The Center Cannot Hold: Warning From an Old Reagan Hand

My mentor in world politics is Dr. Norman A. Bailey, who served as Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security during his first administration. When I first met Norman in 1981, he told me that America’s economic recovery and arms buildup would cause Russian Communism to implode by 1987. He was two years off. At the time I thought him a dangerous lunatic, and signed up immediately; I did a variety of jobs for Norman, and joined his consulting firm after he left government service. Along with Bill Casey, George Shultz, Alexander Haig, William Clark, Richard Pipes, Michael Ledeen and a few others, Norman was part of the tiny band that set out to win the Cold War and did.

I am frightened about about the state of the world; more than 1979, in the miserable denouement of the Carter administration, everything seems to be going wrong at once. I asked Norman for his current views, and he responded with the missive below. It is something to ponder.

Entropy is the natural tendency of all things to “dis-integrate” unless held together by a counter-force.  In international relations that counter-force is usually a hegemonic power, starting with the Pax Romana and continuing with Byzantium, the Caliphate, Venice, Spain, Great Britain and the United States.

During each interregnum in this process the forces of entropy gain strength and a greater or lesser degree of anarchy grips the world community, both domestically and internationally.

We are currently in such an interregnum.  It is sufficient to mention a United States, in 2000 all-powerful, now with its future mortgaged for many generations to come; a literally disintegrating Europe; Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Sudan, and the list goes on.

The weakening hegemonic power has put the world on notice that it is going to concentrate on Asia, and the rest of the world be damned.

Leadership is a void among powers great and small.  The European crisis could be resolved by issuing bonds replacing the bonds of the insolvent (NOT illiquid) countries with replacement issues, reducing face value or reducing interest and lengthening maturity, like the Brady bonds that resolved the less-developed-countries’ debt crisis of the eighties.  The end of the euro could be managed intelligently and gradually, declaring that for legal purposes all private contracts denominated in euros will be deemed to be denominated in dollars at the rate of exchange of the date of signing.

The Iranian government could be put on notice that unless nuclear weapon preparations are halted AND DISMANTLED the economic infrastructure of the country will be destroyed.  Hopeless cases such as Afghanistan would be isolated, regimes such as Zimbabwe would be ostracized, but challenges to the national interest of the great powers, emerging and declining, would be dealt with by non-military means and only in the case of a threat to national security would military action be contemplated, thus avoiding future Iraqs.

But rational leadership is missing almost everywhere; confusion, doubt and delay hold sway while the forces of entropy gather strength and scope.  The lack of an obvious new hegemonic power retards resolution of any of the manifold challenges.

For a small country like Israel, the lesson is clear while the current interregnum persists; resolutely and persistently pursue national interests and defend national security by exploiting the many openings and opportunities offered by the entropic developments.  Outdated concepts and policies must be abandoned and new policies adoipted and pursued.

Above all, know what is going on and instead of hand-wringing, grasp the moment and make the most of it.