It is hard to remember a more tense time in the last 20 years. Tiny Israel may be poised to preempt the nuclear capabilities of Iran (an Iran that itself once attempted, unsuccessfully, to take out the Iraqi reactor at Osirak before Israel finished the job), whose terrorist appendages and missiles have the ability to do it a great deal of damage in return. How such a war would escalate or end, no one knows. There is no sense of a global effort to stop Iran’s proliferation, given that China and Russia seem to enjoy the irritation that Iran causes the West. I think U.S. policy amounts to a sort of shrug (we publicly discourage the Israelis, privately sorta hope they do, and publicly will sorta condemn them if they do). Whatever is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, no one seems to know, or — despite our tens of thousands of troops in combat — even seem to care, given that the administration seems irked more than engaged.
In California gas is already over $4 a gallon — in an off-peak February, amid slow growth and high unemployment. What it will be during the summer driving season and if there is a tiny upturn in the economy — or as the Strait of Hormuz heats up — we can only guess. Once more trying to release some oil from the strategic petroleum reserve — while putting new leases off limits in the west, in Alaska, offshore, and in the gulf, coupled with the Keystone cancellation — is not going to do much. Putin killed the Russian reset and wants everyone to know it. The Arab Spring is a bitter winter. There is no Libyan model for Syria. Mexico blames us for its own gun violence (despite guns flowing to the cartels from all over the world), and is suing an American state to force it not to enforce U.S. immigration law. It seems to think that 11 million of its nationals who entered the U.S. illegally and with Mexican government encouragement must be de facto American citizens — given their lucrative multibillion-dollar remittances.
Germany is getting to the point that it would rather write off the $400 billion than listen to chronic Greek slurs and whining; what Greeks rioters will do when they get their wish and have their drachma no one knows, but the country will soon be de-Europeanized. For now it is sorta doing to Germany what Germany did to its creditors in the 1920s. As for the EU: Once Greece implodes, nothing is off the table. It seems more like 1936 than 2012 in Europe. A U.S. that ran up $5 trillion debt in three years is in no position either to sermonize or to help much. Turkey, our newfound close ally, has warned us not to share NATO intelligence and de facto now has a free hand in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In such times, rumors of a possible vast unilateral reduction in the U.S. strategic arsenal cannot reassure our non-nuclear allies, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (who could all, if they so wished, become nuclear by next month), that they are safely within the U.S. umbrella in a world of China, North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran. The Obama administration does not seem to grasp that the current favored policy of “’leading from behind” –that is, being exceptional only to the degree that Italy, say, or Greece likewise thinks it is exceptional — or a U.N.-adjudicated foreign policy is not really a reset of past American policy, but ultimately just chaos.