The post–Cold War New World Order is rapidly breaking apart. Nations are returning to the ancient passions, rivalries, and differences of past centuries.
Take Europe. The decades-old vision of a united pan-continental Europe without borders is dissolving. The cradle-to-grave welfare dream proved too expensive for Europe’s shrinking and aging population.
Cultural, linguistic, and economic divides between Germany and Greece, or Holland and Bulgaria, remain too wide to be bridged by fumbling bureaucrats in Brussels. NATO has devolved into a euphemism for American expeditionary forces.
Nationalism is returning, based on stronger common ties of language, history, religion, and culture. We are even seeing the return of a two-century-old European “problem”: a powerful Germany that logically seeks greater political influence commensurate with its undeniable economic superiority.
The tired Israeli-Palestinian fight over the future of the West Bank is no longer the nexus of Middle East tensions. The Muslim Arab world is now more terrified by the re-emergence of a bloc of old familiar non-Arabic, Islamic fundamentalist rivals.
With nuclear weapons, theocratic Iran wants to offer strategic protection to radical allies such as Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and at the same time restore Persian glory. While diverse, this rogue bunch shares contempt for the squabbling Sunni Arab world of rich but defenseless Gulf petro-sheikdoms and geriatric state authoritarians.
Turkey is flipping back to its pre-20th-century past. Its departure from NATO is not a question of if, but when. The European Union used to not want Turkey; now Turkey does not want the shaky EU.
Turkish revisionism now glorifies the old Ottoman sultanate. Turkey wants to recharge that reactionary model as the unifier and protector of Islam — not the modern, vastly reduced secular state of Kemal Ataturk. Weak neighbors Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, and Kurdistan have historical reasons to tremble.
Japan’s economy is still stalled. Its affluent population is shrinking and aging. Elsewhere in the region, the Japanese see an expanding China and a lunatic nuclear North Korea. Yet Japan is not sure whether the inward-looking United States is still credible in its old promise of protection against any and all enemies.
One of two rather bleak Asian futures seems likely. Either an ascendant China will dictate the foreign policies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, or lots of new freelancing nuclear powers will appear to deter China since it cannot count on an insolvent U.S. for protection.
Oil-rich Russia — deprived of its Communist-era empire — seems to find lost imperial prestige and influence by being for everything that the U.S. is against. That translates into selling nuclear expertise and material to Iran, providing weapons to provocative states such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, and bullying neighbors over energy supplies.
Closer to home, Mexico has become a strange sort of friend. It devolves daily into a more corrupt and violent place than Iraq or Pakistan. The fossilized leadership in Mexico City shows no interest in reforming, either by opening its economy or liberalizing its political institutions.
Instead, Mexico’s very survival for now rests on cynically exporting annually a million of its impoverished and unhappy citizens to America. More interested in money than in its own people, the Mexican government counts on the more than $20 billion in remittances that return to the country each year.
But American citizens are tired of picking up the tab to subsidize nearly 15 million poor illegal aliens. The growing hostility between the two countries is reminiscent of 19th-century tensions across the Rio Grande.
How is America reacting to these back-to-the-future changes?
Politically divided, committed to two wars, in a deep recession, insolvent, and still stunned by the financial meltdown of 2008, our government seems paralyzed. As European socialism implodes, for some reason a new statist U.S. government wants to copy failure by taking over ever more of the economy and borrowing trillions more to provide additional entitlements.
As panicky old allies look for American protection, we talk of slashing our defense budget. In apologetic fashion, we spend more time appeasing confident enemies than buttressing worried friends.
Instead of finishing our border fence and closing the southern border, we are suing a state that is trying to enforce immigration laws that the federal government will not apply. And as sectarianism spreads abroad, we at home still pursue the failed salad bowl and caricature the once-successful American melting pot.
But just as old problems return, so do equally old solutions. Once-stodgy ideas like a free-market economy, strong defense, secure borders, and national unity are suddenly appearing fresh and wise.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.