America’s Year of Living
By Bret Stephens
Wall Street Journal
January 4, 2016
Two thousand sixteen will be the
year of America living dangerously. Barack
Obama will devote his last full year in office to shaping a liberal
legacy, irrespective of real-world results. America’s enemies will see his
last year as an opportunity to take what they can, while they can. America’s
allies, or former allies, will do what they must.
And then Hillary
Clinton will likely become president. Whether the Republican Party
chooses to remain intact remains to be seen.
For aficionados of political
delusion, it must have been fun to watch Mr. Obama rattle off his list of
foreign-policy accomplishments at his year-end press conference last month.
There was the Paris climate deal, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific
Partnership trade deal, the opening to Cuba—“steady, persistent work,” the
president said, that was “paying off for the American people in big, tangible
Tangible means perceptible by
touch. But the Paris climate accord is voluntary and unenforceable; the Pacific
trade deal is unratified and unpopular, especially among Democrats; the opening
to Cuba is “tangible” only if you enjoy taking your beach holiday in a
dictatorship that, as my colleague Mary O’Grady has
noted, made some 8,000 political arrests in 2015—that is, after it
normalized relations with the U.S.
As for the nuclear agreement, it
to another American hostage in the hands of Tehran. Iran conducted two
ballistic-missile tests in the wake of the deal, both in violation of a legally
binding U.N. Security Council resolution. When the administration murmured its
intention to impose modest sanctions in response, Iranian President Hassan
Rouhani warned that the sanctions would violate the deal and ordered his
defense ministry to accelerate its missile program.
“The White House on Wednesday
morning sent a notification to Congress that the Treasury Department would
announce at 10:30 a.m. new sanctions on nearly a dozen companies and
individuals” linked to the Iranian missile program, the Journal’s Jay
Solomon reported last
week. “The White House sent a second email to congressional offices at 11:12
a.m. stating the sanctions announcement had been ‘delayed for a few hours.’
As of this writing, the sanctions
still haven’t been imposed. Forty-two minutes sets a Guinness record in
In the week of the sanctions
capitulation the Iranian navy test-fired unguided rockets within 1,500 yards of
the aircraft carrier USS Truman as it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
Riyadh executed a radical Shiite cleric and put an end to John
Kerry’s fantasies of diplomatic settlement for Syria after it severed
diplomatic ties with Tehran. China landed a plane on an artificial island built
illegally in the South China Sea in an area claimed by Vietnam.
Each of these acts is an
expression of contempt for Mr. Obama. Contempt is the father of lawlessness and
the grandfather of violence. What happens when the next Iranian live-fire
exercise lands a shell within 1,000 yards of a U.S. ship? Or 500?
Expect 2016 to be rich in such
incidents and worse—the inevitable result of Mr. Obama’s deliberate
abandonment of Pax Americana as the organizing principle in international
relations. Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other allies will freelance foreign
policies in ways over which we have little say, even as we are embroiled in the
consequences. Moscow, Beijing and Tehran will continue to take hammers to the
soft plaster of U.S. resolve as they seek regional dominance. The nuclear deal
will become a dead letter even as Mr. Obama insists on fulfilling our end of the
bargain. China will continue to build islands while buying us off in the paper
currency of climate agreements and other liberal hobbyhorses. Russia will seek
to test and humiliate NATO.
And there will be mass-casualty
terror attacks on the scale of Paris. If you’re reading this column on a major
metropolitan commuter network, look up from your paper.
The U.S. has lived through
dangerous years before—1968 and 1980 come to mind. Hindsight is often the
great redeemer, but both years ended with the American people making sober
political choices in the face of a deteriorating international position.
Will that happen again in 2016?
Not if either of the two current presidential front-runners wins the office. Not
if we think that the central metrics of foreign policy are the size of our
carbon footprint or the height of our wall with Mexico. Not if the bipartisan
tilt toward economic protectionism and quasi-isolationism becomes the new
national dogma. Not if we suppose that turning our back on the world’s great
convulsions (or bombing them till they glow) is the best way of escaping them.
In 1947 Democrat Harry Truman and
Republican Arthur Vandenberg saved the Western world when they agreed
that American prosperity at home depended on the security of our friends abroad.
In 2016 we’ll learn if that saving consensus still holds. Buckle up.