Twenty years ago, President Ronald Reagan stood on the corner of Erbertstrasse and June 17th Street before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and called upon Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to “open this gate,” and “tear down this wall!” Two years later as satellites zoomed images of ordinary citizens taking sledgehammers to that very wall, the world knew, once and for all that the 50-year Cold War was over.
Realists assessing the Global War on Terrorism often compare it to the Cold War. Whereas the latter was a military and ideological struggle between East and West, between capitalism and communism, the former is paramilitary and theological conflict between North and South, between Muslim and Christian. The international dialectic remains – true believes on both sides – even though the paradigm has changed.
The struggles of the cold war are a good lens through with to see today’s struggle. But when President George W. Bush or Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani talk about the War on terrorism in a broader, longer context, like the Cold War, I find myself asking, “how will we know the war has ended?”
That question became more pressing for me over the long holiday weekend as I traveled to Berlin just as the City was celebrating its Film Festival and Mardi Gras–one event which tried to portray the City as a global leader, and the other which showed how the City is a follower of others. Berlin in the height of the Cold War, like Baghdad today, was a metropolis divided into sectors, where lives of U.S. forces and those of ordinary citizens were lost on a regular basis as America waged a war for freedom.
Today, the markers memorializing the site of the former Berlin Wall – once a literal and literary Rubicon – are easily confused with bike paths in other parts of the city.
In his remarks to the California Republican Party, presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani credited international capitalism for its contribution to bringing down the Iron Curtain. When McDonalds, Pizza Hut and other American corporations opened their doors behind in socialist and communist nations and were embraced by the public, it was a harbinger of things to come. Economic and social freedom, Giuliani said, were advanced through our private institutions, in support of a higher public objective.
But there is no Berlin Wall in the war on terror. Capturing Saddam Hussein did not end the War in Iraq and doing the same to Osama Bin Laden won’t end the threat of Al Qaeda and other Islamo-fascist militants. So how will we know that we have won?
Taking New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman’s assertion that counties with McDonald’s don’t make war on one another, a step further, it would be easy – even flippant – to say that the day we see a Starbucks in Baghdad will be the day we know we’ve won the War on Terror. But on the Eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate, on a corner of Parizer Platz that used to front a dirt parking lot during the Soviet era, a Starbucks has planted itself next to the Kennedys Museum, and has a line that stretches out the door.
But in the War on Terror, we may need something a little stronger than a vente cappacino. When we consider the conflicts of the Middle East. I think we’ll know we’re winning the War on Terror when companies like H&M, the Swedish low-cost clothing store, plants roots in towns like Baghdad. When Western fashion is accessible and accepted for men and women, it will be clear that the region is embracing the concepts of individual liberty – and we’ll know that the global marketplace has decided that the rewards of investing in the region are greater than the risks.
Western economic culture has long existed in the Middle East, and is flourishing in some countries. There’s a Johnny Rockets in Kuwait and, indeed, an H&M in the United Arab Emirates. The threat of terrorism is not growing in Dubai – where an astonishing amount of lavish over-the-top construction project are underway – or Kuwait City. In contrast to their neighbors, these cities are prospering.
In fact, our greatest weapon in the War On terrorism may be such places as Dubai and Kuwait City that through their development and prosperity become multi-ethnic, multi-cultural proclamations to the non-sectarian virtues of global capitalism.
When the rest of the region follows their course, we’ll know we’ve all won.