It’s a different world.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
The fitting geological metaphor for the so-called G-8 meeting in Germany is not a summit, but a precipice — as the world’s leaders scramble around to grab something before one of them falls into the abyss.
The old postwar order is tottering on the brink of Islamism, oil-price hikes, energy shortages, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, Russian belligerency, global-warming concern and hysteria, and war.
Europe is at the edge of the chasm, despite its strong euro and strengthening economy. Once convinced that they would serve as a kinder, gentler Western answer to the United States, Europeans would offer humanity a sort of soft-power colossus that would check George Bush’s “dead-or-alive,” “smoke-‘em-out” America. They would fix through good works what we had botched. That welcomed alternative seemed attractive to many as we slogged it out in Iraq, and the “I told you so” Europeans felt justified that military power really does cause far more problems than it solves.
But now suddenly regimes of a less liberal sort are calling the E.U.’s bluff — and Europe knows it. Historians looking back at Europe in 2007 will see a sort of summer of 1914 all over again: Never had things gone better just as they are about to become never so bad.
One of the great transmogrifications of our era has been the Russian 20-year metamorphosis from crumbling Soviet totalitarian into a chaotic oligarchy into a confident neo-czarist petro-power.
Or was it ever really that much of a transformation in attitude at all? Now emboldened by $60-plus-barrel oil instead of the old Red Army, Russia suddenly bullies like the old Soviet Union without all the hassles of multiethnic subjects and the burdens of empire.
Mad at Estonia? Wage an Internet war against the tiny democracy.
Mad that a cobbled-together missile-defense system might save the West from an errant Iranian nuke or two? Boast that you could nuke it into smithereens — and maybe a European capital in the bargain.
Mad at dissidents abroad? Kill ’em.
Mad at foreign oil companies in Russia? Squeeze them until they leave.
Mad at sermons about human rights? Threaten to cut off half of Europe’s natural gas.
The result is that a continent of well over 400 million, with the world’s largest economy — but without many energy supplies and less of a military — is terrified of a nuclear, oil-rich bully shrinking to less than 150 million. Russia, remember, like the jihadists, hates Europe’s guts. And it wants payback for the humiliating 1990s.
A rich, large, and influential European continent won’t rearm given its own pacifism, and demographic, entitlement, and immigration crises. Fine. But consistent with its mission of global secular proselytizing, it will continue to sermonize.
Bad idea. That well-meaning impotence sadly will win it the contempt always shown the self-righteous and sanctimonious weakling — especially in the case of nearby Russia hurt by lost power, surprised by newfound wealth, and eager to expose the parading European emperor as buck naked. Remember the landmark moment when Mr. Putin advised a French journalist harping over Chechnya (but who now remembers Chechnya?) to consider a Russian form of extreme circumcision.
Perhaps, individually and collectively European nations will cut their own oil and defense deals with nearby Russia — sort of doing at the national level what the corrupt former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder did at the personal to prostitute himself to the Soviet gas conglomerate.
Or consider the other response — blame the Americans for not “reaching out” after the crack-up of the Soviet Union, and instead, through NATO expansion and missile defense, gratuitously jabbing at an otherwise kinder and gentler new Russia. Apparently in some corners, Bush & Co. caused a justifiably hurt Mr. Putin to destabilize Estonia or to muzzle (and worse) its own dissidents or to threaten Europe with nukes.
The American public may not be so dense about all this as they think in Europe. Four years of cheap anti-Americanism have eroded the old popular support for NATO and most everything else with Europe. For good or bad, there will be no more interventions to save Europe’s hide like the Balkans campaign. This is the new unspoken truth, and in some small way also explains the new appearance of more reasonable leaders in France and Germany.
Indeed, in the future Europeans will talk more about the transatlantic alliance than we do who are exhausted with it. The task of a Merkel or Sarkozy will not to be to outdo each other in the old preaching to the United States about unilateralism and preemption, but to coax us to keep playing the powerful eccentric ally when Iran, or al Qaeda, or Russia, or China begins to push real hard.
Some saw the two billion in India and China as welcome rising counterweights to the hyperpower America. But while even George Bush reconsiders global warming, both nations think that global environmentalism is an absurd blockage to their own industrialization. The only mystery is which country will cut the best deals with the worst oil regimes in securing their future Westernization as they try to redefine themselves quite differently from the old West.
As the pet-food scandal reminds us, China is still a criminal state beneath its shiny Westernized veneer of big money — and one never knows when what’s beneath will poke through, whether that means your puppy conked on imported Chinese-food ingredients or one morning missiles over Taiwan.
Bush takes the lead on Darfur, China takes the lead in buying the murderous regime’s oil. Its policy is as cutthroat as Russia — but with seven times the population and enough fumes of the old Maoism still to intoxicate the Left. It might be smart to put a play on in London trashing the United States or to write yet another impenetrable op-ed in Le Monde about American evil, but watch for a return of Dark Age morality should Communist China or the new Czarist Russia or an oil-fed nuclear Middle East begin to adjudicate the global commercial, political, or financial order.
If ragtag jihadists can silence Europe’s self-styled courageous intelligentsia over a few cartoons or an opera, imagine what a nuclear China will soon do. When Bush spends billions on AIDS in Africa, asks the EU3 and the U.N. to deal with Iran, and relents on global warming, it earns him as much support from Europeans as generous federal spending, prescription drugs, No Child Left Behind, and immigration reform did at home from liberals.
Why? Because most of the anger and outrage is not over substance so much as a sense of lost power — the Europeans of their lost world before 1939, the American Left of the halcyon days of the 1960s. Just as both Europeans and liberals here at home despise George Bush’s not so much for what he does as for what they allege he represents, so too when he’s gone they really won’t suddenly expect the United Nations to deal with Mr. Ahmadinejad or Darfur, or bin Laden to grow scared that we can now “turn our eye” to Afghanistan after fleeing Iraq, or Mr. Putin to grow cooperative once we relent on missile defense. In truth, only a militarily strong, traditional, and capitalist United States can keep its critics, here and abroad, safe and well off enough to allow them their rage over knowing that the utopian world they prefer won’t work.
Meanwhile, the oil-rich Arab world thought it wise to cheer when jihadists killed Americans in Iraq, and found delight in fanning the flames of Islamism at a safe distance. But all they are earning is not American “colonialism” — after 9/11 and a zillion frames of someone named Mohammed blowing up something, Americans apparently want nothing more than to smile and see Middle Easterners go their own way — but a nuclear Iran, feasting on the rump of oil-rich Iraq as the first course to the full meal to come on the Gulf.
So the world is at the edge, as the Bush presidency winds down, new directions are promised in Europe, old habits die hard in China and Russia — and all the while the Middle East gets more petromoney and crazier for it.
Here at home, if we keep paying out petrobribes to unsavory nations, piling up debt to China and Japan, run serial deficits, lose Iraq, and accept stalemate in Afghanistan, surge to 20 million or so illegal immigrants, and suffer another 9/11 attack, then expect the world to become a far more dangerous place, as a poorer, more isolationist America retreats inside an ever thinner, more fragile shell.
In contrast, stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, stop the nuclearization of Iran, cut radically back on imported oil, close the southern border, and end the financial hemorrhaging, and the United States will do just fine, to the great benefit of the world at large.
But for now hold on, as the Russians get angrier, the jihadists more desperate, Mr. Ahmadinejad closer to Armaggedon, the Chinese more eager to match new power with now old money, Europe more terrified — and the United States ever more baffled by it all.
©2007 Victor Davis Hanson