Beyond Obama: Advice To The Next President
How shall we rate the state of the world? Take a look around — from Islamic State atrocities in Sinai and Paris, to the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, to China’s efforts to control the South China Sea, to Russia’s intervention in Syria, to the stabbing intifada in Israel.
No more monkishness: US Secretary of State John Kerry meets President François Hollande at the Elysée Palace after the Paris attacks (© Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)
You might be reminded of the classic exchange in Woody Allen’s movie Play It Again, Sam. The scene takes place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Allen spots an exotic-looking brunette staring intently at an abstract painting. Plucking up his courage, he sidles up to her and asks: “That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it. What does it say to you?”
In an accented, bored-sounding voice, she answers: “It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror and degradation forming a useless bleak straitjacket in a black absurd cosmos.”
“What are you doing Saturday night?” Allen asks.
“How about Friday night?”
So there we are. How do we move forward? Let me begin by offering a few thoughts on how we got here. And then allow me to play National Security Adviser to the next president and offer some ideas for how best to conduct US future foreign policy.
A year ago, I was about to come out with a book with the title: America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder (Sentinel, £10.55). The short version of the argument: a foreign policy that seeks to downsize America’s global footprint for the sake of “nation-building at home” does not make for a safer or more prosperous world. Instead, it creates power vacuums that are filled by wilful, violent men. A world in which a dictator can flout an American president’s red line with impunity is a world in which our friends don’t trust us, and our enemies don’t fear us. That’s the essence of our foreign policy problem today.
My book also has a chapter which imagines the world in the year 2019, based on current trends. I wrote the chapter in March 2014, when the price of a barrel of oil was north of $100. The chapter begins by predicting a sharp and sudden decline in oil prices, starting in early 2015. (I was off by a few months.) It goes on to predict sharp contractions in the Russian and Chinese economies, leading increasingly to aggressive foreign policies as both countries seek to offset domestic turmoil with foreign adventures. Next it foresees an Iranian nuclear deal settled largely on Iran’s terms. Then we get a third intifada in Israel, beginning with protests by Arab residents in East Jerusalem, though I imagined it starting as a mostly peaceful intifada. I also predicted Saudi Arabia getting into a proxy war with Iran over Shia unrest in neighbouring Bahrain; as it turns out, the proxy war is taking place over Shia unrest in neighbouring Yemen.
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