On the tenth anniversary weekend of the 9/11 attacks, a remark to a global security conference held in Geneva underlined the urgency of the coming U.S. election.
Speaking of the Arab Spring uprisings throughout the Middle East, an expert panelist from the region uttered a lament that would have been inconceivable anytime from 1945 to 2009: that, at this seminal moment in the world’s most troubled region, the U.S. is not leading and through inaction is creating a vacuum that is proving very dangerous.
The annual conference – a production of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies – draws senior diplomats, military officers, and international security academics, as well as journalists and, this year, bloggers. The IISS is one of the leading non-government institutions of what was once called the Western Alliance, especially the U.S.-U.K. Special Relationship. Started during the Eisenhower years, it could now be called venerable. But over the weekend it showed a youthful hipness, at least to new forms of media. On the conference’s first panel, the organizers included a free-lance journalist whose most notable outlet was his heavily trafficked Twitter feed. What can I say? Yes, he was insightful, and amazingly concise.
Panel after panel took up topics that in prior years would have required extensive discussion of what the U.S. intended, where it wanted to lead, why it was doing what it was doing. For the first half of the weekend, the U.S. wasn’t mentioned at all or only in passing.
The dam broke on Sunday morning. On a panel about China and the Far East, a prominent American professor (he had served a stint in the Bush 43 White House) echoed Saturday’s Middle Easterner, saying, “If the U.S. is not willing to maintain the balance of power in Asia, I am very worried.”
Over the remaining panels, one American after the other felt compelled to assert that the U.S. was not withdrawing from the world, just, one insisted, retrenching to pre 9/11 levels. But then a prominent French scholar replied, the world today is not the world of pre-9/11. Before 9/11, the world was in a post-Cold War hiatus. Defense was cheap, and no global threats were thought to be accumulating. Now China is rising, he said. Others added Iran and North Korea. They could have included Venezuela and its allies in this hemisphere, as well as a potentially disintegrating Mexico. A noted British journalist summed up the America-playing-hooky theme: “In the last decade, Europe disliked America’s strength. In the next decade, Europe will lament America’s relative decline.”
The news since I returned from Switzerland has put big neon letters over the gates to our future: “Unless you change your ways, abandon all hope, Americans who enter here.”
Yesterday Italy was reported to be approaching China for bailout loans, even as China was initiating a major program of investment in the Caribbean. This is the kind of financial power America used to wield unchallenged in the world. It came from limiting government and maximizing freedom, even as we fought over where to draw the line between the two. Now we are living with the consequences of the first two years of this administration, when a unified Democratic White House and Congress raced without restraint to reverse that two-century-old order of priorities.
Also yesterday, the administration trotted out details for financing the president’s latest stimulus proposal. Though they didn’t put it this way, it included taxes and other measures designed to weaken our oil and gas industry, our private airplane industry, and our private equity investment industry.
And this morning, as the U.S. races to exit Afghanistan, in part because of strained resources, in part because of presidential preference, smoke was rising from the U.S. embassy in Kabul and a full day battle between Taliban and coalition forces had begun.
My point here is that a feckless foreign policy and a feckless economic policy are inseparable. Sure the president and his advisors appear only dimly aware of the pivotal role of the U.S. in the global order. Sure they imagine they hold a “get out of Afghanistan free” card. You’d think the Kabul attacks would give them second thoughts. But, then, you’d think that one unproductive stimulus package after another would have given them second thoughts, and it hasn’t.
To me this all says we must get the next GOP presidential nomination right. With rare urgency, the nation and the world are depending on it.