Will the Cops or the Mob Provide Protection?
But it is in the Pacific where we may well see the most dramatic changes of American withdrawal. Insidiously, the Chinese are translating their formidable financial power into a new muscular military profile. North Korea is as crazy as ever. The proverbially terrorized shop-keeper in the region thus does not know where to turn—to the mostly absent cop on the beat dreaming of his union pension, or the young thugs who demand protection money or else.
The result is that Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines have one eye on China, and one on Washington—and therefore are increasingly terrified. One of three things will happen: our shaky allies will demand a higher U.S. profile in the region, and new assurances of safety under the U.S. nuclear umbrella (all quite unlikely); or they will go nuclear and, unlike North Korea, their missiles will work like Camrys and Kias; or they will make face-saving accommodations with the Chinese that will result in a new version of the old Co-Prosperity Sphere (China 2011 reminds me a lot of Japan 1935).
Right now, I could not imagine that anyone in Taiwan would believe the Obama administration would say or do anything should Chinese ships tomorrow show up a mile off the Taiwanese coast—but could envision the most eloquent speech why Taiwan must inevitably rejoin communist China. Indeed, Obama would call on both sides for restraint, while chewing out the Taiwanese for provoking the Chinese, while working out a “balanced” deal that ceded Taiwanese waters to China—until the next incident.
In short, we will be back soon to about 1937. The old rules are disappearing. All that we await for is some audacious trouble-maker to make perfectly clear that there are no such rules, demonstrated by some flagrant violation of the international order—in 1979 fashion of taking an embassy, crossing a border, or overthrowing a government. We would then know the protocols to come: a U.S. warning of "grave concern"; a meeting at the UN or some regional council; various “deadlines” (as we saw with the five given Iran); a private tongue lashing of the victim for provoking the aggressors and putting the U.S. in an uncomfortable position; a much heralded “international” solution that concedes to the instigator what he wishes; some sort of post-Nobel Prize award to Obama for his sobriety and statesmanship. What is new this time is that the majority of the population (50% of whom pay no income tax and either receive all or a large part of their income from government) will greet retreat with relief, in the sense of more food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid funds released by mothballing ships and planes. (Does my future federally-subsidized hip and knee replacement have to be sacrificed on the altar of frigates patrolling in the Sea of Japan?)
There will be no new world order, much less an end of history, pan-global democratic capitalism. Instead, regional hegemonies will fill the void and do as they please. For the Black Sea and Eastern Europe, a 19th-century-like Russia will set the rules. China will have sway over Asia up to the Indian border. A new Ottoman Empire will pressure both Greece and Cyprus, and give power and credibility to the Islamic anti-Israeli nexus. A chaotic Arab Islamic world will be united in its hatred for Israel. In the same fashion that the public is turned off by the now near daily teleprompted sermons from their "let me be perfectly clear" and "make no mistake about it" and "let’s be honest here" Obama, so too the world will tire of a Reverend Obama whose sermons increase in direct proportion to his threats of “consequences” and “ramifications.” At first, we Americans will appreciate the cost-savings and end to the hassles; soon, we will learn what we learned last time in 1941.
I understand why Obama, like most all who are products of the university and government, believes reason and dialogue should trump deterrence. I wish that he were correct, and the humane rules of the Harvard Law School lounge were those of the international community. It would certainly be cheaper and safer if logos rather than pride, fear, and perceived self-interest adjudicated relationships between powers. Eloquence should outweigh muscularity; and listening at times is as critical as acting. But the problem is that the world beyond our shores is largely non-democratic, poor, tribal, zealous, and angry, and wants the sort of power, affluence, and influence that we long ago took for granted as our birthright—and it looks for ways of fulfilling its agendas, often at the expense of weaker others.
The world by 2016 will be a very dangerous place, as Americans see every dollar "wasted" on national security as a dollar "stolen" from their own god-given federal entitlements.