Book Review: America in Retreat

AmericaInRetreatby Avi Davis   12/3/14
America in Retreat: the New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder by Bret Stephens  •  What would the world look like if America stopped investing its diplomatic and military resources in the troubled areas of the globe?

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens has an idea.

The date is December 25, 2019, approaching Year Three of a Hillary Clinton presidency.   Two and a half years previously, China had covertly taken possession of Kinmen Island — a few miles off the coast of Taiwan and within  the latter nation’s territorial waters.  Japan, witnessing the failure of the Americans to launch so much as a protest to this violation of international law in the U.N., begins to make overtures to long-time enemy South Korea and a few months later, under cover of darkness, lands troops on the contested Senkaku Islands, a transparent attempt to forestall a Kinmen-style fate for its claimed territory. Russia, already emboldened by uncontested invasions of Georgia and Ukraine a few years before, has seen its economy cratered by falling gas prices. And to shore up his sagging popularity, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin stirs the coals of Russian nationalism, exploiting an internal rebellion in Belarus by sending Russian tanks rolling into Minsk.  With Belarus now conveniently transformed into a Russian satellite, Putin turns his eyes westward to the NATO-defended Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The Clinton Administration has not said boo to the previous acts but  is certain that Putin would never dare  attack a NATO ally. But then again………

Meanwhile, in Iran, long time Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has died leaving his son Mojtaba as the new Guardian Jurist.  Within months, uprisings in the Iranian provinces begin to wreak a general cleavage in the population and the Clinton brain trust, unwilling to relive the mistakes of the Obama Administration during Iran’s 2011 Green Revolution, begins to arm the insurgency.  This unfortunately has unintended consequences as Iran’s ruling mullahs find themselves forced to the wall.   When the insurgents attack the nuclear facilities at the Port of Bushehr, the West awakens to the reality that the collapsing regime’s new nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of even more desperate Islamic militants. There is urgent NATO (and Israeli)  talk about a multilateral force needed to invade Iran in order to secure the nuclear facilities.  This sets the nervous mullahs on a war footing and contemplating the first belligerent use of a nuclear weapon since the detonation of the second  Atom Bomb at Nagasaki in 1945.

Israel at the same time is confronted with a renewed effort of Palestinians to bring attention to their demands for statehood, independent of an internationally sanctioned agreement. In a 100,000 person march on the Qalandiya Checkpoint, which separates Ramallah from Jerusalem, Palestinians, each bedecked with a neck key —  a poignant symbol of a right of return to purported ancestral  homes — the crowd attempts to break through the checkpoint.  The Israeli military response results in the death of twelve of the protesters and is caught on camera, and then labeled by  the international press  a massacre.  International sanctions pour in from around the world.  The U.S. Administration seeks to deliver a stern message to the government of Israeli prime minister Moshe Ya’alon — withdraw to the 1949 Armistice lines and allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state or else risk the resetting of diplomatic relations between Israel and U.S.  This only emboldens the Palestinians who repeat the Keys Marches all over the West Bank seeking to provoke Israeli retaliation.                                                         

The European continent faces its own form of crisis. With consistently low growth over several years, Germany slips into recession and one of its most significant state-owned banks collapses. The German government announces that it is unwilling to bear the crushing weight of European debt any longer as it nervously watches its other banks lose confidence. Just as Germany is reconsidering its role as European savior, many of the constituent nations of a united Europe begin to fall apart. Catalonia in Spain, Flanders in Belgium, and the Veneto in Italy all seek to separate from the sinking ship of Europe in which they are such a crucial economic role and the resulting referendums bring about the ultimate crisis that the Brussels bureaucracy cannot stem.

The upshot of this vivid scenario, which comes late in Stephens’ America in Retreat, is to illustrate the chaos which might ensue when the United States gives up any pretense of serving as the world’s policeman — a job it had grudgingly assumed upon Britain’s post war abdication of the role.  The scenario that Stephens paints draws directly from the experiences of the past six years as he demonstrates how the Obama Administration has consistently sought to  distance itself from world events to the greatest extent possible, hiding behind multilateral actions and seeking to build international consensus instead of prosecuting a vigorous policy of its own.   This misguided agenda has produced a raft of unintended consequences, including the emboldening of a revanchist Russia, the strengthening of Iranian drive for nuclear power, the recrudescence of Chinese imperialism, and the devolution of Europe.  It is the mantle that  Hilary Clinton, should she succeed in her presidential quest, will inherit.

