So I finished reading Fiasco by Tom Ricks last night, and I really should take back some of the mean things I said about him over the summer. It really is an excellent book, and you should all read it.
But I was struck by the ending of Ricks' book -- he explores what the likely scenarios are in Iraq, and his "nightmare" scenario (the worst of the worst, presumably) is the establishment of a Muslim Caliphate in Iraq.
Funny. I really, really don't understand why I'm supposed to find this outcome terrifying.
The first thing to say is that re-establishing the Caliphate is something Bin Laden seems to want, so on those grounds alone it's probably a bad idea we should try to avoid. The second thing to say is that, in any likely combination of events, the re-establishment of the Caliphate is not going to happen. The existing governments of Muslim states are extremely well-armed and unimpressed with the idea of reviving a true, pan-Muslim Caliphate. (This hasn't stopped many national leaders from proclaiming themselves the new Caliph.)
What I really don't get is how a Caliphate is supposed to be big and scary in a way that, say, a nuclear-armed Pakistan, Iran, or possibly Saudi Arabia isn't. Threat of terrorism? Check and check. Nuclear proliferation? Big, big check.
There does seem to be this fantasy that a Caliph could emerge, unite the Arab/Muslim world, and suddenly we're fighting at the gates of Vienna all over again. This idea is so lunatic it really only deserves one answer: any nation stupid enough to engage NATO in a land war is going to get exactly the carnage it deserves.
Meanwhile, I've met a few (very moderate) Muslims who yearn wistfully for the era of Muslim unity that the Caliphate represents to them, so it's not like you have to be crazy to want it.
Moreover, Ricks himself quotes a soldier earlier in his book who points out the obvious: The US already has two wars on its hands. It would be nice if people would stop fantasizing about enemies in the future and start using the brainpower to fight the wars they've got.