Sept. 11, 2001, may well have forever shattered Americans' sense of invincibility. The terrible events of that day demonstrated that being the world's only superpower doesn't make you invulnerable to attack and sudden death at the hands of sworn enemies. If anything, it may make you a more likely target.
Regrettably, many others watched that disaster unfold and learned the same lesson-that even a giant has its weak spots and chinks in its armor. Are these others even now lining up, waiting for circumstances and conditions to be ripe to take their turn? Time will tell.
Regardless of how events unfold in Iraq, the United States is facing a dangerous world that appears to be turning increasingly against American interests. A region-by-region look at trends is sobering.
Iraq: Tip of the Middle East iceberg?
"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter," wrote Winston Churchill in 1930, well before he led Britain through the dark years of World War II. Once war begins, he continued, a national leader "is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."
Such is the quandary the United States finds itself in with Iraq. Certainly, ignoring the problem indefinitely-as so many have been willing to do, hoping it would go away-has been an utter failure. On paper the United States has overwhelming military superiority, greater than that of many real or potential enemies combined, and war against Iraq should be quick and relatively easy.
But the Middle East has a centuries-long track record of confounding the best-laid plans of generals, diplomats and political leaders alike. Throw into the mix weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terrorism, unstable governments and religious fanaticism and almost anything can happen.
As happened in the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein is more than willing to attack Israel to draw Arab support to his side. And this time few doubt that, if given the opportunity, he would use chemical and biological warheads in his missiles, possibly augmenting them with unmanned aircraft or agents on the ground to spread deadly poisons.
Israel, for its part, has long wielded an implicit threat—the "Samson option," by which, if its survival were threatened, the tiny Jewish state would unleash its nuclear arsenal and turn threatening Arab cities into glowing pools of glass. U.S. leaders have assured Israel of military aid and protection against hostile neighbors precisely to prevent such a regional conflagration and the devastating impact it would have on the rest of the world.
American military planners have also long been concerned about threats from WMD to U.S. troop concentrations such as military bases and naval forces clustered around its aircraft carriers. While few believe Saddam Hussein has successfully developed nuclear weapons, the threat from chemical and biological weapons is very real.
Such an attack is so potentially devastating that the United States has repeatedly warned that Iraqi officers playing a role in such an attack will be prosecuted for war crimes.
Less vocally, America has also threatened that an attack by Iraqi chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction may be met by a nuclear response.
What might success bring?
As has so long been true in the Middle East, resolving one problem often creates its own set of new problems. This could also prove true of the Iraq conflict.
While Iraq is solidly Muslim, the country is divided into two major competing and at times antagonistic Islamic camps. Its 24 million people are approximately one-third Sunni Muslims and two-thirds Shiite. Saddam Hussein, a minority Sunni Muslim, has long kept the majority Shiites under his domination.
What will happen in the aftermath of his fall? One worrying scenario is that Iraq's Shiite majority may find a natural ally in neighboring Iran, where almost 90 percent of its 67 million people are also Shiites—Shiites who control a government that is, for the most part, rabidly anti-Israel. Thus, neutralizing one enemy of Israel through defeating Iraq may actually create an even greater obstacle to Mideast peace should Iran's and Iraq's Shiite Muslims form some sort of official or unofficial alliance.
Iran, of course, is a significant problem to the United States in its own right, with its own determined efforts to acquire or develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. In fact, some observers have argued that Iran should be an even higher U.S. priority in combating terrorism and the spread of WMD, and only after Iran is dealt with should America take on Iraq.
Russia is constructing a nuclear reactor in Iran that is scheduled to begin operations later this year. It hasn't helped matters that in December U.S. spy satellites detected two facilities in Iran capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and enriched uranium or that in February Iran announced that it had begun mining uranium deposits in two regions to produce its own nuclear fuel.
Another U.S. concern in the region is that if one Arab dictatorship is replaced, no one can predict where it might end. Few Arab leaders are publicly willing to support Saddam Hussein's overthrow precisely because they don't want to give "regime change" validation—lest it lead to their own downfall.
Most prefer the status quo and have been willing to put up with a dangerous, heavily armed neighborhood bully so long as they can maintain their own non-democratic hold on power. Many are also concerned about a repeat performance of what happened in 1979 in Iran, when extremists overthrew the shah, purged their enemies and instituted Islamic law throughout the country.
