The same thing happened in the months prior to September 1, 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland to begin World War II. The pundits and the pols tried to figure out what would happen next.
In both cases, both wars, while (most) everyone agreed war was a bad idea, most also agreed that the march towards it seemed inevitable, as if believing in a certain outcome helped cement the conditions and actions that would fulfill that prediction.
And once again, in 2014, the pundits are asking if the march towards global war—or global chaos anyway—is happening with inevitable certainty.
In Politico yesterday, Mike Allen noted and linked to different sources, including financial advisors, politicians, and foreign affairs experts, who were viewing the world right now as being particularly, dangerously, unstable.
Allen quoted Mark Grant, an investment manager, from a recent email sent out to clients:
“The level of concern for our safety has certainly intensified. If Damascus and Baghdad were to fall then the extremists controlling some new country may begin to look past their borders to inflict punishment on the rest of us that do not share their views.”While calling Grant "notoriously alarmist", Allen noted that Grant's concerning analysis of the world "dovetails with [the] memorable analysis that’s the second story on The Wall Street Journal’s front page, 'An Arc of Instability Unseen Since the ’70s'. That WSJ story put things in blunt terms:
"The breadth of global instability now unfolding hasn't been seen since the late 1970s, U.S. security strategists say, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, revolutionary Islamists took power in Iran, and Southeast Asia was reeling in the wake of the U.S. exit from Vietnam."The WSJ article even offers this extraordinary opinion, that the United States has been so weakened and strained by over a decade of chasing terrorists—and in many cases manufacturing them wholesale by stupid blunders—that fundamentally important treaty obligations might be beyond America's ability to honor:
"There is a growing skepticism in Asia about whether the U.S. would abide by its commitment to defend Japan, Taiwan and other Asian countries if their territorial disputes with China escalate into conflict, according to Asian diplomats."When you're hearing words like Vietnam and Munich (as in Chamberlain's 1938 Munich sellout), you know that despite the enormous military power of the United States, the perception is of the USA empire in decline, not ascending.
Are things really as bad as the pundits, and some pols (like John McCain) are claiming?
Or is this a brand of anti-Obama hype, mainly pushed by the right wing to suggest the President is an incompetent manager of America’s world? Just that way of thinking, that the world is America’s to manage, is incredibly outrageous to most other nations, who understandably find a range of ways to push back against that kind of arrogance.
As in 1914, as in 1939, as in 1989 (when the Soviet empire collapsed), in 2014 the world is adapting to a host of changed conditions, not the least of which are represented in the eternal struggle between reason and hysteria on the parts of leaders and their peoples.
In some cases, such as in the Islamic world, faith is being used to whip up hatred and to encourage the belief in a spiritually-directed realignment of the global power structure. While nations in the West fear this movement, and view it as dangerously destabilizing, the fact is that groups such as ISIL (or now IS, the Islamic State), have revealed the rusted bonds that are holding together the remnants of a Middle East drawn by Europeans, to secure cheap oil supplies, at the end of World War I.
That indigenous peoples are motivated to throw off the shackles of a century of capitalist, imperialist, exploitation by the West should not be surprising.
Meanwhile, in Asia, the problem is China, which is seemingly playing the bully in the South China Sea and elsewhere, pushing around a host of its neighbors, including US allies, in order to establish its dominance in the region. While the United States naturally opposes China’s aggressive stance in the region, and has treaty obligations, especially to Japan, that could threaten a regional or global war if things got militarily out of hand, the desire of China to establish a dominant position is not difficult to understand.
Not so long ago, well within Chinese memory, the power relationships were much different than they are today, and China could not stop European nations from treating Asia and especially China like a conquered territory. For example, in one of the most heinous acts of the 19th century, Great Britain decided to deal with what it viewed as an unfair trade balance (or imbalance) with China, by addicting the Chinese nation to opium.
The Chinese government was politically and militarily weak, and Great Britain forced China to give away huge trade concessions, and even the port of Hong Kong (which Great Britain kept as a colony until 1997).
Eventually all the major European powers and the United States would use military force to coerce China into doing what the imperialist Westerners demanded. While most Americans have no idea what the Opium Wars were about, and certainly do not care to know, the humiliation suffered by the Chinese nation at the hands of the West is not forgotten in China.
Also not forgotten is one bloody consequence of that humiliation, a political destabilization, that led to the disastrous Taiping Rebellion, which cost 20 million Chinese killed in one of the deadliest wars in history.
Again, Americans particularly are educationally vacant when it comes to China, and its seemingly quite good reasons for feeling paranoid about the intentions of—pretty much everyone else in the world.
While that is an attitude not exactly inclined to win friends, China's size and wealth mean that it most definitely can exert considerable influence.
Whether that influence takes the world to war, or takes China to a new role as political and military power chief in Asia, we shall have to see.
Ultimately, all the pundits and the pols can do is hypothesize and hope and plan—for what exactly is what should concern all the rest of us.