The Daily Telegraph
The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented
By Niall Ferguson
Are we living through the origins of the next world war? Certainly, it is
easy to imagine how a future historian might deal with the next phase of
events in the Middle East:
With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of
the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible
ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars
of 1991 or 2003 - were in place.
The first underlying cause of the war was the increase in the region's
relative importance as a source of petroleum. On the one hand, the rest of
the world's oil reserves were being rapidly exhausted. On the other, the
breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in global
demand for energy. It is hard to believe today, but for most of the 1990s
the price of oil had averaged less than $20 a barrel.
A second precondition of war was demographic. While European fertility had
fallen below the natural replacement rate in the 1970s, the decline in the
Islamic world had been much slower. By the late 1990s the fertility rate in
the eight Muslim countries to the south and east of the European Union was
two and half times higher than the European figure.
This tendency was especially pronounced in Iran, where the social
conservatism of the 1979 Revolution - which had lowered the age of marriage
and prohibited contraception - combined with the high mortality of the
Iran-Iraq War and the subsequent baby boom to produce, by the first decade
of the new century, a quite extraordinary surplus of young men. More than
two fifths of the population of Iran in 1995 had been aged 14 or younger.
This was the generation that was ready to fight in 2007.
This not only gave Islamic societies a youthful energy that contrasted
markedly with the slothful senescence of Europe. It also signified a
profound shift in the balance of world population. In 1950, there had three
times as many people in Britain as in Iran. By 1995, the population of Iran
had overtaken that of Britain and was forecast to be 50 per cent higher by
Yet people in the West struggled to grasp the implications of this shift.
Subliminally, they still thought of the Middle East as a region they could
lord it over, as they had in the mid-20th century.
The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural.
Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had been
swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the process of
secularisation that was emptying Europe's churches.
Although few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy,
there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to Pakistan,
the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic
politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious
The ideological cocktail that produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of
the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century,
communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and
anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad's intemperate attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called
the Holocaust a 'myth'. The state of Israel was a 'disgraceful blot', he had
previously declared, to be wiped 'off the map'.
Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against
their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of
2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq
War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision
to accelerate Iran's nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the
kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy
the United States; the power to obliterate America's closest regional ally.
Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart
Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of
pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar
strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative
commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly
placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and
Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran's contravention of the
But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice,
to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion
was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had
been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction
Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure of the US-led
coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.
Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they
wanted to reduce them. Europeans did not want to hear that Iran was about to
build its own WMD. Even if Ahmad-inejad had broadcast a nuclear test live on
CNN, liberals would have said it was a CIA con-trick.
So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke
his country's treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried
appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West
appealed to international agencies - the International Atomic Energy Agency
and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China's veto, however,
the UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions,
like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals.
Only one man might have stiffened President Bush's resolve in the crisis:
not Tony Blair, he had wrecked his domestic credibility over Iraq and was in
any case on the point of retirement - Ariel Sharon. Yet he had been struck
down by a stroke as the Iranian crisis came to a head. With Israel
leaderless, Ahmadinejad had a free hand.
As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some
said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was
so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the
point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do
was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming
Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their
fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in
This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade
enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already
interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively shattered. Now
Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And the new Israeli
government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed right back at
The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in
the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war - and then both sides would
blink. That was Secretary Rice's hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled
between the capitals. But it was not to be.
The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the
failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it
marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting
the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran
the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to
intervene on the side of Teheran.
Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of
the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original
principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in
2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the
Great Gulf War might never have happened.
• Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard
I think he is right up until the nuclear exchange
at that point it is anyone's guess as to what will happen
"the 2007-11 war"
Iran would magically produce a bomb in ONE year, after just restarting their research/processing?? I find that highly unlikely. But even if they could, f Iran drops ONE or TWO primitive nuclear bombs on Israel, how exactly would that lead to 4 YEARS of war??
I imagine that "war" would last about 10 minutes, and nobody else would want to fuck with the U.S. and its itchy trigger finger on the nuke button. Once all the gloves are off, the U.S. can brush aside ANY military on the planet. Who exactly would be fighting a war for four years??
Why would anyone else - like China or Pakistan or Russia have the slightest interest in preventing some suicidal Iranians from getting their asses handed to them?
Crock of shit to the nth power. The minute Iran used nukes, they would be reduced to ashes.
Won't be 2007 though. Way too early. Earliest I could see would be ~2015.
I do think the writer's assessment of what has gotten us to this position is accurate but his gaze into the future is myopic at best.
Iran is posturing now, saber rattling to position itself for the election of a socialist President in the US. They figure if they threaten and create an atamosphere of fear in the American Left, that we will back down and leave the ME. With Sadam out, they would be the pre-emminent power in the ME and possess all the power and leverage that go with that.
It is a sound strategy from their standpoint given the attitude of appeasement possessed by the chicken shit left in this country and Europe.
From "Frommer's Orbital Tour Guidebook", NY, 2031, pp. 45:
"....a must-see from earth orbit is the Great Glass Desert, known as the Islamic Republic of Iran until 2007, when it was destroyed in retaliatory strikes by the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel following an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Tel Aviv. While the radioactive glow has diminished, the variegated, iridesencent colors in the glass, fused by the heat of nuclear fusion from the desert sands, are especially vivid around the former locations of Tehran and Qom.
Best viewing times at the dawn/dusk terminator, while squeeze-sipping one of the famed "Zero-G Martini"s at the Virgin Galactic Hotel.
Check the Hotel website or ask one of the friendly Matsushita robot bartenders when the Hotel dips low enough to see the Saudi portion of the Desert."
Now THAT's a vision of the future I like.
Some even said it
marked the twilight of the West.
a condition of decline following successes; "in the twilight of the empire" or the light defeating the darkness to the sunrise
personally, I think we are fubar'd
Yeah, it ain't looking good.
While we cannot ignore foreign affairs, we had better get our own country straightened out or the future is going to be very bleak.