Post-War Order is Over
By Victor Davis
May 29, 2018
The 75-year-old post-war order crafted by the United States
after World War II is falling apart. Almost every major foreign-policy
initiative of the last 16 years seems to have gone haywire.
Donald Trump’s presidency was a reflection, not a
catalyst, of the demise of the foreign-policy status quo. Much of the world now
already operates on premises that have little to do with official post-war
institutions, customs, and traditions, which, however once successful, belong
now to a bygone age.
Take the idea of a Western Turkey, “linchpin of NATO
southeastern flank” — an idea about as enduring as the “indomitable”
French Army of 1939. For over a decade Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan
has insidiously destroyed Turkey’s once pro-Western and largely secular
traditions; he could not have done so without at least majority popular support.
Empirically speaking, neo-Ottoman Turkey is a NATO ally in
name only. By any standard of behavior — Ankara just withdrew its ambassador
from the U.S. — Turkey is a de facto enemy of the United States. It supports
radical Islamic movements, is increasingly hostile to U.S. allies such as
Greece, the Kurds, and Israel, and opposes almost every foreign-policy
initiative that Washington has adopted over the last decade. At some point, some
child is going to scream that the emperor has no clothes: Just because Turkey
says it is a NATO ally does not mean that it is, much less that it will be one
in the future.
Instead, Turkey is analogous to Pakistan, a country whose
occasional usefulness to the U.S. does not suggest that it is either an ally or
even usually friendly.
There is nothing much left of the old canard that only by
appeasing China’s mercantilism can there be a new affluent Chinese middle
class that will then inevitably adopt democracy and then will partner with the
West and become a model global nation. China is by design a chronic
international trade cheater. Trade violations have been its road to affluence.
And it seeks to use its cash as leverage to re-create something like the old
imperial Japanese Greater East Asia co-prosperity sphere. U.S. trade appeasement
of Beijing over the last decades no more brought stability to Asia than did
nodding to Tokyo in the 1930s.
There is also nothing sacred about the European Union. It
certainly is not the blueprint for any continental-wide democratic civilization
— any more than Bonaparte’s rigged “continental system” (to which the EU
is on occasion strangely and favorably compared to by its proponents). The
often-crude imposition of a democratic socialism, pacifism, and
multiculturalism, under the auspices of anti-democratic elites, from the
Atlantic to the Russian border, is spreading, not curbing, chaos. The EU utopian
mindset has altered European demography, immigration policy, energy production,
and defense. The result is that there are already four sorts of antithetical EUs:
a renegade and departing United Kingdom, an estranged Eastern European bloc
worried over open borders, an insolvent South bitter over front-line illegal
immigration and fiscal austerity, and the old core of Western Europe (a
euphemism now for German hegemony).
As for Germany, it is no longer the “new” model West
Germany of the post-war order, but a familiar old Germany that now pushes around
its neighbors on matters of illegal immigration, financial bailouts, Brexit,
Russian energy, and NATO contributions, much as it used to seek to expand
Prussia and the Sudetenland. German unification now channels more the spirit of
1871 than of 1989. Call the new German attitude “Prussian postmodernism” —
a sort of green and politically correct intimidation. Likewise, in terms of the
treatment of German Jews, Germany seems more back in the pre-war than in the
As far as the U.S., Germany has redefined its post-war
relationship with the America on something like the following three assumptions:
1) Germany’ right to renege on its promise to spend 2 percent of its GDP on
defense in order to meet its NATO promises is not negotiable; 2) its
annual $65 billion surplus with the U.S. is not negotiable; 3) its
world-record-busting account surplus of $280 billion is not negotiable.
Corollaries to the above assumptions are Germany’s insistence that NATO in its
traditional form is immutable and that the present “free” trade system is
Soon, some naïf is going to reexamine German–American
relations and exclaim “there is no there.”
The post-war energy norm ended about ten years ago. The
U.S. by next year will be the world’s largest producer of natural gas, oil,
and coal — at a time of real progress in all types of hybrid engines. Israel
does not need the Middle East’s — or anyone else’s — oil or natural gas.
The Persian Gulf is now mostly a strategic concern of Iran and its archrival
Gulf monarchies selling their oil to China and Europe, neither of which so far
has the naval power to protect the precarious fonts of its energy interests.
The Palestinian issue of the last 75 years is ossified. If
the millions of persons displaced in Europe and the Middle East between 1946 and
1950 — at about the same time as Palestinians left present-day Israel —were
not considered “refugees” for decades, then Palestinians can hardly be
singular sufferers. Perpetual victimhood is not a basis for a national agenda,
much less a blank check for endless, virtue-signaling Western aid. Moving the
U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was simply an iconic recognition of what has been true
for nearly a decade.
The West Bank’s rich Arab patrons now fear Iran more than
they do Israel. The next Middle East war will be between Israel and Iran, not
the Palestinians and their Arab sponsors and Tel Aviv — and the Sunni Arab
world will be rooting for Israel to defeat Islamic Iran.
Even nuclear proliferation no longer quite follows the
post-war boilerplate of the anxious West clamoring for non-proliferation, rogue
regimes getting nukes with a wink and nod of either the Chinese or Russians, and
then the world assuming “once a nuclear nation, always a nuclear nation.”
Instead, if there is a next round of proliferation, it will
likely be among democratic nations — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt, and
Saudi Arabia — to counter the failure of Western nations, the U.N., and
international associations to stop proliferation by the unhinged. They will seek
deterrence against regimes that were nuclearized and supported by Russia and
China in the past. Likewise, it is not written in stone that North Korea or Iran
will always have nuclear weapons, given their isolated economies’
vulnerability to sanctions and blockades, their international unpopularity, and
the costs that will be imposed upon their stealthy patrons.
Finally, we’re seeing the end of the old truism that the
U.S. was either psychologically or economically so strong that it could easily
take on the burdens of global leadership — taking trade hits for newly
ascendant capitalist nations that ignored trade rules, subsidizing the
Continental defense of an affluent Europe, rubber-stamping international
institutions on the premise that they adhered to Western liberalism and
tolerance, and opening its borders either to assuage guilt or to recalibrate a
supposedly culpable demography.
Historic forces have made post-war thinking obsolete and
thereby left many reactionary “experts” wedded to the past and in denial
about the often-dangerous reality before their eyes. Worse is the autopilot
railing for the nth time that Donald Trump threatens the post-war order,
undermines NATO, is clueless about the EU, or ignores the sophisticated
institutions that hold the world together.
About the only metaphor that works is that Trump threw a pebble at a global glass house. But that is not a morality tale about the power of pebbles, but rather about the easy shattering of cracked glass.