North Korea’s usual lunacy seems lately a little too lunatic. Maybe it is the new leadership in Seoul or Pyongyang, or a sense in the North that the U.S. no longer has the heart to fight for South Korea, or to defend Japan or Taiwan against an ascendant nuclear China. In any case, when the Obama administration talked grandly of downsizing its strategic nuclear arsenal, many in Asia wondered whether they were still safely under the vast American nuclear umbrella. They had apparently suffered under the delusion that America had so many nukes mainly because it had so many allies that had the capability to go nuclear, but did not do so because America assured them that there was no need to. Obama talks of a pivot to Asia, but it is more like a divot, a small sort of embarrassing missed swing that has little to do with much of anything
Polls show that the American public overwhelmingly considers Canada and the U.K to be America’s closest allies. But while we give billions of dollars to the Pakistanis and the Palestinians, whom, Gallup also tells us, Americans like least of all the peoples of the world, we have shunned the Canadians on the Keystone Pipeline and are officially neutral on the “Malvinas” (or, in Obamaspeak, “Maldives”) — a.k.a. the Falklands. I think the message is that enemies of the U.S. are now neutrals — but so are friends.
A bow here, a “What does Benghazi matter?” there (remember the boasts about bringing the perpetrators to justice?), the Muslim world as catalyst for Western culture, a musing out loud that America is about as exceptional as Greece, half-apologies about genocide among those who were past masters at it, lectures to Israel, laurels to Turkey — all this day-by-day Oz-like fantasy is absolutely trivial. But is it so cumulatively after four years?
North Korea, Iran, Hezbollah, and China have translated the incoherent and anecdotal into a predictable pattern of behavior, applicable to the fundamental, not just the irrelevant. And the conclusion results in something like this: While there is some chance that the U.S. may still in the old way rise to face regional crises, there is now a real likelihood, the first since the annus mirabilis of 1980, that it may not.
In short, we are living in dangerous times not seen since Jimmy Carter’s disastrous last year in office, when a moralist kindred to Obama was widely praised for his ecumenical statesmanship — and when the Russians, the Chinese, and the Islamists began invading their neighbors and killing people.
Opportunists abroad — rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly — believe that if there was ever a time to readjust the regional landscape without too much risk, that time is coming, as the once-lean feline that used to prowl the yard outside has become a bloated pussycat purring on the kitchen mat.
The more unhinged on the world scene may move first to try to bell the American cat, but even if they are only partially successful, the more rational will be emboldened to follow suit — convinced that the unhinged were not so unhinged after all.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals will appear in the spring from Bloomsbury Books.