Belmont Club


Walter Russell Mead wonders if we are living in the shadow of another great war. In his piece “Have We Gone From a Post-War to a Pre-War World?” he concludes our comforting margins of peace are evaporating at an alarming rate. Could we run out?

Only a few years ago, most western observers believed that the age of geopolitical rivalry and great power war was over. Today, with Russian forces in Ukraine, religious wars exploding across the Middle East, and territorial disputes leading to one crisis after another in the East and South China seas, the outlook is darker. Serious people now ask whether we have moved from a post-war into a pre-war world. Could some incident somewhere in the world spark another global war?

But Andrew Klavan is convinced of one thing: if some great conflict breaks out, it won’t result from some dark plot hatched in Washington.  They’re too incompetent to author tragedy, though they can manage farce.

Many people on the right think Obama is an Evil Leftist Genius. Not me. I think he is a hapless putz. I think his ideas are all wrong, his application of his ideas is incompetent, and the chaos that he causes with his wrongness and incompetence will not lead in the direction he thinks it will.

I think when the history of the 21st century is written, Obama will not merit more than a single line. Even the fact that he was the first black president may come to seem irrelevant in a couple of decades. In which case, he will not merit any line at all.

If the tragedy of 1914-1918 is remembered as the Great War, the name for any next conflict will the Whoops War. People often — perhaps mostly — get themselves into trouble by thoughtless accident. Gavrilo Princip himself probably never intended to start World War 1. Put someone clueless in the White House and you could get something interesting.

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Both John McCain and a Hawaii Democrat, Rep Colleen Hanabusa believe the president has no plan for dealing with the crisis in Iraq or ISIS. Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar characterized Obama’s response to the flood of illegal immigrants at the border as ‘aloof’, ‘bizarre’ and ‘detached’. “It just floored me, because if he’s saying he’s too busy to go to the border but you have time to drink beer, play pool.” Then it would be business as usual for Barack Obama. Being responsible for something doesn’t necessarily mean being in control of it.  The old story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a cautionary tale for those convinced of their own thoughtless greatness.

an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform. Tired of fetching water by pail, the apprentice enchants a broom to do the work for him – using magic in which he is not yet fully trained. The floor is soon awash with water, and the apprentice realizes that he cannot stop the broom because he does not know how.

The apprentice splits the broom in two with an axe, but each of the pieces becomes a whole new broom and takes up a pail and continues fetching water, now at twice the speed. When all seems lost, the old sorcerer returns, quickly breaks the spell and saves the day. The poem finishes with the old sorcerer’s statement that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.

This metaphor explains the president’s difficulties concisely. Habituated to demanding things — or starting things — in his previous life as a campaigner, activist and ‘community organizer’, he has no clue about how to deliver. Someone else always did the delivering.  Obama had no experience finishing things; of staying on top of a developing situation and bending it to timelines. He was always conjuring stuff and leaving others to clean up after him.  He’s on a joyride through history, thinking he’s going somewhere but really running in circles on a speed thrill.

For example, MSNBC recently reported that many Central Americans were converging on the border in the mistaken belief that Obama had invited them in.

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Does he even remember that invitation? Maybe it was just a throw-away line in a speech. And anyway Dude, that speech was a long time ago. As with his ill-fated Red Line speech with Syria the president has an unfortunate tendency to provoke unintended consequences. And so he starts one ball rolling after another; ignites one fire after lighting the last heedless of the results until his whole workshop is alive with whizzing balls and sparking flames.  The result is an accident waiting to happen. For example tensions are rising with China. Simon Denyer of the Washington Post reports:

“U.S.-China relations are worse than they have been since the normalization of relations, and East Asia today is less stable than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” said Robert Ross, a political science professor at Boston College and associate of Harvard’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.

The Obama administration’s foreign policy rebalance, or “pivot,” to Asia has been widely interpreted in China as an attempt to contain its rise.

But he didn’t intend it that way. One can understand why the president feels betrayed by the world. After all, Obama will claim — perhaps in perfect candor — that he never intended to raise tensions with China, pick a fight with Russia or set the Middle East ablaze. That he managed to achieve the exact opposite of his stated intent must appear to him perverse; explicable only as some malevolent plot hatched by Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

The rest of the world, busy dodging his whizzing balls and roaring conflagrations, can only congratulate themselves on surviving another day by asking that rhetorical question in the Air Force Song: “how we lived, God only knew”.  Perhaps there is some truth in the saying misattributed to Otto von Bismarck: “there was a special providence for drunkards, fools, and the United States of America.”

If there is a special providence, we are close to using it up. At some point someone has to gently steer the hot-rod away from the cliff. Professor Mead thinks that though we live in disturbing times, there is so much that is different from 1914 that we cannot draw any exact parallels with events a hundred years ago.

History, perhaps unfortunately, can’t give us a clear answer to the question of whether we face anything like another Great War. Looking into the rear view mirror can only tell you so much about the conditions ahead. Our situation today is different enough from that of a century ago to make renewed great power war much less than a certainty, but there are enough troubling similarities that we can’t rule the prospect out.

The one thing we can say with certainty about the 21st century is this: peaceful or war-torn, it isn’t going to be boring.

The future is blank. Men have met it with a kind of stoic faith, having considered that they really had no choice. Shakespeare captured the attitude best:

Forever and forever farewell, Brutus.
If we do meet again, we’ll smile indeed.
If not, ’tis true this parting was well made.

Why then, lead on. Oh, that a man might know
The end of this day’s business ere it come!
But it sufficeth that the day will end,
And then the end is known.—Come, ho! Away!


EatSmart Precision Digital Bathroom Scale
July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914
The First South Pacific Campaign: Pacific Fleet Strategy December 1941–June 1942
Timex Unisex T2P1429J “Weekender” Watch
America: Imagine a World without Her
Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas
A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War
The Templars

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