… and other reflections on the post-Pax Americana crack-up
As the world takes off on its own, the directions it is going are predictable, but still poignant. In some ways, it is as if the great paroxysms of the 20th century – World War I, the socialist revolutions, national socialism, World War II, the Cold War – “never even happened.” In other ways, it’s as if the joke has ended up being on the victors from these turmoils.
With the guarantee of US supervision lifted, the old-style power and seniority that were once castigated as oppressive begin to look like sources of security. Absurdities like the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations gain no traction because everyone’s gut sense is that something much bigger is going on. The silly, ephemeral premises of the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd are a relic, a superannuated adolescent whine from an era when there was a sense of resignation about being able to afford a little bit of sophomoric foolishness. No more. Papa’s broke, and we can’t afford the waste and clean-up effort.
Germans are losing patience with the chronic dysfunction of the Southern European economies. Russia – Russia! – is stepping in to help bail out the overextended. The Russians may have a crummy political system and a mafia-style economy and repressed individual rights, but they take no prisoners when it comes to extracting and allocating profits from the natural gas trade. So they have something that seems more important right now: cash.
It takes a whole heap of regulating to turn Western economies into supplicants and Russia and China into comparative cash-daddies, but we’ve managed it. We have made it so illegal and costly to invest and profit in the West that sclerotic, oligarchic Russia and the one-trick pony that is China are positioned better than Western nations are to offer cash to the West’s biggest failures. The US Congress even sits around voting on whether to get in a huff about China manipulating her currency. There was a time when you couldn’t make people accept Chinese currency. They’d run screaming in the other direction. The Chinese regime hasn’t changed that much; we have.
In what Melanie Phillips calls a “world turned upside down” (a rhetorical nod to the tune supposedly played on the occasion of Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown), the Japanese last week hosted the defense ministers of ASEAN to discuss a common effort to contain China. Japan, an observer in ASEAN, has been investing in Southeast Asia for decades now; ASEAN has met to discuss countering China before; but gathering the defense ministers in Japan is a new set-out. Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, fellow ASEAN observer Australia – these nations meeting with Japan to discuss containing China resurrect echoes of the form international relations took before WWII, if not the particulars.
Adding to the sense of an alternate-universe reversion to the 1930s is South Korea’s decision to construct two new naval bases on islands off her coast. One is to be on the island of Ulleung in the Sea of Japan, an island Seoul disputes with Tokyo (which calls the island Takeshima). The other will entail the fortification of Jeju (Cheju-do), off South Korea’s southern coast at the western entrance to the Tsushima Strait, where the Yellow Sea meets the East China Sea. Japan is not the concern behind this move; Russia and China are. The perceived need for it has arisen for the same reason Southeast Asians are meeting with Japan to discuss security concerns: the credibility of US force and guarantees has diminished.
It’s the same reason why Indonesia and Vietnam have agreed to set up joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, why Indonesia is looking to expand her navy dramatically and add a third geographic fleet organization, why the Philippines has been courting Japanese assistance in patrolling her sea lanes adjacent to the South China Sea, and why India is assembling her own “String of Pearls” to rival China’s South Asian maritime strategy.
India is very concerned about China in general, which leads to the title point about the US Army’s need for a motorcycle stunt team. India’s army has one, and it did some serious riding in a display during India’s first military exercise with the armed forces of Mongolia in September. Any army can do this (and it’s no big deal for air forces to do this, or navies to do this. Showboating air forces can do this stuff in their sleep, and naval infantry or marines the world over, with their cool toys, have no trouble doing this, this, this, this, and this. And anybody, basically, can do this). But motorcycle stunt teams are few and far between, even if new strange bedfellows are now cropping up, geopolitically speaking, on a minimum two-per-week basis.
Meanwhile, over in the Eastern Mediterranean, tensions are high but haven’t bubbled over. Both Turkey and Cyprus continue their maritime oil-and-gas activities. Sensational rumors – almost none of them believable – abound regarding the reaction of Israel and the supposed counterreaction of Turkey. (I give credence to the reports that Israel is keeping the Turkish warships under daily aerial surveillance, but discount the rest.)
Russia will be sending more warships to the Med after the Black Sea Fleet task force visits Greece and Montenegro later this month. The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov will reportedly leave the Barents in late November for a Med deployment, accompanied by at least one Udaloy-class destroyer. The last time Admiral Kuznetsov was in the Med, in 2009, the ship made port calls in Syria and Turkey. Russian ships are very unlikely to call in either nation this time around – but will be quietly welcomed by long-time allies of the United States.
There’s also the periodic destabilizing eruption from Syria’s promising liberal reformer, Bashar al-Assad, who stated earlier this week that he would ask for Hezbollah’s help attacking Israel with missiles and rockets if other nations use military force against his regime. In his case, however, that’s not the world turned upside down, it’s just business as usual.
The world won’t right itself automatically if the US elects a different president next year. But we need to keep in mind that the problems the world is sinking into are the result not of what we are doing, but of what we aren’t.
The West is slothful, confused, and tired, but not from overexertion. In one of the most remarkable trends in history, we have ordered ourselves for no good reason to assume a listless, inert posture. Nothing would help us as much as releasing ourselves from our own ridiculous constraints. We don’t need to live by lies about what is good and what is bad; nothing fates us to accept an artificially constructed prison of regulation, “political correctness,” and suicidal self-abnegation.
There are millions of people whose potential and power have been artificially stifled by the distorted expectations of modern Western society. A Greek woman of 50, who has been promised a right to retire at that age from the perilous, heavily regulated profession of hairdressing – and for whom more lucrative or creative arrangements were made impossible by regulation and taxes anyway – has been discouraged and underemployed as surely as the New Soviet Man ever was. Kings in the Middle Ages, imposing sumptuary laws in the name of the Christian church, discouraged the industry and drive of their people no more effectively than the modern public education systems of Europe and North America.
But what we have done to ourselves can be undone. It will have to be: there is no form of social organization that does what the political and economic freedom of the West – and especially of the USA – has done. It is because we have turned our backs on it that the world has turned upside down.
A motorcycle stunt team for our army may not be the main thing we ought to look into, but it can’t hurt. The nation whose army has the motorcycle stunt team has at least shown itself capable of adapting and facing reality.