No doubt things will go better this time. Two more Americans died this week at the hands of one of their Afghan “allies,” a man trained, paid, and armed by the United States. If you slaughter thousands, you can still just about get our attention, as Mullah Omar discovered after 9/11. But the slow bleeding of two deaths here, three deaths there, week after week after week takes a psychological toll, rotting out purpose and strategy. So in Washington this will be a war we “shut down”; in Kandahar and beyond, it will be a war we lost.
As one war “shuts down,” are any others likely to open up? This week Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that “we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon.” So Tehran, fresh from playing the bad guys in Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning blockbuster, is going nuclear? Hey, relax, says the president: “I continue to keep all options on the table.” And, every time he says that, you get the vague feeling he continues to keep the table somewhere in the basement. The best option would be if the Israelis just got on with it, absolving everyone else from a tough decision and simultaneously affording them the deliciously irresistible frisson of denouncing the Zionists for their grossly disproportionate response.
More likely, Iran will be permitted to go nuclear — followed shortly thereafter by Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and anyone else who dislikes being conscripted under the Shia Persian nuclear umbrella. North Korea and Pakistan both anticipate a lively export market.
Pakistan has a nominal per capita GDP of about $1,200, with North Korea’s barely detectable. By comparison Sweden’s is about $58,000 and the Netherlands’ about $50,000. But North Korea is a nuclear power and the Netherlands isn’t, and has no plans to become one, and any party so minded to propose otherwise would soon find itself out of power. The assumption that developed nations will get richer under Washington’s defense welfare has been the central tenet of the American era. So now the wealthiest countries in history cannot defend their own borders, while economic basket cases of one degree of derangement or another are nuclear powers.
Perhaps this improbable division will hold. Perhaps the Axis of Crazy will be content just to jostle among itself leaving the Axis of Torpor to fret about lowering the retirement age to 48 and mandatory transgendered bathrooms and other pressing public-policy priorities. But, even under such an inherently unstable truce, the American position and the wider global economy would deteriorate.
As the CPAC crowd suggested, there are takers on the right for the Rand Paul position. There are many on the left for Obama’s drone-alone definition of great power. But there are ever fewer takers for a money-no-object global hegemon that spends 46 percent of the world’s military budget and can’t impress its will on a bunch of inbred goatherds. A broker America needs to learn to do more with less, and to rediscover the cold calculation of national interest rather than waging war as the world’s largest NGO. In dismissing Paul as a “wacko bird,” John McCain and Lindsey Graham assume that the too-big-to-fail status quo is forever. It’s not; it’s already over.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn