you doubt this, notice that anytime the US wished to force anybody -- Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. -- into compliance with international conventions, key countries like Russia, France, China, etc. all dragged their feet and did anything they could to stymie the US efforts. These countries -- some call them "friends" -- enjoy seeing the US squirm.
Because the US has been obstructed (by these powers and by liberals at home) from winning in Iraq, a certain confluence of worrisome factors has come to be:
1) Sunni, Shia and al-Qaeda terrorists have us hopping from foot to foot in parts of Iraq.
2) They are being aided by Iran (and probably Syria), and Iran's nuclear ambitions threaten to draw either the US or Israel or both into either a limited or massive airstrike which will open a broader war with Iran.
3) As realistically described in the World Tribune Monday, unrest in Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Iran could escalate to a multi-front Arab-Israeli war this summer between a nuclear-armed Israel and a potentially nuclear-armed Iran and its surrogates in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.
4) Any war involving Israel would certainly draw the majority of the Middle East, including the United States and allied troops in Iraq (and Afghanistan) into a regional conflict with nuclear potential (although the nuclear aspect isn't especially likely until/unless a capable country becomes desperate).
5) Even the Iranian aid to terrorists against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has the potential to blow up into a regional conflict involving war between the US and Iran and possibly including Syria and Israel.
I am a student of history, and in my opinion the most fascinating period of modern history is the 1930s -- just prior to the conflagration of World War II, when the scene was being set with countless contributing factors feeding on each other and driving the world inexorably to war.
The mood today, in mid-2007, feels much like the late 1930s must have felt.
And that's just World War Four! But, just like World War II started with regional conflicts in China, Spain & Finland, today's conflict in the Middle East could easily widen into a broader, literally worldwide war. In fact, it's almost certain, once a regional conflict develops, that these countries will take whatever opportunities they have. Or, they may just wait for other players to exhaust us, then reap the benefits against us later.
Competing superpowers -- the US, Russia, China -- must watch for advantage. They wait and scheme so that opportunities arise, and the time is right to strike and achieve dominance over their enemies.
As has become quite clear in recent years, both Russia and China consider the United States to be a rival, at best. An enemy, at worst. We stand in the way of their geopolitical aspirations, and they want out of the box they were left in after the Cold War.
Both Russia and China, our nuclear-armed rivals, have been employing proxies and "gaming" other conflicts to undermine the US' world situation.
The Middle East is rife with examples, from Chinese arms sales to Iran (recently confirmed in a Bill Gertz article in the Washington Times) to Russian arms shipments to Fatah (the Palestinian Authority, which ironically is our more MODERATE enemy in the Mideast!).
But China and Russia have both been playing for time with North Korea, drawing out US negotiations with Kim Jong Il to tie us down there, too.
And China and Russia have been actively encouraging Hugo Chavez, in Venezuela, in his demagoguery against the US. Major Russian arms sales to Venezuela make them a regional player in the American hemisphere, and they will likely have support from radicalized populations nearby as well as from Cuba and other frightened governments who are nevertheless happy to feel some form of status in being associated with him.
If any of these conflicts outside of Iraq go hot, there is an opportunity presented to Russia and China where they must decide if it's "their hour" or not. Likely, they will wait to see how things go, play an aloof, two-faced game, and if they see the United States in a particularly vulnerable position, then they will feel compelled by geopolitical realities to strike.
As in World War II, "interested" countries in tense situations are likely to decide that their best interests are served by military conflict on their terms.
Ironically, the stupid Democrat assaults upon the Bush Administration for the past several years -- claiming that we can't afford to be tied down in Iraq because there are more important conflicts to be ready for -- have become a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Now we DO have other major conflicts looming, and because of what I believe qualifies as treason in the ranks of the "loyal opposition" in the USA, the United States may be poised to be in a fight for its very existance in a World War V that will pit the US against the World.