Happy Days Aren't Here Again

The Bush-Clinton years were far from perfect, of course, with 9/11/2001 the testament to their failure to comprehend radical Islam. Two collapsed skyscrapers and two thrown-away wars later, as a nation we have yet to fully comprehend the lesson. That one glaring failure aside, we enjoyed very good times.

While it's impossible to dial back the clock to 1995, it should be possible to provide the same sort of global leadership at the same domestic cost. Adversaries change, conditions change, weapons systems change, nothing is static. But the methods available -- naval and air supremacy combined with an energetically friendly and proactive diplomacy -- needn't change for decades to come. Or perhaps longer.

But we've grown too decadent. Our Navy can't build a got-dam frigate for the new century but somehow finds the time to track our parking tickets. The Air Force is building gold-plated fighters it can't afford enough of, while refusing to even think about a cheap and effective replacement plane to serve in the ground-attack role. Our Army is the best-trained and most-experienced in the world, yet is about to get cut down to pre-WWII size.

Our State Department has become the place to send failed presidential contenders who don't have a clue what a grand strategy should be or how to formulate one. In the case of John Kerry, I'm not sure he comprehends why there's a necessity for formulating one. And I'm dead certain that's the case for our president, who seems to resent the world for not leaving him alone long enough to work out a really top-notch NCAA bracket.

We've squandered so much -- men, experience, material, wealth, institutional knowledge, our sense of exceptionalism -- that it is difficult to see how we will ever earn them back, absent some huge catastrophe.

We can certainly see the catastrophes coming. Iran is going nuclear, with Saudi Arabia and Turkey sure to follow suit. Even leaving aside the many unknown-unknowns if Israel should strike Iran, the thought of the Middle East tinderbox being full of crude nuclear devices should make any rational person blanch. In Eastern Europe, Vladimir Putin has taken what was arguably his in Crimea, but our petulantly impotent response has undoubtedly whetted his appetite for more. In the South China Sea, Beijing is gaining experience with its first "practice" aircraft carrier, while we allow our fleet to decline. In Syria, the world has learned that a tinpot like Bashar Assad can thumb his nose at the American president -- and our president's reaction was to become Assad's de facto guarantor, in exchange for the removal of chemical weapons which haven't been, and likely never will be removed.

Catastrophe is brewing here at home with our impossible welfare state, our permanent new underclass of the longterm unemployed, and our inability to produce even subpar economic growth without borrowing trillions from our future or printing up trillions more out of thin air. The middle class finds itself ZIRPed out of its savings and regulated into nothingness, while Wall Street parties on like it's forever 1999. The president, whose big-government and easy-money policies made it all possible, rails against all this inequality before confabbing with his one- -percenter pals over how to better sell his failing health insurance boondoggle to the lumpenproles.

It's enough to make you wonder if the world will ever again enjoy the tempered empire of a Pax America, or if instead we'll become the unhappy subjects of a less benevolent empire.