Urbin Report

Sunday, September 07, 2003

World War Four

What are these quiet Americans doing in the capital of Mauritania, a nation that has never made the front pages and sits a continent and a half removed from the immediate interests of the United States? And what are their colleagues in a dozen other far-flung regions doing, handing out money and guns and hard-won secrets to governments and warlords and military men in the southern islands of the Philippines, on the steppes of Uzbekistan, in the dense jungle between Venezuela and Brazil?

The guys in the sunglasses have a name for this not-so-secret campaign. They call it World War Four, an unofficial title that is now used routinely by top officials and ground-level operatives in the U.S. military and the CIA. It is a global war, one of the most expensive and complex in world history. And it will mark its second anniversary this week, on Sept. 11.

The White House would rather it be known as the war on terrorism. But in its strategies, political risk and secrecy, it is more like the Cold War, which the CIA types like to consider World War Three. Its central battles, in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been traditional conflicts. But while the public's attention was focused on those big, controversial and expensive campaigns, the United States was busy launching a broader war whose battlefields have spread quietly to two dozen countries