For the past several decades in time of trouble the world has turned to the United States for leadership.
No longer. With America abrogating its authority, other nations are struggling to fill the power vacuum. Writing as Spengler David Goldman suggests that we should understand what is happening in the Middle East, and especially in Egypt through that perspective.
Obviously, the Obama administration foreign policy team is filled with inexperienced bumblers. Yet, as Goldman has been at pains to point out, no Republican has stepped forward to present a viable alternative.
President Obama has chosen John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to lead State and Defense. Kerry believes that he should be spending his time brokering peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. Hagel is notoriously inept and not very bright.
Beyond these two, Obama’s inner circle is filled with amateurs. Since they do not know what they are doing, other nations cannot rely on them to provide firm, steady, consistent leadership:
President Obama has surrounded himself with a camarilla, with Susan Rice as National Security Advisor, flanked by Valerie Jarrett, the Iranian-born public housing millionaire. Compared to Obama's team, Zbigniew Brzezinski was an intellectual colossus at Jimmy Carter's NSC. These are amateurs, and it is anyone's guess what they will do from one day to the next.
Republicans might have stepped into the breach and offered a cogent and coherent analysis of the world situation. They would have reassured other nations that America will rise again. Instead, it keeps trotting out the superannuated John McCain. Here Goldman repeats a point that he has often made:
By default, Republican policy is defined by Senator John McCain, whom the head of Egypt's ruling National Salvation Party dismissed as a "senile old man" after the senator's last visit to Cairo. McCain's belief in Egyptian democracy is echoed by a few high-profile Republican pundits, for example, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Robert Kagan, and Max Boot. Most of the Republican foreign policy community disagrees, by my informal poll. Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasted Obama for undermining the Egyptian military's ability to keep order, but his statement went unreported by major media.
A nation that wants to continue to exercise leadership on the world stage does not elect Barack Obama. A nation that wants to be respected on the world stage does not vote for John McCain either. One might say that Mitt Romney was a cut above the others, but he had no real experience in foreign policy either.
Goldman describes the situation:
Neither party has an institutional capacity for intelligent deliberation about American interests. Among the veterans of the Reagan and Bush administrations, there are many who understand clearly what is afoot in the world, but the Republican Party is incapable of acting on their advice. That is why the institutional failure is so profound. Republican legislators live in terror of a primary challenge from isolationists like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and will defer to the Quixotesque McCain.
Other regional and world powers will do their best to contain the mess.
America’s failure to lead is not just a function of incompetent leaders. In the last two presidential elections America signaled to the world that it wanted to take a time out. It was seriously tired of the burden that had befallen it as the world’s superpower. Many Americans were fed up fighting wars that did not lead to decisive victories. If the world’s Muslims were hellbent on killing each other, why should America try to stop them. We could defend the homeland without engaging in costly foreign wars. So most Americans seem to have concluded.
One suspects that most voters do not believe that America has a national interest in Egypt or in many other parts of the world. While Egyptian has been falling into a civil war, America has been consumed by a national conversation about racism.
Russia and China have stepped into the power vacuum. When a nation like Saudi Arabia looks at what happened to Hosni Mubarak and weighs the Obama administration love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood it naturally turns its attention to Russia and China.
The Saudis, meanwhile, have installed Chinese missiles aimed at Iran. There are unverifiable reports that Saudi Arabia already has deployed nuclear weapons sourced from Pakistan. The veracity of the reports is of small relevance; if the Saudis do not have such weapons now, they will acquire them if and when Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons. What seems clear is that Riyadh is relying not on Washington but on Beijing for the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons. China has a profound interest in Saudi security. It is the largest importer of Saudi oil. America might wean itself of dependence on imported oil some time during the next decade, but China will need the Persian Gulf for the indefinite future.
As a new world order comes into being, most American analysts do not see what is happening. Looking at the world through the lens of American disengagement, they have misread reality. Goldman tries to set them straight.
American policy towards Russia is a shambles. The famous Hillary Clinton “reset” was a joke. Analysts look at the situation and conclude that Russia will implode. Goldman predicts that it will not. He notes that we and the Russians have a common interest in fighting Islamic terrorism:
Today's Russia is no friend of the United States, to be sure, but Islamist terrorism is today's greater evil, and the United States would be well advised to follow the Saudi example and make common cause with Russia against Islamism.
Savvy American analysts are also watching and waiting for China to fail. They have been predicting it for more than two decades now, to no avail.
Just as their analysis of Russia rationalizes disengagement, so does their analysis of China. Unwilling to compete in the arena or to exercise leadership, they are relying on a wish that the competition will trip and fall before it reaches the finish line.
Apparently, the Chinese have not gotten the message. They have grown their economy and have increasingly promoted their national self-interest around the world.
Goldman sums it up:
In the case of China, the consensus has been that the Chinese economy would slow sharply this year, causing political problems. China's June trade data suggest quite the opposite: a surge in imports (including a 26% year-on-year increase in iron ore and a 20% increase in oil) indicate that China is still growing comfortably in excess of 7% a year. China's transition from an export model driven by cheap labor to a high-value-added manufacturing and service economy remains an enormous challenge, perhaps the biggest challenge in economic history, but there is no evidence to date that China is failing. Like it or not, China will continue to set the pace for world economic growth.