There is currently a real Asian pivot as the president completes one of the longest presidential tours of Asia in memory. Three carrier battle groups are in the West Pacific.
America at home is in one of its periodic frenzies — did Ben Affleck grab the behinds of actresses, and is Kevin Spacey a pedophile or a pederast, or both? — as it snores through existential crises such as $20 trillion in debt, or the sale to the Russians of 20 percent of its quite limited domestic uranium reserves.
They are certainly relieved that Fallujah is no longer in the news much. It is a relief that no one catches any more Al Jazeera clips of ISIS cowards burning, drowning, decapitating, blowing up, and hanging women and children. More likely, ISIS jihadists are bedraggled, soiled, and drifting about asking for clemency from their betters.
There is no more official American talking head assuring us that the jihad is a personal journey, that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular, that the red line took care of all of Assad’s WMD, that terrorism is mostly a right-wing, returning-American-vet thing, that man-caused disasters and workplace violence are scarier than a young mass murderer from the Middle East screaming “Allahu Akbar” as he runs down, shoots, or stabs unarmed Westerners.
After Barack Obama was embarrassed by his faux-red-line in Syria, then–secretary of state John Kerry sought to address a loss of face by fobbing off the region to the Russians after their 40-year ostracism from the Middle East. The last few years, Vladimir Putin seems more the arbiter of peace and war than does an American president.
Few liberals now defend the Obama-Clinton-Rice-Power bombing of Libya and the mess that followed. After Benghazi and the failed-state terrorist sanctuaries, who could?
As for Egypt, the Obama administration managed to be despised all at once by the old Mubarak kleptocracy, by the administration’s once-favored Muslim Brotherhood “one-election, one time” cabal led by USC grad Mohamed Morsi, and by the junta of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Who can keep track?
Until recently America apparently favored an ascendant Iran-Shiite-Hezbollah-Assad nexus over the ossified and estranged Sunni Gulf monarchies. The prior administration pushed through the Iran deal that sent billions of dollars into the Iranian terrorist pipeline and eventually will guarantee an Iranian bomb — on the promise that the bomb would come later rather than sooner. Who can count all the masked side deals, hidden cash supplements, and unspoken corollaries in the agreement?
The U.S. is now exporting vast amounts of oil, coal, and natural gas, and is the world’s largest producer of fossil-fuel energy. It eventually will have little need for Middle East energy, although it is still worried that belligerents do. We rarely hear much anymore of the old petrodollar stories about revolving-door government officials and lobbyists selling out to Saudi interests.
There will be lots of jihadists, terrorists, and insurgents out of work and eager to fight Israel, much as they did in 2006.
Iran now has the cash to buy almost all the weapons it needs. With ISIS gone, the Kurds increasingly isolated, and the U.S. not likely to remain much longer in the region after the demise of ISIS, Iran will finish building its pathway to the Mediterranean. There will be lots of jihadists, terrorists, and insurgents out of work and eager to fight Israel, much as they did in 2006. Eleven years is a long time without a major Israeli–Islamic Arab war — and so plenty of time for a foolish new generation of Islamists to believe that they can destroy the IDF.
So this much-needed respite from the Middle East madness may be coming to a close. An empowered Iran is getting richer, and it is watching closely how nuclear North Korea fares in its threats to the U.S. and its allies. Hezbollah, the Assad government, and Iran are waging a veritable proxy war against Saudi Arabia. Lebanon may soon become the Lebanon battleground of the 1970s and 1980s again.
Which brings us to Israel, out late, great — but most dependable — ally.
Over the last eight years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was demonized by the Obama administration to the point that Democratic operatives interfered in a foreign election in hopes of defeating Netanyahu at the polls. Israel’s strategic worries were often written off as neuroses by the U.S. security apparat.
Yet Israel still quietly rises to growing existential threats as if they were the same old, same old “death to Israel” boilerplate. While we fight over the cost, efficacy, symbolism, and ethics of building a wall along our southern border, Israel long ago shrugged and simply built a 440-mile barrier to fence out terrorists. It worked quite well and stopped most suicide bombing. When the U.N., the EU, and the International Court of Justice condemned Israel for doing what now much of Eastern Europe and the Gulf monarchies routinely do to protect their borders, Israel just shrugged.
When North Korea, as is its weekly habit, threatens to blow up Seoul with “ten-thousands guns,” South Korea and the United States all but declare that they are strategically emasculated by the specter of 250 square miles of Seoul instantly vaporized — as if that were a given.
Yet when Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas brag that they can collectively send more than 200,000 rockets and missiles of various calibers and payloads into Israel cities (Israel’s entire population is a third of Seoul’s), Israel shrugged. It apparently remembers that in 2006 its enemies launched more than 4,000 rockets into Israeli cities, killed about 50 people, and hardly prevented Israel from retaliating as it saw fit.
If facing Armageddon, Israel is apparently determined to take out quite a large portion of the radical Middle East with it.
When North Korea promises that a nuclear-tipped missile will land on the West Coast, we rightly go into near panic. When Iran promises that very shortly it will have the ability to do the same and wipe out the “one-bomb-state” of Israel, Israel shrugs. If facing Armageddon, it is apparently determined to take out quite a large portion of the radical Middle East with it — if anyone would be so foolish as to test whether Israel, as reputed, really has an arsenal of 100 to 200 nukes.
In any future war, the Sunni “moderates” may be a bit more eager to press Israel to hit the Iranian Shiite forces harder. And they may be a bit more restrained in their loud but empty Pan-Islamic denunciations of “Zionist aggressions” against non-Sunni Muslims whom they despise and fear more than they do Israel.
For all its bluster, Iran might be a bit more careful, given that no one quite knows what Donald Trump will do, though they can see he likes Israel a lot more than Barack Obama did — and radical Islamists a lot less. Russia is now right in the way of a new version of the 2006 battleground, but Putin’s method seems to back likely winners if it does not too ostentatiously erode Russian credibility.
Again, the most likely next war may not be missile exchanges over the Korean DMZ, or Russian divisions pouring into the Baltic States, but instead an Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah-sponsored rocket and missile attack on Israel, with a dug-in and fortified army of terrorists prepped for Israeli ground retaliation into Lebanon.
Such a renewed Middle East war is likely to be something much worse than a second round of the 2006 attempt to rocket Israel into concessions and to kill as many Jews as it can before Islamic jihadists run to Russia, the U.N., and the EU to cajole or force Israel to stop.
We are awfully tired of the Middle East, but it is not quite tired of us.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, released in October from Basic Books.