Lost amid the campaign politicking are several growing crises that all, to one degree or another, reflect the general global appraisal that the United States has abdicated its traditional role, either on the grounds of fiscal erosion or self-doubt about our moral authority to pass judgment on aggressors.
In that void, China and Japan have been squaring off over a maritime territorial dispute, North and South Korea are seeing rising tensions, Lebanon is unwinding, Iran is daring the world to stop its proliferation, and, in the expectation of a post-American Afghanistan, regional powers are designing their own spheres of control there. In all these cases — and others as well — there is a general sense that the U.S. will not come strongly to the side of an ally, nor come out strongly against the side of an enemy.
In an analogous sense, we have now completed our own version of 1977–78, with updated Carteresque damnations of past policies, loud lectures on past American sins, estrangement from Europe and Israel, and self-righteousness about our evolution beyond simplistic views of good and evil. All that is left now is the denouement: another 1979–80, when the world sized us up and concluded that there would be few repercussions from regional “adjustments,” and wars by the Soviet Union, China, and Communists in Central America, hostage-taking, embassy-storming, and all the rest paralyzed a sanctimonious president.