The past hundred years have seen two worldwide ideological wars: The Cold War and the current war between the West and Islam, which Norm Podhoretz calls World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism.
In both of these wars, the world has been a battle ground between opposing forces, one of which seeks to enslave the world’s citizens before a socialist or theocratic government, and the other of which seeks to prevent that enslavement. (I was going to say “seeks to maximize individual freedom,” but I don’t believe that we can say that anymore about America and we never could say that about Europe.) The fact that the Islamic war has been going on intermittently since the 7th century, with innumerable individual Muslim nations leading the charge, doesn’t change its essential ideological nature.
The same hundred years have seen two worldwide “regional” wars, as well as uncountable small regional wars. The worldwide ones were, quite obviously World Wars I and II. Some people are a bit confused about WWII’s inclusion in this category. While Hitler definitely had an ideology, he was not seeking to spread that ideology. He simply wanted to expand his nation as far as possible, bringing some geographical regions into Germany, and enslaving others to Germany.
World War I was also about zones of power rather than advancing an ideology throughout the world. The myriad other 20th and 21st century regional wars have pitted communists against non-communists, but the warring nations, rather than seeking to spread their ideology, were simply working to expand their regional power bases.
Which gets me to what Obama had to say about Russia, where he managed to be both sort of right and entirely wrong. Since Putin first zeroed in on Ukraine and the Crimea, Obama has been on defense about the fact that Mitt Romney, all the way back in 2012, accurately predicted that Russia would be a geopolitical foe.
Understandably, Obama cannot now concede that Romney was right. (Much as I dislike and distrust Obama, I think any president in his shoes would never acknowledge that his former opponent was right and would do anything and everything to spin the situation.) So Obama spins and spins and spins with the inevitable result — the more he talks, the more foolish he appears:
[Obama:] With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia is our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that America has a whole lot of challenges.
Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neigbors, not out of strength, but out of weakness.
Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong, cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.
So my response then continues to be what I believe today, which is: Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.
To the extent Obama’s logorrhea disclaims a new Cold War, he’s correct. Putin may mourn the old Soviet Union, but he’s not backing a new Cold War strategy of using guile, stealth, and proxy warfare in order to spread communism throughout the world. He’s a strong Russian nationalist who has no ideology he wants to market. In terms of ideological warfare, our enemy remains Islam, which wants to take over the world with a ferocity that even the communists couldn’t muster.
For Obama to dismiss Russia as a mere regional power, however, and to state that this power base is a “weakness” reveals Obama’s profound historical ignorance and intellectual insularity. It’s as if, in his mind, when the Cold War ended, all possible wars ended. In reality, throughout history, countries seeking regional dominance have successfully wrecked havoc on the world. After all, as they increase their geographic scope, they increase the “region” in which they operate.
In ancient times, Persia wasn’t selling ideology. It was just spreading its wings, seeking Persian lebensraum, an effort that saw it work its way across the entire Aegean until the Spartans stopped it. It’s regional reach managed to go from Persia itself to almost the entire known world. The same was true for both the Greeks and the Romans. While they thought that their ways were best, they weren’t selling an ideology when they conquered. They wanted power and wealth, aka Greek and Roman lebensraum. The Mongol hordes? Ditto. Louis XIV’s France? Ditto. Napoleonic France? Ditto. World Wars I and II, as mentioned above? Ditto.
None of the above aggressor nations conquered a nearby “region” and then stopped voluntarily. Each was emboldened by regional victories and sought to expand the territories it controlled. All were stopped only when their reach exceeded their grasp or when they met a foe more implacable than they were. For Obama to assume that Putin, having stretched his wings a little bit in the Ukraine, will now stop his territorial aggression is woefully or willfully naive.
For Putin, this expansion is a marvelous offset to his problems at home. Dying, aging population? Get a new population. Weakened, corrupted economy? Prop it up with wealth acquired using arms against other nations. An increasingly unpopular, undemocratic rule? Become a successful warrior king and watch your poll numbers shoot up.
The fact that Putin’s armed conquest is unsustainable in the long run (all warrior conquerors have a reach that exceeds their grasp), doesn’t mean in the short run that it won’t be successful. For a time that can run into decades, Putin will control vast swathes of reasonably productive land — something that will give him power far beyond his region. He’ll be able to meddle in Western Europe again. He’ll hold over the world the threat of an alliance with China. He’ll continue to be a power player in the Middle East, especially since Arab nations will always ally themselves with the strong horse.
America’s endlessly naive peace party, which has Obama as its perfect leader, has always assumed that if America makes nice with the world, the world will suddenly become a nicer place. That this isn’t how the world works eludes these peace makers, as it did after World War I and during the Cold War and during our current World War IV.
Since time immemorial, the world has been a balance of powers. If one power weakens, other step up to fill the vacuum. The world is in bad shape when the dominant power is evil and the world is in good shape when the dominant power is less evil. I would say America is the best dominant power ever to have walked the earth (with the Pax Britannica probably a good second), but we don’t even need to award a dominant power with the label “Best Dominant Power Ever.” It’s enough to know that civilization advances (wealth, health, and innovation) if a particular reigning dominant power is simply better than the alternatives.
It’s not quite clear what Obama’s thinks, but both his ideas are wrong. He either loathes America so much that he believes, contrary to the entire weight of history, that she has been an evil dominant power or, as I said, he’s so naive and stupid he believes that, if a dominant power voluntarily departs the scene, peace will reign eternal. Either could explain his deliberate decision to remove America from the world stage, despite global success under her mostly benignant leadership and his conscious refusal to acknowledge the forces of evil hastening to fill the vacuum America has left in her wake.
When I think about the American Lefts’ moral and historical blindness, I keep being reminded of the rebooted Twilight Zone, which ran for two seasons in the mid-1980s. One of its episodes was called A Small Talent for War:
An ambassador (John Glover) from an alien race arrives, claiming that his race had genetically engineered the people of Earth. He tells the quarrelsome members of the United Nations Security Council that his race is displeased over Earth’s “small talent for war”, having failed to produce the potential that the aliens had nurtured. When the alien ambassador announces that his fleet will destroy Earth, the Security Council earns a 24 hour reprieve to prove Earth’s worth. With survival at stake, the Security Council negotiates, and the General Assembly acclaims, an accord for lasting global peace and presents it to the alien ambassador.
The global peace agreement brings great humour to the emissary. The aliens were, in fact, seeking a greater talent for war, as they had genetically seeded thousands of planets to breed warriors to fight for them across the galaxy. Humanity’s “small talent” for war (crude weapons, petty bickering over borders) is not significant enough to be of any use to them, and he laughingly states that – worst of all – the people of Earth long for peace. As the ambassador calls down his fleet to destroy the Earth, he thanks the Security Council for an amusing day and their “delightful sense of the absurd”, and his parting comment is “…as one of your fine Earth actors, Edmund Gwenn, once said, Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”
Humans are never closer to animals than when it comes to their passion and ability for war. Only two things stave off war, especially when these two things operate simultaneously: free trade between nations, so that peace is more beneficial than war; and a dominant world (or regional) power that acts defensively, not offensively. It’s only Twilight Zone script writers and Democrat Party members who think that we will erase war if we successfully stifle the free market and then create a power vacuum that any tin pot tyrant can fill.