I’m a short-term pessimist, but a long-term optimist. Tomorrow and tomorrow may be a tale told by an idiot, but in the long run, I believe, sanity will prevail. That is true at least of the American people. I have lived among others in many ways more lively and gifted, but we, unlike them, historically have come to terms with reality and with ourselves.
That may mean turning a slave into three-fifths of a human being. It may mean abolishing booze or abolishing the abolition. In the long run, we come to terms with reality, with what is possible, and with ourselves.
But I confess to some trepidation over the present hour. The moment we are living through, I believe, is one of unprecedented lack of seriousness and terrible peril. Life and death matters are being settled around the world, often in bloodshed, while we are lost in a labyrinth of petty disputes. The American people today resemble two persons fighting over a penny they found on the floor of the theater – only the theater is in flames, and the fiery roof is crashing down on their heads.
Prophecies of doomsday follow a customary pattern, ending with: “Repent your sins.” This post is not in that mold. It’s an attempt at description, not prophecy. Lack of seriousness is contagious: sometimes I feel that I, too, have been infected, that, through sheer exposure to the trick, I now mistake subject for object, and will for reality. So I want to avoid euphemisms and etiquette, even to myself. I want to gaze steadily into the pit that is our moment in history, and write down what I see as faithfully as I can.
There will be no calls for repentance. If you have eyes to see, you will know what to do.
A few days ago, North Korea announced that it had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb. I looked for our government’s response, and came on a photograph of President Obama crying. What – was he devastated by the spread of apocalyptic weapons? No. He was crying about the lack of gun control. What – gun control, here in docile America, preoccupies the president more than the power to end the world, placed in the hands of ruthless anti-American despots? Yes. It does.
Here’s news: on the plane of empirical reality, gun control is an irrelevance. For or against, it doesn’t matter. If the extreme of one side or the other won today, nothing would be different tomorrow. We would find ourselves then much as we find ourselves now. To endow gun control with the aspect of a cosmic political question is a subjective derangement of our moment in time.
Later we were reassured by our government that, for technical reasons, the North Koreans couldn’t really have tested an H-bomb. Kim Jung-Un, that naughty Millennial, was just listening to the voices inside his head. That’s irrelevant too. Kim and his ruling clique have the atomic bomb. They told President Clinton they didn’t, and they told President Bush they didn’t, but now they do, and they have the missiles to deliver it.
The rickety nonproliferation regime that half a dozen US presidents struggled to keep in place has finally come undone. The Indians and Pakistanis have the bomb. The Iranians are practically being invited to get their own. The Saudis won’t stand for that, and they have plenty of money to build one too. Disreputable regimes on the model of Kim’s will seek a lifeline in nuclear weapons. Nobody will push them around, if they possess the capacity to obliterate a continent.
A nuclear Islamic State is possible. Why on earth should that shock anyone? Like Saudi Arabia, the Caliphate has lots of oil. Like North Korea, it’s disreputable and needs a lifeline. With enough bombs in anti-American hands, the probability of nuclear terrorism increases exponentially. If true believers are willing to self-detonate with TNT, why not go for a big bang? The target will be us. Why? Because we play cop and daddy to the world, so taking us down will turn the contest between nations into a predator’s paradise.
Much of this is not President Obama’s fault. Time worked against us: a forever quarantine of the nuclear plague was never really possible. But the president has earned his measure of blame by his abdication of responsibility and his blindness to the consequences. A man who cries over nothing then shrugs off a potential holocaust of millions has lost contact with reality.
That’s my portrait of the president as an American statesman. Immersed in a fog of fatuous ideas about history and progress, he’s walking confidently toward the abyss.
In February 2011, as Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak wobbled under a wave of protests, the Obama administration, in the person of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, demanded that he step down. Mubarak was an old and trusted US ally. He was soon gone, and Egypt toppled into chaos.
