In the 20th century, America was the leader in fights. We helped clean up Europe from the decadent last hurrah of the royal class that was World War I. In World War II, we helped the Russians and the Europeans chase Germany out and prevented the Japanese from controlling the Pacific. For almost fifty years, we waged proxy battles and played chicken with the Soviet Union in an attempt to shape history and prevent a nuclear war. When the USSR fell, we had finally done it: we became the sole superpower and our way was the only way. Everyone hit neoliberalism, let us run around, and generally there was a sense of invincibility.
It was never going to last, even if there had been no 9/11. We had drifted too far to the right, we had lost out in technological innovation to places like Japan, soon to Estonia. Germany emerged from its slumber under Angela Merkel and began crafting a stronger EU, one that would be the leader of the free world by now if the UK had bothered to truly commit. America still had a place leading human rights, democracy, innovation and things such as immigration and clean energy, with the chance to mentor China and India, which will certainly now be the world’s superpowers of this century. We could have wound it down.
We didn’t. 9/11 happened and the men like Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Donald Rumsfeld who wanted to keep things going were put in charge of the guns. They never wanted the nukes: they were H.W.’s boys, tradecraft people who loved war and wanted to keep it going because they never actually served. It could have worked in a way if they had chosen to specifically go after Bin Laden, but they chose to go into Afghanistan, and Iraq was their personal revenge against Saddam Hussein after years of wanting to get rid of him rather than any threat he posed to America. It all blew up, we all hated it soon, and the Republican Party became broken because of it, the establishment left in the hands of Mitch McConnell (whose villainy I will discuss at a later date).
There was a chance to get out of this: Obama saw it when he came into office. He tried to close Gitmo but failed due to the complexity of the situation, though he neutered it compared to what it was. He pivoted to Asia, trying to jumpstart China and India’s future alongside each other. in many ways succeeding (clean energy, economic development) and failing (human rights) in others. But he was on the right path. The Syria question was posed, but it was a minor squabble, and who would really choose to take it? Turkey was our longtime ally even if the new leader seemed a bit too fundamentalist for our taste. Russia? They wouldn’t, would they?
They would and they did. Obama had no third option to take and the problem grew worse and worse. Russia reared its head and is now ready to start exercising a sphere of influence again at the worst possible time. Syria’s atrocities reach us daily, and for the longest time we chose not to get involved just to make sure that we didn’t quagmire ourselves and make something even worse happen.
And now the person we have in charge of this is someone who is not ready. Trump is not emotionally ready. He is not morally ready. He is not intellectually ready. He never has been. He never will be. He shouldn’t have this job. Hillary Clinton would have favored action, which may have lead to a disaster, but she would, at the very least, have a plan and she would be ready to execute it after long consideration and consultations with Congress. She would have faced Putin down; Trump was afraid of him. We still would not have had a New American Century but we could have done a decent job with this one.
Now, we have nothing to prepare us, and it seems like we are going to be dragged into yet another quagmire. Trump was elected in part because he did not seem like a warhawk (as the other GOP candidates were) but the kind who would just bomb and leave: no commitment. Now he is going neocon, and even his own base is furious. He will fail no matter what he does, but once again, Trump will drag us down with him, all because of American ego. We could do better than this. After Trump, let’s hope we will.