The year is quite young, and yet it has already seen a multitude of disturbing events and trends — unrest in Cairo and North Africa; nuclearization in Iran; a growing anti-American alliance among Turkey, Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria; the expansionary designs of a newly unabashed China with attendant repercussions on Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan; calls for the end of the dollar as the global currency; the muscle flexing from an “I can’t believe my good luck” Russia; and the tottering of the European Union. I have no idea how most Americans react to any of the above, and I don’t think the administration has either.
We do know that President Obama wants to borrow another $1.6 trillion this year to ensure expansion of EU-like entitlements. One mystery is why the Chinese — 400 million of whom have never encountered Western-style medicine — apparently won’t mind lending us more of their hundreds of billions of dollars in surpluses to fund Obamacare. Another is why people should risk their environments in Africa, the Russian Arctic, and Asian coastal waters to provide petroleum for a thirsty planet, while we will not take much smaller risks to satisfy our own voracious oil appetite. The only common denominator is our desire to consume more than we produce.
Yet the impending crises on the horizon — so reminiscent of the annus horribilis of 1979, when the wages of another American president’s sermonizing and economic weakness came due — are not foreordained to come at America’s expense. Were we to put our financial house in order, slash our deficits, show the world how we intend to pay down our $14 trillion debt, and make the needed long-term reforms to Social Security and Medicare, the United States would be in a unique position in comparison to an ailing and sclerotic Europe, a demographically challenged Japan, and a China with a rendezvous with social tension, environmental catastrophe, and a warped demography. We are still a more open and transparent society than our rivals — with a more meritocratic ethos, far greater social and political stability, and blessed with vast natural and human resources. Why, then, cannot we regain our exceptionalism?
In a word, I think we do not wish to. The problem — aside from the fact that we are a country obsessed with wrangling over distribution of old wealth (much of it provided by previous generations) rather than creation of new national riches — is that the United States does not quite know what its role should be in yet another new world order.
Hence, President Obama was a day late and a dollar short in figuring out both the Tehran 2009 and the Cairo 2011 protests. Like a modern-day Hamlet, he paused to examine every imaginable consequence before doing nothing — as in “Should I criticize Ahmadinejad when I promised in landmark fashion to meet face to face with the Iranians? Where is the U.N. in all of this? If I encourage the protesters, am I interfering in the internal affairs of Iran — the way America did a half century ago, for which I just apologized? If I support democratic reform, will I appear no different from a Bush neocon? Will Mubarak survive or will he not? Should he, or should he not? Are the protesters authentic Egyptians or Westernized upper middle classes without Third World bona fides? Are they Kerensky types about to be swallowed up by hard-core Islamists? Could my own unique heritage not appeal to the Muslim Brotherhood as I was hoping it would when I reached out to Iran and Syria? If I pressure Mubarak, will the Right ask why I did not pressure Ahmadinejad? If I do not, will the Left accuse me of realpolitik? Isn’t Bush at fault somewhere here?” So many questions, so many occasions to vote present.
The reset “I’m not Bush” Pavlovian foreign policy is in shambles. There comes a moment in which a trivial event finally distills chaos into clarity. In the Obama administration’s case, it was the description of the Muslim Brotherhood by the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who just assured Capitol Hill that the Brotherhood was “largely secular” and has “eschewed violence.” Keep that inanity in mind, and almost everything else becomes clear. Add “Muslim” to “Brotherhood” and these days you get “largely secular.”
The euphemisms for terrorism have become a late-night-show running joke; more, not fewer, terrorist plots directed at the U.S. have answered Obama’s Muslim outreach efforts. It is by now about as likely that Eric Holder will try KSM in a New York federal court as that Obama himself will close down Guantanamo, which he earlier described as “a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.” The one Obama success (in Joe Biden’s words, the administration’s “greatest achievement”) was a still-constitutional Iraq — only because Obama dropped his own campaign promises on unilateral withdrawals and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus departure plans.
A strengthened U.S. role in the U.N. has come to nothing. Did we gain anything by humiliating Israel in 2009? Are Venezuela and its axis moderating their efforts to turn Latin America into a Marxist utopia? Has America ever before joined Mexico — or any other foreign government – in efforts to sue one of its own states that simply wanted federal law enforced? Was Russia really all that eager to help an appeasing U.S. diplomatically? When the U.S. provided serial numbers of British nuclear weapons to Putin’s Russia, and when Europeans like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have to lecture the West about the failures of multiculturalism, we are reminded that the Europeans should have been careful of what they so loudly wished for during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Are we inept or calculating in piling up over $4 trillion in debt in just 36 months and lowering America’s global profile? If the goal of the present American administration is to turn the United States into something envisioned on university campuses, the editorial page of the New York Times, and breezy synopses on NPR, then it is right on schedule. But what would that new America look like?
An enormous public sector, guided by an elite European-like technocracy overseeing henchmen in public unions, would ensure spread-the-wealth redistribution, more regulation, and an ideology of equality of result that reminds us that at some point (the new financial Mason-Dixon line of $250,000 in annual income?), we have made enough money at someone else’s expense. Abroad, it might mean a new America analogous to France or Germany, which from time to time would chest-pound about current crises, but would risk nothing while calibrating the post-facto humanitarian rhetoric to match realities on the ground.
In sum, just as we are to be all equal at home, so abroad all nations are to be equal as well — if not by fiat, at least by wish. Sameness, here and abroad — that is the new national aspiration.