Belmont Club

Surprise Me

I've seen the future and don't know what it is.

The world is in flux, but where does it go now?  The extent of the perceived crisis was exemplified by former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt‘s op-ed in the Washington Post.  He wrote that the rise in “dark forces” represented by Nigel Farage and Donald Trump meant the end of the West as we know it because it threatened American support for the European project which was the cornerstone of the post-WW2 edifice.

We should not forget that this has been profoundly in the interest of the United States as well. Twice in the past century it was dragged into wars as Europe plunged into acrimony and conflict. A peaceful, free and prosperous Europe has been a key strategic U.S. interest.

There has been a recognition that this aim is best furthered by the process of European integration centered on the European Union. A Europe that starts fracturing will be a less stable and, in the longer perspective, also a more dangerous Europe.

When Trump receives the jubilant British anti-Europe campaigner Nigel Farage before seeing other foreign politicians, he is sending the worst possible signal to Europe. By design or by default, he transmits a signal of support to those dark forces in various countries trying to undo what generations of U.S. and European statesmen have worked to achieve.

But in Henry Kissinger’s view, American popular support for Bildt’s vision of the West died a long time ago. When Jeffrey Goldberg asked Kissinger in an Atlantic interview what a Trump victory signified for American foreign policy, he replied that it would provide a chance to bury long dead corpses and chart a new course. “It could enable us to establish coherence between our foreign policy and our domestic situation. There is obviously a gap between the public’s perception of the role of U.S. foreign policy and the elite’s perception. I think the new president has an opportunity to reconcile the two.”

I think most of the world’s foreign policy has been in suspense for six to nine months, waiting for the outcome of our election. They have just watched us undergo a domestic revolution. … The Trump phenomenon is in large part a reaction of Middle America to attacks on its values by intellectual and academic communities. There are other reasons, but this is a significant one.

What Bildt perceived as American support for the European project was in reality a far narrower “elite” support. The split that Bildt decries comes not from a geographical division between America and Europe so much as a gap between the elites and — for want of a better word — the “populists” that afflicts them both.  Kissinger notes the world was already “in chaos” before Trump caused largely by what Jeffrey Goldberg paraphrased as Obama’s effort “to protect the world from America.”  That policy failed.

In my opinion, Obama seems to think of himself not as a part of a political process, but as sui generis, a unique phenomenon with a unique capacity. And his responsibility, as he defines it, is to keep the insensitive elements of America from unsettling the world. … The world is in chaos.

Now there is no choice but to go back to the drawing board.  The world is caught on the hop between eras, in transition between the post-WW2 period and one yet to emerge.  How does the president reconcile “the public’s perception of the role of U.S. foreign policy and the elite’s perception”?  By trial and error apparently.  In Leo Linbeck’s analysis of populist revolutions given at the Stanford Investor Forum, it may take “a couple of decades at least” to reach a new consensus. “We are in the early innings.”

Creating a new consensus will not be a smooth linear process but one that is characterized by subsidiary conflicts and gradually emerging perceptions. Linbeck’s presentation suggests that the underlying factors of the “populist” revolution such as changes in growth and scale, the centralization of political power, the concentration of wealth, electoral accountability, family breakdown and immigration are still playing themselves out.  They are still in flux.  The worst — or the best — is still to come.  “The Old Rules were becoming anachronisms,” he writes.  New ones will emerge as underlying causes force everyone to adopt, but what these are is still unclear.

Even Europe may be forced to change.  Carl Bildt may be right about it being the end of the West as we know it.  As we knew it.  But that is not necessarily a bad thing. As Shadi Hamid put it in Foreign Policy, it is only “the end of the End of History” and he does not know whether or not to feel afraid. “We are now condemned to live in exciting times. ”

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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
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No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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