George W. Bush's public-relations advisers would probably blanch at the comparison, but the president might want to think about the highly successful experience of Genghis Khan in dealing with Islamic extremists.
The Supreme Khan, remembered more for ruthlessness in warfare than skill in governing, dealt with efforts to topple his 13th-century empire from Muslim extremists harshly, but successfully. Genghis, however, didn't have to worry about the United Nations, a free press or notions of democracy within his people. Nor did he have to worry about keeping a coalition together. The Mongol nobility gathered in a pavilion tent that held a thousand people, in his capital of Khara Khorum in Inner Mongolia, listened to his plans for war, and voted to contribute men, horses and money.
Genghis Khan, who ruled from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean during his time, was a great leader, and although he consulted with the nobility, he usually got what he wanted. Bush -- despite protestations from domestic and overseas critics that he is acting unilaterally -- doesn't have the power to just snap his fingers and make something happen. Many of the world's leaders, including Mr. Putin of Russia, might want to study the Mongolian leader's model, since the Mongol Khans had such a long and intimate relationship with Russian history as well as Chinese and Central Asian history.
Like America in the 21st century, Genghis Khan was the superpower of his era. While the Crusades were going on in the Middle East and Europe was still a backwater, Genghis Khan, known as The Conqueror, ruled China, Persia, Russia, the Muslim lands of Central Asia and the Middle East.
In fact, he almost conquered Europe. His cavalry was the greatest fighting force in the world. He built roads that connected one end of his empire to the other. He had a pony express-type messenger service that kept him abreast of events at the far ends of his empire. He established a code of laws throughout his empire. He protected trade and insisted on religious toleration. The peace his army imposed lasted for a century.
After his conquest of China, Genghis Khan received a plea from the Caliph of Baghdad, the pope of the Muslim world. It seemed that a heretic sect called the Order of the Assassins, recruited by the Old Man of the Mountain, the Osama bin Laden of his day, was committing political murders all over the Muslim world.
Headquartered in present-day Syria, the leader of the Assassins recruited youths in the bazaars and alleyways, fed them hashish and tutored them in a radical form of Islam. They were promised virgins and an immediate entry to Paradise if they killed in the name of Allah.
Genghis Khan had no intention of riding West to make war in the Muslim world. China was always the main object of Mongol arms. He was the most powerful sovereign in Asia, he was rich beyond belief and he was enjoying life after conquering China. He was not a hater of Islam.
From the time he was a boy, the Supreme Khan respected the Muslim capitalists. The caravan traders knew the currencies, languages and goods of many countries. They had been plying the caravan routes between China and Europe for 400 years, ever since the Arab conquest of Central Asia, the land called Turkestan, in the ninth and 10th centuries.
Genghis Khan even looked out for his Muslim subjects. An old enemy of The Conqueror closed the mosques and bazaars along the Silk Road in eastern Turkestan -- presently China's Far West -- and persecuted Muslims.
The Supreme Khan did not want to give the Muslim Shah of Central Asia an excuse to come into his domains to protect Muslims, so he sent his able Gen. Jebe, known as "The Arrow" because of his superb marksmanship, to enforce the peace. Khan's old enemy was removed, his head paraded on a stick in the oasis towns along the Silk Road and Muslims in those regions welcomed the Mongol army as their liberators.
Like President Bush, Genghis Khan saw other leaders as either friends or enemies. When Shah Mohammed, who ruled what is now Uzbekistan, murdered a Mongol ambassador sent to initiate trade relations, Genghis grew infuriated and changed his friendly demeanor. Eager for profits, Genghis had fervently wished to establish trade relations with the Shah, whose capital was in the fabled garden city of Samarkand. He sent a trade embassy of 500 camels and, as a special courtesy to the Shah, ordered that the ambassador and all the members of the embassy were Muslims.
When the embassy reached the outskirts of the Shah's territory, the governor of Utrar, an outlying city, under orders from the Shah, murdered the ambassador and stole the valuable goods, including a lump of gold the size of a camel's hump. A camel-puller was the only survivor of the massacre. He made his way back to the Supreme Khan's headquarters and told the tale.
The Supreme Khan tried diplomacy
Genghis Khan has had the worst press of any leader in world history because his conquests were always recorded in the languages of his enemies. The Mongols did not have writing at the time of the conquests. True, he was a ruthless warrior, the man who left heaps of skulls at city gates, who did not flinch at using citizens of enemy nations as human shields.
Modern people do not think of Genghis Khan as a diplomat, but he was. He considered the person of an ambassador sacrosanct. Not believing the Shah, as ruler, would have been so foolish as to order the massacre of a Mongol embassy, Khan sent word to the Shah to "execute the governor, or extradite him to me and let me execute him."
The Shah refused. He had ordered the murder personally. He even tried to turn the follow-up envoy into a spy and offered him a bribe. The man remained true to Genghis Khan.
Khan didn't take noncompliance lightly, considered it an act of war, and after two years of planning -- he never left any detail of a campaign to chance -- took his army over the high mountain passes that separate China from Turkestan. He waged a brilliant desert campaign that decimated the Shah.
During the conquest of the Muslim lands, his army rode to the gates of a walled city and delivered Orders of Submission. The message basically was: Submit and be spared. Resist and be plunged into humiliation.