But more troubling than this is the abandonment of stalwart democratic allies.  Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states, Japan, Taiwan and India all now have doubts as to the worth of American guarantees and the trustworthiness of its promises. Stephens spares no effort to demonstrate how devastating the volte face has been for America’s reputation and the likely consequences of allowing our allies to hang out to dry.

Such an abandonment traces its roots among American politicians of both left and right to the concept of ‘ Declinism’ — the theory that American power is on the wane and that the nation can no longer maintain much of its influence in world affairs. The ‘America Come Home’ slogan, which has anchored U.S. foreign policy over the past the past six years, is a fundamental reflection of this ideology. The battle for the control of American foreign policy is always a contest between internationalists who want more engagement in the world and realists who seek less. That is nothing new. What is perhaps new and alarming in our present day, Stephens contends, is the abiding sense of national impotence that the Obama Administration continues to convey to the American people and to the world as the U.S. — and which eclipses our efforts to have an influence in world affairs.

One factor that Stephens does unfortunately fail to mention is the Obama Administration’s resistance to drawing appropriate lessons and parallels from the 1938 Munich Agreement — the central  event in world history whose lessons would form the foundation of America’s post war foreign policy.   Every post-war president has at one time or another felt the need to  invoke the memory of  Munich — a determination to never appease nor tolerate aggression — as a cornerstone of a muscular American world view. Obama has never once referred to it — not  in any speech nor in any writing. The glaring absence of this vital historical lesson in the thinking of the Commander-in- Chief, has exposed the empty core of his philosophy.

The battle for the control of American foreign policy is always a struggle between internationalists who want more engagement in the world and realists who seek less.  That is nothing new.  What is perhaps new and alarming in our present day is the abiding sense of national impotence that the Obama Administration continues to convey to the American people and to the world.

Stephens, whose witty, elegant prose in the Wall Street Journal has elevated him to the top echelons of American journalism (and last year won him the Pulitzer Prize), concludes his book with an analogy of the broken windows theory of policing. Expressed concisely it is the idea that increased police presence on our urban streets is in itself a deterrent to crime — enforcing community norms, punishing minor violations, and maintaining a semblance of order. As with cities, so with nations. The institution of good policing prevents rogue nations exercising free rein and results in a global order which ultimately enhances American national interests.

The American performance of the role of the good cop walking a global beat was one of the key factors enabling the extraordinary spread of liberty and prosperity in the post- war world — at a level unknown in human history. It contributed decisively to the containment of communism with all its human miseries while facilitating the flow of free trade — which has been indispensable to worldwide economic growth. But we fool ourselves into believing that the world has settled into a modern day Shangri-la which requires no further monitoring. The internationalist and realist can both appreciate that the world is still a dangerous place, full of miscreants, rogues, liars and thieves — many of whom are committed to our undoing. If America forgets this and retreats from the world, it cannot be surprised when the chaos which then ensues one day washes up on its own shores.

(This article was originally published at The Intermediate Zone.)


AFA logoAvi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and blogs at The Intermediate Zone. • (2381 views)

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14 Responses to Book Review: America in Retreat

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    It is a sad state of affairs. American power has never been and can never be everywhere. But through judicious use of its power in particularly important areas, America has, over the last seventy years, sent a clear signal to the world that there are certain lines in the sand which America will enforce.

    The present traitor-in-chief in the White House has done immense damage to both America’s status and future credibility. And this will have terrible consequences for both Americans and others.

    In the future, no longer believing America will actually back up its own or its allies interests, some country will go too far and America will have to react with massive force.

    • David Ray says:

      Bret Stephens made an astute point on the Dennis Prager show. He said that Bush was spot on to invade Iraq, but introducing the Nanny state to Iraq was folly.
      (That interview cost me $20.41 at Amazon damn it!)

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I have come to the conclusion that, at best, Bush may have had some good instincts/intentions, but he was basically incompetent in following through on them.

