The situation is being driven by a number of Islamic movements. There are the Shiite visionaries, the spiritual descendants of Khomeini's revolution -- Iran, Hezbollah. Then, there are the Wahhabis, Saudi Arabia's homegrown intolerance police. More recently, Al Qaeda has taken center stage, a group mainly interested in hitting the West and overthrowing the Saudi monarchy. The PLO and Hamas are the old-timers, still intent on fighting Israel. These and other fanatical groups have been operating in and around the world for years, spreading terrorism and indoctrination.
They all are violent. They all are bigoted. They all have (up till now) hated each other as much as they have hated the West and regimes that cooperate with the West. But they are also all converging before our eyes into a pan-Islamic foe.
Critics will say that US intervention has created this unity, which did not before exist. But I think the unity was inevitable. After all, if you look at Germany between the Wars or Russia in the throes of its revolution, there were many little groups all trying to seize control of the State. In the end, they either amalgamated or were suppressed by the victorious party.
Our goal is not merely to keep ourselves safe, but to prevent these various little nasties from achieving their goal of controlling the Muslim world. They want to do this (some call it re-establishing the Califate) for two reasons: to "purify" Islam after their own weird design; and hurl it against the West.
Now, most Muslims probably don't want to be purified this way, nor do they particularly want a World War with the West. So we need to be constantly making a distinction between the terrorists and the rest of the Muslims out there. We need to reward cooperative, pacific Muslims and their societies, as well as punish the crazoids.
This is a generational conflict. It's not a war for a few years. We are going to be facing the Islamic world for a long time. Ultimately, if the Islamic world decides they don't WANT these nasties to define them, we win. If the nasties take over the Islamic world, then we have a world-wide conflagration, which we MIGHT win, but at a staggering cost.
That's what's at stake here. And we don't dare take our eye off the ball.