TCS Daily


The Credible Hulks

By James Pinkerton - October 23, 2003 12:00 AM

The new world order is three-way order. That is, three emerging power blocs will reshape the world in the 21st century. This is just a hypothesis, of course, but let's look at each of the three pieces and see if they fit into a coherent scenario for the future. And if this tripartite analysis is correct, then America has a rough road ahead, and so does the world, because when big powers rub against each other, one on one on one, it's easy for a rub to become a bump -- a bad bump.

 

The first bloc is the American Bloc, led by, obviously, the United States.

 

The second bloc is the Eurasian Bloc, led by France, Germany, and Russia.

 

The third bloc is the East Asian Bloc, led by China.

 

As for the rest of the world, it's up for grabs, which means that future advantage will accrue to those who grasp the new dynamics of the three-way world.

 

Eurasia

 

Let's leave ourselves for last, and start instead with the Eurasian Bloc. The reality that the Eurasians were already in league came clear to me on October 16, when the United Nations Security Council voted on Resolution 1511, authorizing, sort of, the US to be in Iraq. So stop right there, the reader might be saying; that was a unanimous vote, 15-0. So doesn't that prove that the world isn't broken up at all, but rather, united under American leadership?

 

Short answer, no. And the longer answer was provided by Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who observed in the pages of Sunday's Los Angeles Times, "The new harmony of the UN is only skin-deep. Allied money and troops aren't flowing into Iraq -- and may never."

 

In fact, immediately after the Security Council vote, the French, German, and Russian ambassadors stood together behind a microphone and jointly declared that even though they supported the resolution, it meant nothing to them -- no extra money for Iraq, no boots on the ground. Indeed, their "aye" votes were mostly a favor to Secretary of State Colin Powell, their friend, who needed a diplomatic victory, no matter how hollow, to bolster his bureaucratic standing inside the Bush administration. And other countries, such as Pakistan and possibly Turkey -- which always aspires to be in the European Union -- appear to be taking their cues from the Eurasians.

 

The reality of Europe today is that, more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it doesn't feel that it needs the United States for much. Indeed, as discussed many times here in TCS, the US and the European Union are barely allies anymore on trade and environmental matters. In fact, Europeans don't even much like Americans; various Pew Center surveys of international opinion show that Uncle Sam's approval rating in many European countries is down in the teens. And in the meantime, as a straw in the Zeitgeistial wind, books arguing that the US was behind the 9-11 plot have become best-sellers across the continent -- not just in France. In a revealing September 29 article, The Wall Street Journal reported on the doings of one Andreas von Bülow, a former German cabinet minister, who has written a book claiming that the US staged 9-11. The work, one of a half dozen such "non-fiction" titles in German bookstores, has become a best-seller. Similarly-themed titles have become big sellers in Italy and Spain, too.

 

An important op-ed in last week's Washington Post delved further into German thinking. Columnist Anne Applebaum observed that another wave of books has reappraised World War Two, arguing, for example, that the Germans were victims also. Two books have focused on the firebombing of Dresden, the Anglo-American aerial attacks of February 1945 which left 130,000 Germans dead. That incident, immortalized in Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, has become a convenient hook for an anti-Anglophone worldview. As Applebaum explains:

 

It cannot be an accident that a wave of unusually virulent, even irrational anti-Americanism has peaked just as Germans have begun, for the first time since the war, to talk about their past in a new way. Germany is reassessing its place in Europe, its role in the world, its postwar subordination to the United States. Some of the recalcitrance we've seen in Germany during the past year has been genuine opposition to the war in Iraq and genuine dislike of President Bush and what he is thought to stand for. But some reflects a deeper change. Germans, or at least some of them, no longer want to apologize for the 20th century. Germans, or at least some of them, no longer want to accept the political leadership of the United States. Just look at the bestseller lists for proof.

 

It's within this cultural matrix that institutionalized anti-Americanism can flourish across Western Europe. And so Rhenish Europeans are going ahead with plans for a joint European defense force, to exist outside of NATO. Indeed, France and Germany are so chummy and trusting these days that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder left a Brussels planning meeting early, leaving his pal, French President Jacques Chirac, with his country's proxy on the defense-force deliberations. For their part, the British seem to be going along with the new scheme, sort of.

 

This Continental European effort has left the Americans in an awkward position. For years now, it's been fashionable, in conservative and neoconservative circles, to trash the European defense effort. But now that the continent is stirring, it's become important for these same right-wingers to trash the nascent Eurodefense program; in the words of Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for a New American Century, "The decision to establish an independent EU defense planning organization is a small but important precedent that needs to be challenged" -- challenged, of course, by the US. Schmitt went on to warn the Germans and British against signing on the "French agenda," which, in Schmitt's view, is to undermine the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance.

 

And on that score, Schmitt is correct. But what Americans might not be ready to acknowledge is that the French aren't just addled by "axis of weasel" anti-Americanism; they have a grand plan. And that plan is to bring the Russians into the Franco-German fold, thereby succeeding, after a fashion, where Napoleon failed.

