1/ There is much talk of a third world war in the press these days. Francois Fillon, former French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, said there is a “global war” and that “French society as a whole must mobilize against Islamic totalitarianism”. Are these empty words?

1/ The threat of all-out nuclear war no longer hangs over us, but at present there are more than 30 wars/ conflicts in the world. Between 1950, when the Korean War started, and 2007, when the death toll in the Iraq war finally started to drop, there were 148,000 deaths per year from war. From 2008 to 2012 that figure dropped dramatically, to 28,000 per year. It could even be lower today.

Yet international tensions are at a high, and terrorist attacks continue. Many argue that WWIII has already started, perhaps on two fronts, with the Arab Spring in 2011 giving new life to Islamists, and with protagonists Russia and China lining up against the West.

European leaders wring their hands over Syrian refugees and Daesh suicide bombings, blaming this on Islamists. Fillon (Islamophobe Nicolas Sarkozy's prime minister) is now blaming Muslims for "global war", but this scenario merely deflects attention from the underlying causes of war.

The problem is not just Muslims, Russia or China. A few hundred Europeans died in the tragic terrorist bombings in Paris, Brussels and Nice. Up to 9,000 have died in the Ukraine stand-off. That contrasts with the hundreds killed daily in Syria, and the millions dead in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. Obama is personally responsible for 7,000 drone deaths since 2009.

Hopes were high for Barak Obama in 2008, but he was more embarrassed than honoured by his 2009 Nobel peace prize, defending US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as "just wars" to the Peace Prize committee. On the day of the announcement, Obama stated, "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments but rather an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

After a short respite in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, western media has been noting the drift to all-out war, targeting in the first place Russia. What looked like a crystal-clear Founding Act on Mutual Relations between NATO and Russia in 1997, in which both sides agreed to avoid stationing troops near each others’ borders, was signed by Yeltsin and Clinton.

Fast forward to 2014, as the latest NATO prospect, Ukraine, descends into anarchy. The 1997 promise was long ago revealed as just a piece of paper, and the 100th anniversary of WWI in 2014 was marked by a Europe again on the edge of war, under the guidance of "American leadership".  The US announced that the 1997 treaty was now null and void, supposedly because Russia violated it (by welcoming an independent Crimea into the Russian Federation). The breakaway ethnic Russian mini-republics in eastern Ukraine were compared to the assassination of the Austrian archduke in Bosnia in 1914.

True, it was an assassin that started WWI, where European countries were allied against each other in anticipation of the coming war. And who is the assassin expert today? And what countries are lining up, joining the western Cold War bloc targeting Russia? Who is stationing hostile troops around Russia, the latest taunt being by the four NATO countries that border Russia--Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia--who have formed a "special force" on Russia's borders.

At every turn, it seems Russia is the bad guy, America innocent, though it is the US that holds the world ransom, lining up more NATO troops on Russia's border, invading Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting dubious Islamists in Syria. It is this ever more reckless US politics, cloaked in Cold War rhetoric by a Peace President, that is undermining all faith in the international order, leading the world to war.

After 2001, Islam joined Russia as the villain. By 2009 Obama became the 'drone president'  (eight times more drones than Bush during his term), blurring the line between warfare and assassination. Whoever is responsible for 9/11, it signaled the new Hot War against Islam.

Even though Iran reached out to the US after 9/11, it was rebuffed, the logic being any Muslim was now suspect. But it seems Obama finally realized there were too many irons in the fire, and finally managed to defuse the war cries against Iran, leaving the main enemies Russia and China.

Obama also stopped the wholesale funding of insurgents in Syria. Daesh exposed the danger of funding these Wahhabi extremists, with their bombings in Europe, Turkey and of a Russian airliner. Another lesson for Obama.

Fillon is a bit late with his diatribe against Islam. Effectively eliminating the threat of Islamic 'terrorists' requires addressing the source of the disease -- American lawlessness, and recognizing the perverse nature of all the war-mongering, including against Muslims, Russia and China.

Perhaps the claim that WWIII is already underway is closest to the truth. In presenting the Defense Plan of Russia to President Putin in 2013 (before Ukraine fell apart), Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, "A peculiar feature of modern conflicts is a wide use of non-military methods – humanitarian, economic and political sanctions." Sanctions against Russia soon followed, as if by clockwork. But as with US-European sanctions against Iran, with little effect.

War is more about economics than bombs. Sanctions (and drones) kill far more than suicide bombs do. We are living out a long insurgency against empire, which has lost control of its agenda. The US can "huff and puff", but it can't "blow down" countries that are defending their truths, and it can't rid itself of gadflies like Daesh as long as it encourages chaos.

2/ Western countries have been separating terrorist groups into bad and good, and supporting some of them. How guilty are western leaders in the chaos that results from terrorist attacks?

This is just a new version of the age-old 'divide and conquer' policy of empire, a kind of blend of "soft" and "hard" power. Soft power is mostly through mass culture. Subversive activities of the CIA abroad are celebrated in Hollywood thrillers, where US self-styled enemies Russia, China, Iran and Muslims in general are depicted as villains to be vanquished.

A less well known, but vital, soft power strategy is funding and otherwise 'peacefully' supporting groups that are genuinely resisting the imperial agenda.

The most notorious US program to undermine anti-imperialist groups was the FBI's COINTELPRO from 1956--1971, targeting domestic anti-war groups in not only the US, but Europe and Turkey, inciting them to violence and then arresting them. Though dismantled under public protests, the tactics are still used. It was the Turkish version of COINTELPRO, Ergenekon, that Turkish President Erdogan was targeting prior to the coup attempt in July 2016.

This use of subversion to support imperial policies can lead to 'successful' terrorist attacks by those 'terrorists' being monitored. This is playing with fire, as 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing and others show. If the 'terrorists' get out of hand, the empire reverts to hard power to destroy them outright, the pretext for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the abandonment of 'Islamists' in Syria and Iraq.  Seven of Obama's 7,000 drone victims were US citizens, presumably anti-imperialist 'terrorists'.

The evidence exposing the support of terrorists by the US (in Afghanistan in the 1980--90s, in Iraq after 2003) is documented. History is littered with real and imagined conspiracies, seemingly terrorist acts for which the ruling powers have no responsibility. Not all have COINTELPRO-type finger prints. The suicide bomb in Paris and Nice in 2015--16 were apparently self-motivated terrorist acts, but with or without fingerprints, they are still a direct result of imperial policy, and will not abate until the empire withdraws its claws.

Such acts don't lead to all-out war. But as long as there is discrimination, intervention, occupation and collusion between the West and local elites in the interests of empire, there will be insurgencies and terrorist acts--including in the West--regardless of whether they are called terrorism or simply fighting.

That was Donald Trump's point when he told Americans Obama and Clinton "founded ISIS." Sadly, he was dismissed as a buffoon. But Trump is a classic example of the "wise fool".


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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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