Strategic Blindness
The West has stumbled into its only successes lately.

(Getty Images)


Conrad Black

It is not clear that anyone in a position of authority in any important country has been doing any strategic thinking since the end of the Cold War. Yet despite this, the West has had some strategic bonanzas. The Chinese, still widely toasted as the coming force in the world, were shown the door in Burma and have met sharp resistance from Vietnam and in the adjacent seas, from the Filipinos and Japanese. By miraculous luck, and despite the bipartisan bungling of almost every involved person in the U.S. government, we have dodged the bullet in Egypt, as the Muslim Brotherhood, the nightmare of the Arab world for 70 years, exploited the George W. Bush–Obama aversion to (some) dictators and won Egypt’s first free election, squandered their window of opportunity, forfeited popular approval, and were evicted by a regime more heavy-handed than that which the U.S. helped to force from office. As India opted for Thatcherism with Narendra Modi, Egypt for secular military rule, and Ukraine for its wealthiest industrialist as president, Europe, and especially Britain, almost vaporized the Euro-myth, all in elections last week.

Since the great triumphs of World War II and the Cold War, the United States has gone from George H. W. Bush’s New World Order to President Clinton’s “New Democrats,” to George W.’s crusade for democracy, to President Obama’s pell-mell American withdrawal from almost everywhere. President Clinton reaped the harvest of Reaganomics and the victory in the Cold War and delivered peace and prosperity, and rather smoothly handled the expansion of NATO into the former Eastern Bloc, behind the benignly obfuscatory smokescreen of the “Partnership for Peace.” Unfortunately, it was with him that the terrible current-account deficits and official promotion of the housing bubble began. There was no need or excuse to invade Iraq twice in twelve years, nor any justification for trying to reconstruct the country entirely as a democracy, as if Iraq, which was arbitrarily created by the British and French from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, were as homogeneous and susceptible to responsible self-government as the State of Connecticut. Next to failure to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail to South Vietnam and to detect the infiltration of North Korea by 130,000 Communist Chinese guerrillas in 1950, the greatest military blunder in U.S. history since the Civil War was dismissing the entire government of Iraq, down to schoolteachers and street cleaners, and especially the 400,000 military and police, and allowing them to keep their weapons and munitions. The resulting bloodbath was far greater than it need have been, and killed and wounded many thousands of Americans and allied personnel.

The second President Bush was very effective in his response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He also put relations with India on a strong footing. But his somewhat sophomoric enthusiasm for the implantation of democracy even when there was little aptitude for it backfired in Lebanon, Gaza, and Egypt, while billions were poured into Pakistan, much of which was passed on to the Taliban that was busily killing American and allied forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s effort to pretend to be implacable realists helped stifle the opposition in Iran and reinforce the nuclear-ambitious theocracy. 

The truncated state of Russia never accepted the legitimacy of the secession of the European republics — Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine. (It appears to be more quiescent about the departure of the five Asian Muslim republics.) Even after the Kremlin intervened in Georgia to create two “autonomous zones” to do Russia’s bidding within that country, no policy-relevant person seemed to give a moment’s thought to what to do with Ukraine, where 30 percent of the population was ethnically Russian, or the Baltic countries, which had been brought altogether into NATO and where approximately an equal percentage were ethnic Russians and could be assumed to be infested with loyalty risks. The West paid practically no attention as a struggle took place between pro-European and pro-Russian groups for control of the Ukrainian government and of that country of 46 million people’s alignment. The issue of the advance of the Western world, which is the key to the contest, and will lead to the greater question of the 300-year tug-of-war for the heart and mind of Russia between the nativists and Western emulators in that country, seemed to attract no attention at all, though its geopolitical importance vastly exceeds any armed conflict that has occurred in the world since World War II and involves the bulk of the Eurasian landmass connecting Western Europe to Japan, China, and India.