 

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin professes great affection for America, but his actions -- from opposing the US on Iraq last year to helping the Iranians build a nuclear power plant this year -- systematically belie those warm words. And the October 16 joint appearance at the UN suggests that Russia's enfolding into a Eurasian alliance is already deep.

 

In fact, from the Kremlin's point of view, such an alliance makes a kind of sense. Imagine: French diplomacy and cunning, German money and technology, Russian war machinery and natural resources -- all mobilized by feelings of resentment, or rivalry, or jealousy, toward the US. Needless to say, if this Paris-Berlin-Moscow entente were ever to crystallize, the countries of "New Europe," sandwiched in between these far greater powers, would likely fall into line, as they always have in the past.

 

OK, so that's the Eurasian bloc, reaching from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific.

 

Far East: China

 

So let's turn our attention to the second bloc, East Asia, which can be described in one word: China. The reality of China's economic surge is so obvious that one needn't spend time rehashing the data. And of course, China's space program speaks for itself. But what's been less noted is the political effect of China on other countries; The New York Times reported on October 18, "More than 50 years of American dominance in Asia is subtly but unmistakably eroding as Asian countries look toward China as the increasingly vital regional power." And China's surge has affected the world power-balance, too; as The Financial Times observed last week, our famously plain-spoken 43rd President has been forced to "moderate his rhetoric" toward Beijing.

 

Yet it's not just words, but deeds, that are being affected; the Chinese appear to have politely rejected Bush's request that they revalue their currency. The Chinese rejection is probably just as well, as The Wall Street Journal -- never a fan of cheap-dollar policies -- editorialized last week.

 

But Journalites and other foreign policy hawks will probably not be as happy about Bush's new dovish approach to North Korea's nuclear program; the President now says that maybe a deal with North Korea -- which broke the last deal -- would be a good idea. Conservative abhorrence for the new line became apparent Monday night, as evidenced by Charles Krauthammer's caustic words on Fox News' "Special Report." "This is a retreat under the cover of diplomacy," the Pulitzer Prize-winning pundit declared, in his famously even-toned voice. And yet the gravamen of his words suggested much sharper and higher levels of concern. "We are capitulating on this issue," he told Brit Hume. "We're giving Pyongyang what it wants" -- which is to say, a non-aggression pact that could leave North Korea's nukes intact, albeit well-hidden. Just so nobody mistook his opinion, Krauthammer concluded, "We're engaging in appeasement." Ouch.

 

Of course, the fierceness of this critique of the new Bush policy doesn't necessarily make it correct over the long term. But for now, it's hard to see how this reversal of past Bush administration policy won't be spun by Kim Jong Il as a huge victory. Indeed, Bush's move opens up the prospect that a charter member of the "axis of evil" will emerge from such stigmatization unscathed and, indeed, enhanced in its military and political power.

 

But aren't North Korea's nukes a problem for the world, not just America? Maybe not, because the Chinese, at least, are quite pleased. That was the argument made in a little-noticed op-ed in the February 25 Los Angeles Times, entitled "China's Little Korea Secret"; author Haesook Chae, a professor at Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio, argued that China was following through on a specifically anti-American plan:

 

Ejection of the U.S. military presence is an essential first step toward China's ultimate long-term goals: reunification with Taiwan and reassertion as the dominant regional power. After a U.S. withdrawal, China would be likely to find two friendly Koreas on its southern border. Post-Cold War South Korea is no longer a hostile country but an important trading partner. And if a united Korea emerges, it would probably be amicable toward China. Further, if Japan rearms and goes nuclear in reaction to the new circumstances on the Korean peninsula, the rationale for the U.S. military presence there may be diminished as well. In this best-case scenario for China, with American forces removed from Korea and Japan, Far East geopolitics would enter a new era. China could reassert its historical status as the dominant regional power and eventually reabsorb Taiwan.

 

In other words, we could be looking at an Asia without much of an American presence, an East Asia Bloc dominated by China.

 

America

 

So now to the third bloc, the American Bloc. Who's in our camp? First and foremost, of course, there's us, and that's a lot right there.

 

And we have the United Kingdom, although the news Sunday that Prime Minister Tony Blair had checked into a London hospital as an "acute admission" with heart problems is a reminder that the current closerthanthis alliance could be a single heartbeat away from dissolution. Why? Because Blair is far more pro-American than his Labour Party, or even British opinion overall. We also have Australia, which suffered its own 9-11 on the island of Bali last year.

 

The Israelis are on our team, of course, and they're a major economic and military power, even if they're preoccupied with internal-security and border issues. And we have a fading Japan. The land of the Sinking Sun needs its friend across the Pacific, since it has so few in Asia, thanks to the unaddressed legacy of World War Two.

 

Who else is in our camp? Who else is left? What about the Arab world, and all that oil? Here the issue is fuzzy. America made a major bid for hegemony in Arabia in March, when it launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. And while polls seem to show that the American occupiers are mostly popular in Iraq, there's stubborn group that does not seem to be, shall we say, on board with the new American program. Hence the unresolved question: can America pull off a transformation of Iraq that leaves it both democratic and pro-American? If so, then its colossal wealth -- 112 billion barrels of oil, 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, second only to that of Saudi Arabia -- will bring all the benefits to the US that the war advocates promised.

