There was a general recognition among unhinged regimes—a Cuba, Saddam’s Iraq, a Libya, a North Korea, a Syria, Venezuela—that regional aspirations were, well, contained. Redlines were everywhere—Taiwan was sacrosanct; so was South Korea. Israel would not be destroyed. Europe would not face a Russian invasion. And so on. A Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Gaddafi, Arafat, etc. would be “corralled” and not allowed to destroy the Western-inspired global order.
Not now. Ever so insidiously in just a year, with the best intentions, the President, driven by narcissism, fueled by post-Enlightenment ignorance, is undermining old-fashioned deterrence. Chavez may have called Bush a “devil” and he may appreciate his handshakes with Obama, but an “incident” along the Colombian border is now more, not less likely.
Call him pathetic (he is), but Chavez has visions of a unified South America, communist, totalitarian, and with himself as titular head. He need not invade and occupy Colombia, only bully it, shoot a bit, humiliate it, anything to show his neighbors that he is a little crazy, mean, unpredictable, and worth kowtowing to. He thinks either that Obama will do nothing or cannot do anything, or perhaps contextualizes Chavez’s own socialist indigenous grievances against “them.”
Ditto that soon most everywhere. We bow to the Chinese and think, “Wow, our Harvard Law Review, three-pointer outside the key shooter, looks great as he breezily strides through the majestic hallways and handles his Q&A in full campaign mode.”
They in turn review his apology tours, dithering on Afghanistan, his bows, his trashing of Bush, his past demagoguery of the Iraq war and prior anti-terrorism protocols, his efforts to be liked, and always the soaring debt, and think “Wow, it’s soon time to make some regional readjustments and then remind old U.S. friends and allies, that we, unlike America, are terrible people to have as enemies, but rather loyal and devout friends.”
1979 On the Horizon
So I think we are going to see soon some regional flare-ups, minor in themselves, but terribly important as the world pauses to gauge the US reaction. Syria and Iran feel liberated and think they can act with impunity. Turkey is an emerging regional hegemon. I would not want to be a former Soviet republic—at least if I were consensually governed, pro-Western, and democratic.
If I were in Manila, I’d start learning Chinese; if in Tokyo, I’d think about massive rearmament. I would not wish to be in NATO if east of Berlin—“allies” in the West would (cf. 1939) stay theoretic and distant, enemies would be concrete and proximate.
The survival of Israel now depends on its pilots and missiles, not on any guarantees from the US. In today’s currency, what we guarantee is worth about as much as US treasury bills, or promises of missile defense for Eastern Europe. If I were an Israeli, I’d either pray for the skill and audacity of the nation’s Air Force pilots, or begin cultivating India, Russia, and China, or that and more.
The problem with all this pessimistic view of human nature is that our elite and anointed smirk at it. They seem to say, “Tsk, tsk, we are 21st century Ivy-Leaguers in the postmodern age. The world is no longer like it was in 1914. I explained all this in my latest piece in Foreign Affairs. Cell phones and the World Court are the order of the day, not Neanderthal notions of something called “appeasement””. But does anyone think human nature has changed since the Greeks due to improved diet, or that brain chemistry has altered with video games?
A Cautionary Tale
Obama inherited, he did not make the rules—whether he thinks he can hope-and-change them away or not.
He can read all the Paul Krugman’s essays all he wants that swear that deficits don’t matter that much, or the borrowing is too small, or that the mega-creditor always supposedly has leverage over the lender (reader: would you rather owe a million or be owed a million?), but that does not make a soon to be $20 trillion dollar debt go away.
Such fantasy does not mean interest rates won’t climb to 5-6% and more, and does not mean that we soon will not be paying a $1 trillion a year in interest to pay back what we owe.
The President can Van-Jones the energy question all he wants, in soaring tones bellowing out “solar, wind, and millions of new green jobs!” But that does not mean that, when the global recovery begins, oil won’t go back to $100 plus a barrel. Indeed, our import tab will grow by leaps and bounds in direct proportion to the new gas and oil we find that remains off limits here at home.
And, yes, again, we can give 100 Cairo speeches, back flip even, apologize to the world for being mean to blacks, Indians, Hispanics, Europeans, Japanese, women, birds, plants, butterflies, whatever. And still an Ahmadinejad, a Chavez or a Putin will not be impressed.
With Bush’s first-term swagger, he may have made things unpopular for America among the masses. But his enemies knew that he would do what it takes to protect the US. His friends abroad assumed that the more they hated him publicly, the more privately they counted on his support in extremis.
Now? The more the masses hail Obama, the more overseas elites in private shudder that they are on their own.
And, of course, they are.