First, a minor bit of boasting. I occasionally submit pieces to Agora, the journal of the History Teachers of Australia Victoria (HTAV). They are doing a “reprint” edition, the best of the last five years, and two of my essays will be included:
Finding Patterns in Ancient Civilisations Agora No.3 Vol.43 2008
Discovery, Connection and Trade Agora No.2 Vol.46 2011
Patterns in history are an enduring interest of mine. I recently read an excellent essay (via) by Adam Garfinkle on Algeria and the recent bloody storming of a natural gas complex with foreign hostages by the Algerian military. The complex had been seized by jihadis, so was part of the messy and continuing Jihadi War (what is not very usefully described as the War on Terror), as was the vile and bloody Algerian Civil War which provides the context framing the seizing of the complex and its subsequent storming. The essay is very informative, and I recommend it to folk.
This is a line of argument one sees regularly. There are two difficulties with it. First, the Afghan mujahideen were neither puppets nor creations of the US and US policy. Only about a third of their funding came from the US, the rest came from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim sources.
Second, there is a much more fundamental difficulty. Suppose we accept that the Jihadi War grew out of the Cold War (which, in some sense at least, is true). Much less flows from this than one might think. For what did the Cold War grow out of? The Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany. Was saving the Soviet Union from Hitler via massive aid (supplying most of rolling stock and trucks used by the Soviet Army, diverting the Luftwaffe and thousands of 88mm guns from the Eastern Front to defend Germany against the Bomber Offensive, providing enough canned food to supply one meal per Soviet citizen per day, etc) worth it? Of course it was.
If the Jihadi War was a result of Western victory in the Cold War, was it worth it? Of course it was. The jihadis are brutal and nasty and, yes, if they get hold of one or more functioning nuclear weapons they will use them. But the jihadis are not the existential threat the Soviet Union was and the Jihadi War is not as remotely costly, bloody or dangerous as the Cold War.
So yes, new struggles are born out of previous victories. But that, of itself, does not make those victories not worth having. The Cold War was an acceptable cost for defeating Nazism, the Jihadi War is an acceptable cost of defeating the Soviet Union. It would be nice if these victories could have been had without those costs, but that was never very likely. The Western is, above all else, a universalist civilisation and so will end up in struggles with competing universalisms–in these cases, Leninism and radical Islam.
There are those who think Nazism was never going to win, nor was the Soviet Union. Victory tends to look inevitable afterwards. It rarely seems so at the time. After all, said victories involve actually putting in the necessary effort. As historian Geoffrey Blainey observes somewhere, there is nothing easier or more pointless in historical analysis than “proving” what did happen had to happen.
Moreover, a Nazi Empire dominant in Europe was definitely not preferable to its defeat. A Soviet Union dominant in Eurasia was definitely not preferable to its defeat. A Soviet Union continuing to oppress its peoples and vassals was not preferable to its defeat and collapse either. If the Jihadi War is the cost of our post-Cold War world, then that does not remotely make the Cold War victory not worth having (even if it was just outlasting the other guy).
Our lesson for today is taken from Matthew 6:34; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Saying that the Jihadi War is a consequence of how the Cold War was prosecuted says much less than folk who bang on about that seem to think.