The Eye Of The Storm?


I have to say I'm getting more and more jittery about the global situation. This story from Iraq is just one story - but if the Shiite government really does want to get America out of the way and is now targeting key members of the Sunni Awakening movement, the current lull in violence may well be just a pause before another bout of brutal civil war ahead. In the world as a whole, no progress has been made in restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions; no breakthrough has occurred between Israel and Syria; and Russia's invasion of Georgia is a clear sign from Moscow that it is an independent player in this global system, and has many cards to play against the West if it so chooses. Among those cards is a de facto alliance with Iran. And this axis also makes it likelier that Israel will seek to pre-emptively attack Iran in ways that would instantly throw the world into a global conflict, with religious overtones.

Am I being excitable again? Perhaps. But sober minds should take a moment to read Paul Berman's latest piece in TNR. It's very shrewd on a variety of points, not least of which is the Russian leadership's obvious, and dangerous, sense of their own vulnerability. But what Paul really grasps is that the post-1989 era may really be over. He worries that a more traditionally realist conservative foreign policy will now gain ascendancy - to the detriment of democratic movements in the Russian orbit, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He may be right. But the truth is: the time for such an adjustment is surely overdue.

The United States is fast becoming a fiscal basket-case, its currency vastly depreciated from a few years ago, its debt mounting, with neither presidential candidate willing to tackle it. The Bush Republicans have added $32 trillion to future liabilities, and hollowed out the military with a counter-insurgency of attrition in Mesopotamia. The war in Iraq, a strategic disaster, has soaked up trillions without making the West in any measurable way safer. Al Qaeda has a far more secure base in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani nuclear Islamic state could turn any minute. The global economy seems headed for a serious downturn, with US private and public indebtedness making a quick revival unlikely. The hubris that propelled this president to begin his second term vowing to end tyranny on the planet by force of American arms now looks ludicrous.

My fear is that we have lost the window for recalibrating means to ends without simply looking as weak as we are. Iran's tenacity, and Russia's aggression are simply reflections of the broader recognition that Bush's bluff has been called. McCain's appeal is that he simply refuses to believe in any of this: it's all still winnable, and American military power is still his main tool of choice. But what if he's wrong? Would he not merely compound the folly of the last few years - and would he be the wisest choice as president in a world hurtling toward the potential for more polarizing conflict?

There is one obvious area of common ground, however. Oil is the source of the power of our enemies, and the enemies of democracy and peace. Until we shift the global economy decisively away from petro-economics, the West will decline quite swiftly in relation to the petro-powers. There is no peaceful future for a world run on oil. This is now not just a matter of environmental concern; it's a geo-strategic urgency.