On our TV talk shows and op-ed pages, and in our think tanks here, there is rising alarm over events abroad. And President Obama is widely blamed for the perceived decline in worldwide respect for the United States.
Yet, still, one hears no clamor from Middle America for “Action This Day!” to alter the perception that America is in retreat.
If a single sentence could express the seeming indifference of the silent majority of Americans to what is going on abroad, it might be the simple question: “Why is this our problem?”
If a Russian or Ukrainian flag flies over Simferopol, why should that be of such concern to us that we send U.S. warships, guns or troops? If Japan and China fight over islets 10,000 miles away, islets that few Americans can find on a map, why should we get into it?
And, truth be told, the answers of our elites are unconvincing.
One explanation for America’s turning away from these wars is that we see no vital interest in these conflicts – from Syria to Crimea, Afghanistan to Iraq, the South China Sea to the Senkaku Islands.
Moreover, the prime motivator of a half-century of sacrifice in a Cold War that cost us trillions and 90,000 dead in Korea and Vietnam – the belief we were leading the forces of light in a struggle against the forces of darkness that ruled the Sino-Soviet Empire – is gone.
The great ideological struggle of the 20th century between totalitarianism and freedom, communism and capitalism, militant atheism and Christianity is over.
The Communist empire collapsed. Only the remnants remain in backwaters like Cuba. Marxism-Leninism as an ideology guiding great powers is a dead faith. The Communist Party may rule China, but state capitalism has produced Chinese billionaires who do not wave around Little Red Books.
Lenin’s remains may lie in Red Square, and Mao’s in Tiananmen Square, but these are tourist sites, not shrines to secular saviors who remain objects of worship.
The one region where religion or ideology drives men to fight and die to create a world based on the tenets of the faith is in the Islamic world. Yet, as CIA Director Richard Helms observed, the three nations that had adopted Islamist ideology – the Afghanistan of the Taliban, the Ayatollah’s Iran and Sudan – all became failed states.
Yet, when the faith or ideology of a civilization or nation dies, something must replace it. And around the world what peoples and regimes seem to be turning to is nationalism.
Vladimir Putin has taken back Crimea and declared himself the protector of Russians in the former republics of the Soviet Union.
China’s claims against Japan in the East China Sea are rooted in 19th-century maps and 21st-century nationalism, propelled by a hatred born of Japan’s brutality in the conquest of China from 1931 to 1945.
Japan’s response is not to reassert the divinity of the emperor. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is invoking nationalism, seeking to break out from under the pacifist constitution imposed after World War II.
America, too, seems to be searching for a substitute for anti-communism, to justify global commitments that seem to have less and less to do with vital national interests.
Bush I spoke of building a “New World Order.” The phrase is now an epithet. George W. Bush declared America’s mission to be “ending tyranny in our world.” The new deity to which America seemed to want to convert mankind was the golden calf of democracy.
But when democracy – one man, one vote – produced Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, second thoughts and sudden apostasies began.
At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama predicted that we were approaching the “End of History,” where liberal democracy would prove the final form of governance, embraced by all mankind.
Yet not only in Russia and China but also in much of Europe and the Third World, democracy seems to be not so much an end in itself for peoples, but a means to advance a greater cause.
The call of tribe and nation appears more compelling. And the Western gospel that all religions, races, nations and tribes are equal and should be treated equally, while paid lip service, is disbelieved.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called democracy a bus you get off of when it reaches your stop. His stop was a moderate Islamist state that conformed to his own and his party’s principles.
Understandably, countries all over the world want America to come fight their wars. But while that may be in their interest, is it any longer in ours?
The American imperium, the last of the great Western empires, may be about to come down with the suddenness of the other empires of the 20th century.