Later in the same year, as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad began mowing down his protestors, President Obama informed him that it was time to go. Assad, a second-generation anti-American thug, gave the US the middle finger. He’s still there, propped up by Russian forces – while Syria, never a pleasant place, has been transformed into a charnel house.
Between these misadventures, the president was persuaded by his NATO allies to intervene militarily on behalf of rebels who had risen up against Libyan dictator Muammad Qaddafi. The aim was to avoid “the prospect of an imminent massacre.” The method, famously described by the White House as “leading from behind,” led to months of indecisive war and thousands of deaths. Qaddafi was a maniac, but he had been defanged during the Bush administration. Five years after his death, Libya has cracked apart, and much of its surviving population is heading for Europe.
In January 2014, President Obama called the Islamic State “the JV” compared to Al Qaeda’s burly terror varsity guys. He got that exactly wrong. Osama bin Laden had been a charismatic figure, but Al Qaeda’s recruiting process was chancy, and the numbers were never large. Yet tens of thousands of young people from all over the world have taken up arms for the Caliphate. Those tens of thousands now control a territory larger than Great Britain, with a population of eight million, and a lot of oil under the ground: they uphold a system of life that endorses slavery, female bondage, and crucifixion.
The Middle East today is an unforgiving dance of death – 100,000 killed in 2015 alone. The bonds of human society are snapping under the strain. Political structures that only yesterday towered over populations have been erased as if they never were. Islam is less a community of believers than a bloody battleground. Those not killing or killed are fleeing, a vast tide of cultural debris about to engulf the European Union. Those not content with slaughtering their neighbors and smashing local museums seek to export their finest product: death. It’s coming our way.
The change is epochal, and it has scarcely begun: there’s no telling what fresh horrors will emerge from the wreckage to torment a distracted world.
To this human and political catastrophe the present administration has been a major contributor. In 2008, when Barack Obama was sworn in, the Middle East looked much as it had for 50 years. That the region disintegrated so far so fast is due, in part, to the astonishing levels of cluelessness shown by the president and his people.
Every word from our government has been falsified by events. Every policy has resulted in the worst possible consequences. When we acted, as in Libya, the result was chaos and the triumph of terror. When we abstained, as in Syria, the result was worse. When we withdrew, as in Iraq, it was to cede large portions of the country to the Islamic State.
Few allies are left in a region that once looked to the US for protection. Even the Israelis have been alienated.
How is this possible? Incompetence is an obvious answer – but I think it’s more troubling than that. I think failure on such a colossal scale entails a bad divorce with reality. Parse the words of the president and his supporting cast: they seem to originate in a place ruled by subjective urges, where will and truth are identical. The world, for them, is not the world, but what they desire the world to be.
President Obama wants history to evolve towards a humanitarian global hug. Events that contradict this desire get reinterpreted and minimized. Russia swallows Crimea? That must mean it’s “on the wrong side of history.” Syria massacres hundreds of thousands and scatters millions to flight? Condemnation falls on American politicians “scared of widows and orphans” fleeing to the US.
What about the Islamic State, with its tens of thousands of young assassins? Good news: it has been “contained.” But what of the IS atrocity in Paris, carried out the day after that cheerful statement? Not to worry: the American people should “have a good holiday” because “we have hardened our defenses.” So how are we to deal with the IS-inspired attack in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14 innocent Americans on the very day of that presidential assurance?
Barack Obama knew exactly how to respond to San Bernardino. First, he expressed his disappointment in the country over which he presides, for mass violence “that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.” This extraordinary assertion was made in Paris, a city in a country that, for the record, is not ours, where a far deadlier massacre had taken place only days before. Then he warned us, as he often does, not to “turn against one another,” as we apparently often do, by going crazy on Muslims.
Finally the president proceeded to the heart of the matter. Did it concern the Islamic State, the rise of domestic terrorism, the senseless violence in California? No. It did not.
He wanted to talk about gun control.