In just the last five or six years the world has been fundamentally transformed. Instead of the old accustomed Western-inspired postwar global order, crafted and ensured by the United States and its European and Japanese partners, there is now mostly chaos, from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea. Or, rather, there may be emerging new rules, given that we are still frozen in a Wild West moment, when everyone in the saloon has drawn his six-shooter, paused, and is wondering what happened to the sheriff — and wondering, too, who will be the first to dare start shooting.
The general cause of the unrest is that, fairly or not, the world senses that the United States is tired after its recent interventions, cutting back its defenses, and all but financially insolvent. We might scoff at Neanderthal notions like a loss of deterrence inviting aggression, but Neanderthals do not.
Barack Obama apparently believes that such a retrenchment was both inevitable and to be welcomed. He thought that most U.S. interventions abroad had been either wrong or futile or both; he questioned the world’s status quo and certainly felt, for example, that the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East was not nearly as much of a problem as Islamophobia in the West. He came into office believing that Iran, Hamas, and Russia had all been unduly demonized, especially by George W. Bush, and could be reached out to by a sensitive president whose heritage and attitudes might not appear so polarizing.