George W. Bush abused the solidarity of the Western Alliance and even the United Nations after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, by ushering 48 countries into Afghanistan, and then largely decamping to Iraq. The beneficiary of Western largesse in Afghanistan, the arch-thief and ingrate Karzai, played footsie for a decade with terrorists financed by Pakistan, to some degree with American aid, and now has the effrontery to accuse the United States of fomenting Taliban aggression. No sane person mourns the passing of Saddam Hussein, whom the senior Bush could easily have disposed of in the Gulf War of 1990 (and who died with comparative dignity, his hanging filmed on a cell phone, having been fished ignominiously by American soldiers out of a hole in the ground). But almost nothing connected to the U.S. national interest has been achieved by these exertions.
Now we have the demeaning spectacle of the administration’s blundering into sequestration and claiming that budgetary constraints prevent sending the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf, as Obama’s lassitude has practically ensured a nuclear-armed Iran. (It is even claimed that school tours of the White House are now unaffordable.)
This administration has abdicated from world leadership, and the “pivot to Asia” is really a retrenchment to America. The regions of the world can and should resume the management of their own security. The only one that is really a high-explosive area is the Middle East, and the U.S. has not shown any aptitude to ameliorate political conditions there since the Bush-Sharon agreement that accompanied the Israeli departure from Gaza in 2005. The Middle East will probably become a nuclear-armed camp bristling with atomic weapons in the hands of all the major local players, from Turkey to Pakistan. I do not think this has been well thought out by the recent and current American leadership, but the U.S. never promised to take care of the security needs of the world permanently and most of its allies, all but the British, Canadians, and Australians, were just hangers-on anyway.
This process of disintegration is evident in every region. China is acting out the old playbook of bumptious new powers, like Japan after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and like Germany after Wilhelm II, in a premonitory bout of insanity, dismissed Bismarck in 1890. The Chinese are claiming the international waters around them as their “lake,” like Mussolini describing the Mediterranean (before the British navy smashed his fleet). Latin America is riven between the witless and larcenous populism of Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, and the countries that are actually progressing toward or have arrived at mature government, led by Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru. Africa and the Arab world are in convulsive turmoil.
The most startling realignment is in Europe. France, having perpetrated one of the most astounding acts of contrariety in its modern history by electing to the presidency the utterly unqualified François Hollande on a platform of outright hostility to every economic activity except a sort of fatuous arts-and-crafts communalism, and having been rewarded with the greatest flight of capital since the Reign of Terror, has staged its greatest U-turn since the Munich Conference with an incomprehensibly complicated system of commercial-tax rebates that equals a 6 percent cut in unit-labor costs. It won’t work. Britain is floundering, and Italy’s fate is now in the hands of the ineffable Berlusconi and the even more astounding political figure Beppe Grillo, a television comedian, who in 2007 convened a national “F*** You Rally” that attracted 2 million people.
The real European leadership is in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is now being outflanked on the right by German Alternative, a group that wants to ditch Europe and the euro, and — like the UK Independence party, which recently outpolled the Conservative government in a by-election — is now cutting heavily into the governing party’s support. Chancellor Merkel has so far clung to her former leader Helmut Kohl’s euro policy, but she turned on a pfennig and abandoned her nuclear-energy policy after the Fukushima meltdown, and will do the same on Europe. A Grosse Deutschland that was the dream of Bismarck and less reputable German nationalists is emerging, with Germany benignly conducting Austria, and the Dutch, Scandinavians, Poles, and Czechs, to a powerful third position in world economic power (and military power as well if there is any need for it) behind the United States and China. A world of regional leaders in reasonable relationships with one another is emerging. The United States need not fear such a thing, but it will then be too late to lament that it isn’t the world’s superstate anymore.