Politics & Policy

Are You Sleeping Soundly?

Being Gray Davis, ca. 2008.

DECEMBER, 2008, WASHINGTON D.C. — President Gray Davis had barely recovered from the euphoria of his stunning victory in the November elections when he sat down to consider the tasks ahead of his new administration. The sweeping Democratic victory over a disoriented and discouraged Republican party and its hapless presidential candidate, Elizabeth Dole, had vindicated the Democrats’ campaign strategy: Rebuild the struggling economy and begin the pullback of U.S. military forces abroad.

But now, with the election over, Davis had to confront the problems ahead. They are daunting, he thought. How did it all come to this?

Following the quick and deceptively easy military victory over the Hussein regime, the decision was made to let the U.N. take the leading role in attempting to pacify an anarchic Iraq. Continued infiltration into Iraq by terrorists funded and directed by the militant Muslim states kept the core of Hussein’s Baath party in place. The alliance formed by militant Islamists and the remnants of Saddam’s government was able to maintain a reign of terror among the Iraqi people. The suicide bombings multiplied, as did the international criticism. Confronted with the reality of spending perhaps years as an occupying force in Iraq, the Bush administration in frustration and relief turned to the U.N. for a solution. Following the withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition forces from the region, the U.N. called upon the local mullahs to form a new government; it was then forced to reinforce its delegation of arms inspectors and peacekeeping forces in Iraq, in an effort to contain the renewed military ambitions of the new Iraq.

France and Germany exploited this turn of events, pledging to insure tranquility in the Middle East through both active diplomacy and closer economic ties to the region. Oil prices, which had spiked during the period of conflict, dropped to only 25 percent above their previous levels as a rejuvenated OPEC seized upon the opportunity to exert its influence. France and Germany were insulated from these increased prices, however, following their negotiation of bilateral economic arrangements with Iraq and other Gulf oil producers. The effects on the rest of the developed and developing world were negative, as “stagflation” reappeared in the United States and unemployment around the world skyrocketed.

Now, in 2008, the U.S. finds itself in the midst of its third recession in the last six years. Unemployment is exceeding 9 percent while inflation has reached 6 to 7 percent per annum. The outlook for foreign trade is likewise bleak, with the only bright spot a software system supporting a newly developed computer cartridge that permits a user to view feature-length movies from a device attached to the wrist. The automotive industry struggles to recover in spite of higher protective tariffs, put in place by the Bush administration in an effort to attract votes during the 2006 congressional elections.

It may well have been the Turks who started the unhappiest chain of events. In 2004, as they watched their economy slipping into deep recession, and with relations with Greece and the rest of the European Union regressing to earlier, more troubled times, the Turks embarked on an aggressive policy of infiltrating and suborning the Kurds in northern Iraq. With Iraq under close U.N. scrutiny, Turkey was confident it could assert its control over those regions, thereby concluding its historic quarrel with the Kurds and gaining access to the Kirkuk oil fields.

Orchestrating fictitious Kurdish attacks on its southeastern border and against its own troops stationed in Iraq, Turkey “responded” with massive military force. In one swift move, their armies entered Iraq, swept through the Kurdish regions and recognized a new government formed by the Kurdistan Democratic party as an “independent” nation (thus creating a new Kurdish state under Turkey’s protection). Iraq itself was constrained from an effective military response by a U.N. determined, at all costs, to impose peace in the region. The French, having reasserted their influence in Iraq, were reluctant to have a military confrontation with Turkey’s manifestly superior force; they quickly retreated to the high moral ground by asserting that a “fellow NATO member” would not actively become engaged in such an enterprise absent valid provocation. Iran — at first alarmed by the shift in power along its northwestern border — was mollified by the election in Turkey of a strongly Islamic parliament. The new Turkish government, with popular support, was proceeding to reverse almost a century of military dominance by forging a fundamentalist Islamic government in Istanbul. The Kurds, once again, saw their hopes for independence dashed as the Turks slaughtered their troops.

In 2006, Turkey formally resigned its membership in NATO, a position it had held since the early days of the alliance’s existence.

The ensuing years were a veritable landslide of worldwide mini-crises, many of which required U.S. attention and, in some instances, American military presence. At present, the problem areas confronting President-elect Davis include:

Japan. The Japanese government formally announced its intention to develop a nuclear weapons program as a defense against an aggressive North Korea and China. Over 50,000 U.S. troops were now stationed in Japan to act as a “tripwire,” much as the continued military presence in South Korea was intended to dissuade North Korean aggression there. Nuclear arsenals have become, once again, the primary weapon of deterrence, as American conventional forces alone no longer have sufficient credibility to confront a major enemy.

India and Pakistan. Tensions escalated dramatically following the collapse of the government of President Musharraf in Pakistan and its replacement by a strident, fundamentalist, anti-American Islamist government. Pakistan is now suspected of aiding Islamic terrorists throughout the world. U.S. influence here is virtually nil; only the threat of mutual nuclear destruction makes possible any semblance of order in the region.

China. Now a full-fledged nuclear power with missile-delivery systems and MIRV warheads capable of reaching most parts of the planet, China demands favorable trade terms from developed nations and aggressively protects its markets throughout the world, especially in Latin America, where its presence is formidable.

Recognizing its growing isolation and the unwillingness of the U.S. to intercede on its behalf, Taiwan sought rapprochement with China and, in 2007, held its first joint military exercises with the mainland. Discussions are underway to create a Hong Kong-like solution to this long-festering Chinese problem.

The Middle East. Clinging tenaciously to its territory, Israel has become a fortress state under constant siege. Pursuant to the policies of the new Islamist government in Egypt, nations in the region refuse to support any accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. America reluctantly based troops in Israel in an effort to quell the continuing violence and has suffered significant casualties. U.S. opinion polls indicate heavy support for a complete pullout.

The newly formed Islamic Nations Council, based in Damascus and made up of regional states, has forged a cartel whose major trading partners are France, Germany, China, Canada, and Japan.

The Pacific Basin The U.S. troop presence in the Philippines has grown steadily over the years as Islamist fundamentalist terrorist groups have divided and multiplied throughout this difficult-to-defend nation. Regular military clashes and the resulting American casualties have promoted a bastion mentality; U.S. troops rarely venture forth to engage the elusive enemy. Public-opinion polls reveal weariness with this presence and support for a gradual disengagement of our military forces. Comparisons to the U.S. experience in Vietnam are regularly put forth by media pundits.

Indonesia’s military has taken control of the government following a nearly successful rebellion by militant Islamists in the country’s oil-producing region; struggle for control of the nation continues.

Latin America. Venezuela is the dominant power. Supported by its newly expanded oil wealth and an active economic and political alliance with China, it exercises effective hegemony over its neighbors. As America searches for ways to disengage from worldwide commitments, the Venezuelan government foments revolution and retrograde economic policies throughout the region.


President-elect Davis comforts himself with the memory that he has navigated difficult political waters before. As governor of California, he had “nationalized” the power production in the state to keep prices under control (subverted, he recalls, by a group of white-collar criminals at Enron). He had weathered the largest state financial crisis in California history by raising taxes (a particularly aggressive step, he remembers proudly). He has secured the future revenues that the state had expected to receive from the tobacco companies, transferring the responsibility for certain state programs to local governments (where, he notes, they should have been all along) and encouraging the spread of gambling facilities (very creative, he congratulates himself).

Surely, he speculates, the great problems in the world lend themselves to similar bold and creative solutions. But, at the moment, Davis just cannot think what they might be.

Cortes DeRussy, an equipment-finance executive who writes from his home in Bronxville, New York, is also the chairman of the executive board of Crisis magazine.

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