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Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.

Wake up, America – we’re at war! And we’re not talking about a limited, one-time shootout confined to Afghanistan and Iraq, where we’ll hopefully wear down the guerrilla enemy and our troops will come marching home.

We’re engaged in a global war, a long-term conflict against a stateless Islamic movement that’s been scoring hits against the USA in the name of Allah since the 1983 truck-bomb murder of 241 of our Marines and sailors in Beirut, Lebanon. The alarm sounded decades ago – not on 9-11, as so many uninformed Americans hold. We just slept through it, as well as through subsequent assaults – Beirut to Pan Am 103 to World Trade Center I to the USS Cole – that have become increasingly violent and more frequent through the years.

This is already America’s longest war, and certainly the Judeo-Christian world’s most crucial conflict since World War II – when Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini also were determined to erase every value, every concept, every belief we hold dear. And there’s no doubt in my military mind that America and our allies will still be fighting this ruthless, relentless, radical terrorist enemy on the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I, the 20th-century conflict that was supposed to end all wars.

That’s because international Islamic religious fanatics have the same goal as the Axis fascists – the destruction of our way of life. Their plan is to return the entire world – not just the Middle East – to the days of the caliphate and either convert all of us so-called infidels into born-again Islamic believers or kill us.

Our fumbling government’s response since Beirut – during both Republican and Democratic administrations – has been to cut and run, or to flat ignore this growing threat, apparently hoping it would go away. Or, occasionally, our leaders would retaliate against a terrorist attack with a few missiles or an airstrike accompanied by the standard barrage of toothless threats.

Meanwhile, the international terrorist movement has only been getting stronger, acquiring catastrophic weapons and developing bolder tactics while its dedicated operators have become more cunning and more organized, expanding and setting up in virtually every nation in the world.

True, Bush & Company responded smartly to 9-11 by jump-starting the Department of Homeland Security, thundering into Afghanistan, blowing the Taliban out of business and sending al-Qaida scurrying to the hills. But then came the invasion of Iraq – our country’s biggest military miscalculation to date – where we virtually ignored the main military objective of destroying al-Qaida, as well as the important socioeconomic opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan into the same sort of shining example for the Muslim world that West Germany once was for the Soviet-bloc states.

Fortunately, it’s still not too late to develop a comprehensive global strategy to eliminate our real enemy. This new direction might not be great for the warmongers, neoconservatives and war profiteers, but it would go a long way toward giving all of our grandkids a future the way our World War II victory gave one to my generation and my kids.

Of course, it’s imperative that we stabilize Iraq and quickly reduce our armed role there. But we simultaneously need to reorganize our military forces to fight the war at hand, shed both the Cold War thinking and the structure of our active, Reserve and National Guard components – and understand who our primary enemy is and the true nature of the war in which we’re engaged.

“Never underestimate the enemy,” writes former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke in his brilliant book “Against All Enemies.” “Our current enemy is in for the long haul. They are smart and patient. Defeating them will take creativity and imagination, as well as energy. It will be the struggle of the friends of freedom and civil liberties around the world.”

We citizens must drop the denial, apathy and foggy thinking that’s gotten us into this mess, take charge of our government – which has irresponsibly ignored this threat to our national security for 21 years – and finally answer the wake-up call.

And we’d better get cracking immediately – before the next 9-11 blisters in and takes an even bloodier toll.

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