He wanted to avoid waging war if he could. The Persian historians whined about Genghis Khan laying waste to fertile lands, turning a city of gardens into a desert from which some of these lands have never recovered, and this he did, to punish resisters. He ordered his army to take bags of ears and lay them at the gates of the cities along his army's path. It sent, in the manner of the Mafia sending a dead fish, a very precise message.
He ordered his men to assemble the elders of Samarkand into the mosque and rode his horse into it: He demanded tribute of them and told them he was the Scourge of God, come to punish them for their sins. When the mullahs came to him to explain their belief system to him, that the righteous faced Mecca and prayed five times a day, Genghis Khan, a proud nomad and a shamanist, told them this was ridiculous.
Pax Mongolica lasted a century
Genghis Khan laid waste to Central Asia as part of his canon of war, the standard for medieval warfare. He never left an enemy population behind the advancing front line of his army. The Persian historians were wrong. He did not persecute Islam. As long as the Muslims paid their taxes to the garrison of the Mongol army, Genghis Khan preserved the peace.
The Pax Mongolica lasted for about 100 years, the longest period of international relations between China and Europe for 1,000 years.
He destroyed the Muslim monopoly of trade and intercourse that had existed in the Middle East and Central Asia since the Arab conquests of the ninth and tenth centuries.
The great fortunes of the merchant princes -- which financed the Renaissance in Italy -- were made in the overland trade between China and Europe.
The Mongol army garrisoned the Muslim lands, a census was taken and taxes were paid. Local magistrates kept their jobs and used their own system of governance and peace reigned until the time of Genghis Khan's grandson and successor, the Emperor Mongke, who ruled 30 years after the conquest of the Muslim lands.
This grandson became emperor because Batu, the Khan of the Golden Horde in Russia and the senior prince of Genghis Khan's line, did not want a Muslim ruler on his southern border. Things had not been going well in the Muslim world for some time, and the Muslims had designs on all of Eurasia. They had held a monopoly of trade between China and Europe from antiquity to medieval times, and they wanted to get it back. Batu Khan ruled the Russian princely states from the steppes. He was growing rich from the overland trade that went through the Caucasus and the Black Sea on its way to what is Istanbul today. He wanted a Mongol prince on his southern border to safeguard his interests. That prince was to be Hulegu, younger brother of the new ruler of the Mongol world, Mongke Khan. (Hulegu was also the younger brother of the noted ruler Khubilai Khan, famous from Marco Polo's tales.)
The Old Man of the Mountain, the terror master of the day, sent 400 Assassins to kill Mongke Khan at his coronation. This was revenge for the devastation caused by Genghis Khan's armies 30 years earlier. Mongke ordered Prince Hulegu to destroy the Order of Assassins. "Whoever resists you," Mongke ordered, "plunge him into humiliation."
The Assassians slit their own throats rather than be captured short of success.
He then began to conscript troops and make plans for war. The Muslims, fearing the Mongol army was riding against them, sent ambassadors to the courts of England and France, asking for an alliance of the People of the Book against the infidel. In both cases, they were refused. "Let these heathen dogs devour one another," said the Bishop of Winchester to King Henry II. Hulegu destroyed the Old Man of the Mountain and put the Assassins to the sword. Many orthodox Sunni clerics and statesmen thanked the Mongol army for performing this service. The Mongol army had rid the Muslim world of a menace. Hulegu then went on to lay siege to Baghdad. He killed the last Abbasid caliph for refusing to send his viziers to answer the Orders of Submission. The caliphate, by this time, had been on the decline for a century. Mongol rule was young and vigorous by comparison. Hulegu and his successors then ruled present-day Iraq and the rest of the so-called Persian Khanate, which included Iran and Central Asia, later converting to Islam.
The Pax Mongolia brought 100 years of peace and opened the roads between China and Europe for the first time since the Arab conquests of the ninth and 10th centuries. The fortunes that built the Renaissance were built in the overland trade.When the Mongol Empire fell, the Muslims took over again, and thus began the European Age of Exploration, looking for a sea route to Asia in place of the overland route, the Silk Road. Thus, indirectly, the end of the Mongol Empire brought about the Age of Exploration.
History is a wise teacher
While bin Laden may seem like a 21st-century man employing the latest technological advances, he is grafting his mission onto a longing for the restoration of the caliphate, the international Islamic state that the armies of Genghis Khan destroyed.
A little history helps to clarify the fuzzy details of bin Laden's back-to-the-future mentality. He is selling to the impoverished Arab masses the restoration of an idealized state that never was. The last Abbasid caliph, a spiritual ruler, was deeply flawed, corrupt and fatally involved in the political intrigues of his time.
The problem, in Genghis Khan's time as in ours, was not Islam but theocracy, the failure to create and maintain institutions for the expression of popular political will.
The problem, then as now, in the words of the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, is in the use of assassination, religiously sanctioned, for the purpose of gaining political change. Islam has had and will continue to have a rocky road to modernization. It has not yet been through the Enlightenment or the Reformation as the other two great monotheistic religions have. It has yet to come to organize itself into a private religious sphere and a public political sphere. It believes, as Rashid points out, in the use of Quranic authority to justify political violence to cleanse and purify the state. It will be left to America, as it was to Genghis Khan, to assert the international order.
Confronted with hooligans and rogue dictators, instead of hand-wringing, America ought to go about its business with the clarity and sense of purpose of Genghis Khan.
Diane Wolff is a widely published journalist and the author of the forthcoming biographical novel Genghis Khan.