 

But it's safe to say that we aren't there yet. Indeed, other forces countervail against Uncle Sam's pre-eminence in the Arab and also the Muslim world. First, there's the issue of American backing for Israel. Second, there's the larger issue of anti-Semitism. It's impossible to assess the prevalence of anti-Jewish feeling in the mostly closed Muslim world, but it is possible to assess the sentiments of many Muslim leaders, because they were on open display at the Organization of Islamic Conference summit being held in Putrajaya, Malaysia, last week. When Malaysian President Mahathir Mohamad delivered his now-notorious speech in which he said, "Jews rule this world," and went on to say that Muslims should unite against Jews and Israel, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, "joined a standing ovation." Other clappers included the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

 

Bush reportedly rebuked Mahathir in Bangkok on Monday; there was no word on whether the President similarly rebuked such American clients as Karzai and Musharraf, or such a close ally as Abdullah. For his part, Mahathir was unrepentant; he said in an interview published in the Bangkok Post on Tuesday that he had seen no similar protest in 2001 when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared that Western civilization was superior to Muslim civilization. And Mahathirites can point to other examples of anti-Muslim bigotry, notably the comments of such high-profile figures as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and the latest addition to this raucous roster, General William "Allah is an idol" Boykin, a talented warrior who perhaps is not perfectly suited to be deputy undersecretary of defense -- at a time when the world is watching for signs that the Huntingtonian "clash of civilizations" is upon us.

 

Which is to say, America might not be well positioned to win Muslim hearts and minds. To be sure, it takes two to have a fight, but many Muslims are ready.

 

Dawn of Eurabia?

 

In fact, many Muslims yearn for their biggest political accomplishment in a millennium, a project sure to displease Israel and the US -- restoration of the Caliphate. A New Caliphate would bring together, in this neo-scenario, Persian Gulf oil money, Pakistani nukes, and Egyptian and Jordanian politesse. Indeed, DEBKAfile, a Jerusalem-based publication, reported recently, "Pakistan will deploy nuclear missiles and warheads at Saudi bases under military-nuclear accord signed in Islamabad by Crown prince Abdullah... Pakistani security umbrella will replace US troop presence withdrawn from kingdom this summer." DEBKAfile adds that the forthcoming placement defies Bush's warning to Abdullah this year, in which the American president told the Saudi leader not to deploy nuclear weapons on Saudi soil.

 

Such a grand Islamic coalition, if it could come into being, would be a powerful potential threat to rivals and neighbors. But that's a big "if," one that has eluded Muslims for 800 years. What's maybe more likely is that the Arab and Muslim countries will drift into the Eurasian Bloc, even as many of their best and brightest drift into the European Union as immigrants. Fred Siegel, professor of American history and all-around savant at the Cooper Union for the Arts and Sciences in Manhattan, refers to this new land as "Eurabia."

 

And it's possible to squint and see it coming into being. The French, after all, have been actively cultivating Muslims for decades, ever since 1967, when, on the eve of the Six Day War, President Charles de Gaulle embargoed new arms shipments to the Jewish State.

 

Four decades later, nothing much has changed. The London-based Telegraph reports that at a discussion in Brussels last Thursday on the Mahathir matter, Chirac opposed including a condemnation in the usual end-of-summit statement. Instead, the EU issued a separate statement in the name of the current Italian presidency, which only dribbled out on Saturday, via a low-profile posting on the Italian government's website. This quiet undercutting by Chirac prompted Sylvan Shalom, Israel's foreign minister, to declare, "It is a disgrace when a country like France, an important country, displays even the slightest understanding or acceptance of Mahathir Mohamad's anti-Semitic remarks." OK, the French are rebuked by Israel, just as Mahathir himself was rebuked by Bush. Do you think these rebukees really care?

 

What of other countries, such as India? India is the latest Asian tiger, and potentially the second-biggest. It's a natural enemy of China to the northeast and of Pakistan to the west. And naturally suspicious of Russia, to the northwest. Moreover, one of India's greatest competitive economic assets is its widespread Anglophony, which will likely pull it closer to the US and Great Britain. And it's also possible that shared anti-Islamism will pull India and Israel even closer together; Prime Minister Ariel Sharon traveled to New Delhi last month.

 

And what of still other countries, all across Africa and Latin America? The crystal ball gets cloudy as to their fate, but for the foreseeable future, they are mostly small players, and so they will likely want to attach themselves to one of the three blocs.

 

So that's the presentiment about the future: a three-way world. The American Bloc, the Eurasian Bloc, and the East Asian Bloc. If it sounds vaguely like something from George Orwell's 1984, please be assured that these speculations have nothing to do with totalitarianism -- which is not to say that some of the regimes under scrutiny are particularly kind and gentle. But these Tri-Bloc hunches aren't based on fears of Big Brothers. Instead, they are based on the premonition that hulking rivals, each bristling with WMDs, each rubbing up against each other, will eventually find new fights to fight.

 

And that could be trouble for the world, as the grievances and weapons grow longer and larger, even as the planet stays the exact same size.
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