The Western world's worst nightmare would be for Iran's experience to be repeated throughout the Middle East, with anti-Western Islamic extremists toppling Arab governments to gain control of most of the world's oil supply and a stranglehold on the lifeblood of the world's economy.
Asia: Threats from several quarters
When it comes to war, anything short of decisive victory will often lead to the same problems rearing their ugly heads again within a few short decades. Just as an indecisive victory in the 1991 Gulf War left Saddam Hussein in power with considerable forces and murderous intentions intact, so did the inconclusive Korean War of 1950 to 1953 leave another backward, belligerent regime in power to come back to haunt America.
Barely a year ago President George W. Bush identified Iraq, Iran and North Korea as today's "axis of evil." In December, as U.S. forces began gathering in the Middle East in anticipation of hostilities with Iraq, North Korea announced its intention (later carried out) to restart its nuclear facilities, and in early January it suddenly withdrew from the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The regime also ominously hinted that it possessed nuclear warheads and expelled monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who had been in place to prevent the facilities' existing nuclear materials from being reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium. U.S. analysts estimated that North Korea could produce several nuclear weapons from those materials in a matter of months and admitted that North Korea probably already had one or more warheads.
North Korea upped the rhetoric on Feb. 6, announcing that any attack on its nuclear facilities would "spark off a total war," while a government spokesman hinted at its own possible strikes, stating that "preemptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S." On Feb. 17 North Korea threatened to pull out of the armistice agreement that ended the Korea War, accusing the United States of repeatedly violating the pact.
Although hobbled by a communist government and economy that cannot adequately feed its own people, North Korea is nevertheless extremely dangerous. Its 1.2-million-man military is the third-largest in the world and twice that of South Korea's.
North Korea also has an aggressive missile program-on Feb. 12 CIA Director George Tenet acknowledged that it had ICBMs that could reach the West Coast-and markets its Scud-class missiles throughout the Arab world. U.S. leaders are increasingly concerned that the impoverished North Korean regime will at some point add nuclear weapons to the military wares it offers for sale around the world, either to governments or terrorist groups.
And that's not all as far as Asia's concerned. While North Korea may be the most publicized threat in the region, by no means is it the only one. China has repeatedly threatened to take back Taiwan—by force if necessary—and, if it decides to act, would likely do so at a time when the United States is militarily preoccupied elsewhere. Indeed, in mid-February Taiwan announced that it had already raised its level of military preparedness in anticipation of just such a scenario. Meanwhile, the India-Pakistan conflict still threatens to go nuclear, with India's defense minister warning as recently as January that Pakistan would be "erased from the world map" if it used nuclear weapons against India.
The growing threat from North Korea may also force the Japanese to enter the nuclear club, which they could likely do in months. But if that were to happen, warns the Jan. 20 international edition of Business Week, the world should "get ready for an Asian arms race" because "China would likely want to boost its arsenal, which would prompt India to develop more nuclear weapons, which would spur Pakistan to do the same—and on and on into an ever more perilous future."
Europe: Distrust of the United States
One thing is clear from the diplomatic maneuvering over Iraq: Stark divisions exist between longtime Western allies-the United States and the United Kingdom on one side and Germany and France, the political and economic heart of Europe, on the other.
The shift in European attitudes toward the United States since Sept. 11 has been profound, as discussed in previous articles in The Good News and our sister publication World News and Prophecy. With the collapse a decade ago of a common enemy-the Soviet Union-Europe and America are now increasingly finding that less unites them than divides them. Iraq is only the latest in a lengthening list of disputes between the former allies.
Robert Kagan, world affairs analyst for The Washington Post and a former U.S. State Department official, describes the European mood in his Jan. 31 column: ". . . Anti- Americanism has reached a fevered intensity. I live in Brussels, famed 'capital of Europe,' and have traveled across the continent over the past year, speaking with intellectuals, journalists, foreign policy analysts and government officials at the endless merry-go-round of highbrow European conferences. The settings couldn't be nicer; the food and wine couldn't be better; the conversations couldn't be more polite. And the suspicion, fear and loathing of the United States couldn't be thicker" (emphasis added).
