I thought Newt Gingrich did a very good job making the case that we're at the dawn of World War Three on Meet the Press today. My only caveat is that I think those who argue this is World War Four (Norman Podhoretz, James Woolsey et al) have a better argument. According to this view, the Cold War was WWIII. I like this formulation because A) it recognizes what a monumental effort the Cold War really was and B) it provides for more creative thinking about the predicament we're in now.
When you say "World War Three" the average person conjures the image of World War II. But the Cold War is the more relevant episode. The Cold War certainly involved bloodshed (Korea, Vietnam, etc) but it also involved aggressive efforts across a wide variety of fronts including public diplomacy, intelligence, propaganda (the good kind) etc. We understood that we were in a battle of ideas and values as much as a battle of blood and territory. Indeed, the stakes during the Cold War were arguably higher than those of the second World War because nuclear annihilation was in the cards. That, it seems to me, is a better prism through which we should see the current predicament . . .Meanwhile, the advantage of calling all this World War Three is that it's easier to understand and takes less explanation. Most people don't think of the Cold War as a war so much as an effort to avoid one. But I think it's worth educating the public on why this wasn't the case.
You can tell this is even more fun than a game of Risk for this crowd! Contra Goldberg, I think the image that the term conjures up in most people if you mention World War III is of a catastrophic nuclear exchange.
I can't see how it is useful to label the current conflict a world war other than to inflate the ego of the labeler. In fact, it might promote muddled thinking that leads to fighting the wrong kind of war. In addition, I was under the impression that invading Iraq would avoid a larger war, as Thomas Sowell claimed in 2003.
UPDATE: Derb Dissents.