        Iraq is, of course, the main exemplar in this regard. It would be take a book to go through the mistakes made and idiocy sometimes displayed by the administration in that conflict.

        Let me give two straightforward examples. 1) Trying to make a democracy of a tribal nation large portions of which had a medieval culture. 2) Appointing a bureaucrat who had no experience in the Middle East as Supremo. Contrast that move with the appointment of MacArthur in Japan after WWII.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    A frightening, and all too credible, scenario. We can only hope that Slick Hilly isn’t as hostile to America (and therefore its allies, and Western civilization in general) as Barry Zero.

    Incidentally, the Australian writer John Birmingham wrote a series of books that started out with the United States disappearing almost entirely (more or less by magic). The purpose was partly to explore the consequences, which naturally are catastrophic for the world at large. (For example, he has the Muslim Brotherhood taking over in Egypt — this was written over a decade ago — and Israel responding in a fashion they consider appropriate. One line I quoted as an epigraph to my review of the first book involved an Israeli pilot returning from destroying the Aswan High Dam and noticing the “new sun” to the north: “Where Cairo once stood.”)

    But we are being reminded that the US doesn’t have to disappear if the wrong emperor takes over. (It’s ironic that “emperor” comes from the Latin “imperator”, which referred originally to a successful conqueror.)

  3. David Ray says:

    I remember when Obama’s response to the Georgian invasion was “I think it is important at this point for all sides to show restraint and to stop this armed conflict.”

    Putin heard him and laughed the same way the Iranian gov’t did when B. Hussein meekly asked if we could pretty please have our drone back.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Better be careful. Some liberal fact-checker might point out that Obama didn’t exactly say that. After all, something of the sort actually happened. Liberals are generally unable even to recognize satire directed at their political/religious (they’re the same thing for liberals) beliefs.

      • David Ray says:

        I’d actually thought he had said both sides “should cool it”, but oh well.
        As I’ve noted, liberals, at times, fell a single timber in our forest of an argument and then act as if they’ve cleared all to form a desert.

        (I’m certain liberals will rush to cite little Barry’s stronger correction days later. No matter. America’s enemies know just how weak he is and are cashing in continually.)

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I was referring to the drone. I recall someone parodying Obama’s wimpy response — and getting fact-checked by someone who didn’t understand that it was a joke. (Note, similarly, that SNL parodies of Obama have been fact-checked twice by people who saw nothing wrong with Tina Fey parodying Sarah Palin as saying she could see Russia from her house — even though some liberals, including National Putrid Radio, actually believed Palin said it.)

          • David Ray says:

            Oh, I see.
            Now I was not TOO surprised when I found out that that hilarious SNL skit was indeed fact-checked TWICE.

            Kathleen Hall Jamieson help found Factcheck.org.
            Yep . . . the same idiot who told Bill Moyers that Clinton’s 2012 DNC speech was the most accurate. (That’s funny, because I counted over five lies before I tuned out. Guess she forgot that slick Willy vetoed Welfare Reform twice before finally being forced to sign it.)

            • Timothy Lane says:

              No, that was 2 different skits being fact-checked. I did a parody after the first one in which CNN fact-checked old children’s TV shows. (They reported that Captain Kangaroo was neither a captain nor a kangaroo and that Lamb Chop was inedible, but Crabby Appleton really was rotten to the core. And Dennis really wasn’t much of a menace. They were also looking to how much romping went on in Romper Room.

  4. David Ray says:

    When the Wehrmacht initially occupied the Sudetenland in 1938, Hitler had issued secret orders to retreat if the allies had showed any signs of resistance.
    No such resistance was forthcoming . . . and the rest is painful history.

    Obama must be assured his comfortable perch will not topple if/when his lackluster responses mimic history.
    Such demise is reserved for the military like when all 38, 17 of which were Seal Team Six, went down in a helo. That’s what happens when Milquetoast Barry added to the rules of engagement – absolute premium on no civilian casualties.

    They’re no longer allowed to “pepper” hostile cites before landing a chopper. ROE had been 26 protocols under Bush until Rumsfeld lowered them to 13. The stupidest was approval needed if 30 collateral damage was suspected. Barry just made it simpler; zero collateral damage has been established as the only acceptable criterion. (I’m sure all those coerced human shields can sleep easier at night.)

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