Many Americans have been puzzled if not angered over French and German political leaders' refusal over the past several months to get behind U.S. calls for disarming Saddam Hussein—indeed, not just refusing to help but repeatedly attempting to block such moves. "But here's what Americans need to understand," explains Dr. Kagan. "In Europe, this paranoid, conspiratorial anti-Americanism is not a far-left or far-right phenomenon. It's the mainstream view. When [German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder campaigns on an anti-American platform in Germany, he's not just 'mobilizing his base' or reaching out to fringe Greens and Socialists. He's talking to the man and woman on the street, left, right and center. When [French President] Jacques Chirac and [French Foreign Minister] Dominique de Villepin publicly humiliate [U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell, they're playing to the gallery. The 'European street' is more anti-American than ever before" (emphasis added).
While a significant number of Eastern European countries are still pro-American, that seems bound to change as these nations realize more and more that their futures and fortunes are inextricably tied to France and Germany. Europe and America appear to be going their separate ways in the geopolitical equivalent of a divorce-the only questions being how quick that divorce will be, and how nasty.
The worldwide terrorism threat
As if on cue, as Americans struggled with digesting news of North Korean nukes and deep divisions within NATO and the UN, a new taped message from Osama bin Laden turned up urging suicide bombings and other terrorist strikes against the United States. It followed an earlier, less-publicized call by a Hamas leader for what are euphemistically called "martyrdom operations" should America attack Iraq.
Acting on information from various sources, the U.S. government announced in February that it was raising the terrorism threat level in the country to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attacks. Although one warning was apparently a hoax, its serious nature—that Washington, D.C., New York or Florida would be hit with a radioactive "dirty bomb"—forced officials to act.
Yet, as noted above, by no means has this been the only warning. Saddam Hussein also has threatened as much, and the U.S. government has long been at work on contingency plans for chemical, biological and nuclear or dirty bomb attacks at the hands of terrorists.
American antiterrorism officials claim to have thwarted more than 100 terrorist plots since Sept. 11, including several attacks planned within U.S. borders. In recent weeks authorities have broken up terrorist cells in Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain-the latter involving the alarming discovery of ricin, one of the most lethal poisons known to man and one for which no antidote exists.
Lest we forget, on the heels of the Sept. 11 attack came a small wave of letters containing anthrax spores that infected 23 Americans, killing five of them. One letter opened in a U.S. senator's office led to the closure of the Hart Senate Office Building for three months. Officials have yet to charge anyone for these crimes, nor can they realistically prevent similar attacks in the future.
The task of protecting Americans from terror is staggering. The cost of the 170,000-employee federal Department of Homeland Security alone runs almost $40 billion a year. On a typical day this involves checking 1.6 million airline passengers and another 1 million people crossing U.S. borders, processing 2.4 million pieces of luggage at more than 400 commercial airports and inspecting tons of imported foods. Meanwhile, only a tiny percentage of the 18 million shipping containers that enter U.S. ports each year are inspected.
The consequences of failure are high. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cautioned in a Jan. 30 speech that "one slip, one gap, one vengeful person can threaten the lives of our citizens, at any time, in any number of ways."
What's ahead for the United States?
The United States truly faces a dangerous world with growing threats on many sides. Where will these trends lead?
Bible prophecies of the time of the end, the period leading up to the return of Jesus Christ and the establishing of God's Kingdom on earth, do mention specific geopolitical powers that will exist at that time. But, somewhat ominously, no power identifiable as the United States is among them at the very end.
However, two end-time geopolitical entities are specifically mentioned, and discussed regularly in the pages of The Good News.
The Bible calls their leaders "the king of the North" and "the king of the South" (Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
American King James Version×). Perhaps not surprisingly, the geographic areas of these two powers fall within two of the United States' most glaring sore spots—Europe and the Middle East.
What is destined to happen to the United States? How will these end-time events play out? Is the stage being set for this and many other prophecies to be fulfilled? You need to continue reading The Good News to understand the crucial events shaping our world and where they are heading.
Never has the need for biblical understanding been so great. And never has the need been so great to draw close to our Creator and to our Savior and coming King, Jesus Christ.
In Luke 21:31-36 Luke 21:31-36  So likewise you, when you see these things come to pass, know you that the kingdom of God is near at hand.
 Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares.
 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
 Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
American King James Version×(New International Version) He warns us: ". . . When you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near . . . Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." GN