State of the World: Year Eight of
By Charles Krauthammer
February 25, 2016
(1) In the South China Sea,
on a speck of land of disputed sovereignty far from its borders, China has just
installed anti-aircraft batteries and stationed fighter jets. This after China
landed planes on an artificial island it created on another disputed island
chain (the Spratlys, claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam).
These facilities now function as forward bases for Beijing to challenge seven
decades of American naval dominance of the Pacific Rim.
“China is clearly militarizing
the South China Sea,” the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command told Congress
on Tuesday. Its goal? “Hegemony in East Asia.”
(2) Syria. Russian intervention
has turned the tide of war. Having rescued the Bashar al-Assad regime from
collapse, relentless Russian bombing is destroying the rebel stronghold of
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, creating a massive new wave of refugees and
demonstrating to the entire Middle East what a Great Power can achieve when it
The U.S. response? Repeated
pathetic attempts by Secretary of State John Kerry to propitiate Russia (and its
ally, Iran) in one collapsed peace conference after another. On Sunday, he
stepped out to announce yet another “provisional agreement in
principle” on “a cessation of hostilities” that the CIA director, the
defense secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs deem little more than a
(3) Ukraine. Having swallowed
Crimea so thoroughly that no one even talks about it anymore, Russia continues
to trample with impunity on the Minsk cease-fire agreements. Vladimir Putin is
now again stirring the pot, intensifying the fighting, advancing his remorseless
campaign to fracture and subordinate the Ukrainian state. Meanwhile, Obama still
refuses to send the Ukrainians even defensive weapons.
(4) Iran. Last Thursday, Iran
received its first shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft batteries from Russia, a
major advance in developing immunity to any attack on its nuclear facilities.
And it is negotiating an $8 billion arms deal with Russia that includes
sophisticated combat aircraft. Like its ballistic missile tests, this
conventional weapons shopping spree is a blatant violation of U.N. Security
Council prohibitions. It was also a predictable — and predicted —
consequence of the Iran nuclear deal that granted Iran $100 billion and
normalized its relations with the world.
The U.S. response? Words.
Unlike gravitational waves,
today’s strategic situation is not hard to discern. Three major have-not
powers are seeking to overturn the post-Cold War status quo: Russia in Eastern
Europe, China in East Asia, Iran in the Middle East. All are on the march.
To say nothing of the Islamic
State, now extending its reach from Afghanistan to West Africa. The
international order built over decades by the United States is crumbling.
In the face of which, what does
Obama do? Go to Cuba.
Yes, Cuba. A supreme strategic
irrelevance so dear to Obama’s anti-anti-communist heart.
Is he at least going to celebrate
progress in human rights and democracy — which Obama established last year as
a precondition for any presidential visit? Of course not. When has Obama ever
held to a red line? Indeed, since Obama began his “historic”
normalization with Cuba, the repression has gotten worse. Last month, the regime
arrested 1,414 political dissidents, the second-most ever recorded.
No matter. Amid global disarray
and American decline, Obama sticks to his cherished concerns: Cuba, Guantanamo
(about which he gave a rare televised address this week), and, of course,
Obama could not bestir himself to
go to Paris in response to the various jihadi atrocities — sending Kerry
instead “to share a big hug with Paris” (as Kerry explained) with James
Taylor singing “You’ve Got a Friend” — but he did make an
ostentatious three-day visit there for climate change.
So why not go to Havana? Sure, the
barbarians are at the gates and pushing hard knowing they will enjoy but eleven more
months of minimal American resistance. But our passive president genuinely
believes that such advances don’t really matter — that these disrupters are
so on the wrong side of history, that their reaches for territory, power,
victory are so 20thcentury.
Of course, it mattered greatly to
the quarter-million slaughtered in Syria and the millions more exiled. It feels
all quite real to a dissolving Europe, an expanding China, a rising Iran, a
Not to the visionary Obama,
however. He sees far beyond such ephemera. He knows what really matters: climate
change, Gitmo, and Cuba.
With time running out, he wants
these to be his legacy. Indeed, they will be.