Herbert London is Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, founder and president of the London Center for Policy Research, and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
The Virus of Violence
A virus of devastating proportions has been let loose on the world stage. This one is far more dangerous than Ebola and much more difficult to contain. It is the use of violence as a political tactic.
The anarchists, the professional agitators, the Muslim radicals, the "lone wolves" have reached the conclusion that violence works. It achieves attention; it forces the hand of authority; it challenges the rule of law.
When people die in the wake of hostage taking in Sydney, or two New York police officers are assassinated on the streets of Brooklyn, or children are killed in Pakistan, or people are decapitated by ISIL leaders, or property is destroyed by soi disant defenders of justice, the stabilizers of order are put on notice. Clearly these actions aren't the same, and there is the temptation at conflation, but from the point of view of those challenging "the system," either the prevailing religious sentiment or constitutional principles, violence is a mechanism that inhibits action or intimidates a foe.
By any reasonable historic standard, the virus of the 21st century is nowhere as deadly as the violence in the 20th century. Yet there is a difference. The present virus is random. It can break out anywhere, any time. The present virus has legs because of instant communication and social media. Most significantly, the "sensitivity trainers" have made it difficult, if not impossible, to restrain violence with counter-violence. As a consequence, the offense dominates the field of play.
In what can only be described as a mind-numbing statement, the President of Antioch College, James Dixon, indicates that violence has to be considered against a background of "class differences in morality." He said:
White middle-class America is pretty cool to the use of either personal violence or mass violence as a means of solving human problems. Usually, they look for a method of accommodating or mediating differences short of personal violence. This is not the acceptable mode of moral behavior, for say, a black kid from an inner-city ghetto. At some point he confirms his morality by beating the hell out of somebody. That for him is a positive confirmation. That makes him feel a man. What in a sense is moral in terms of being consistent with the ethic of the culture for one group is not moral for another. And you've got a real problem under these circumstances in trying to define what's crime.
Should enhanced intelligence techniques be employed to avoid violence, the intelligence agents face charges of human rights abuse. Should a police officer fire his weapon to protect himself, he is guilty of killing an "innocent boy." If we bomb ISIL headquarters to protect the besieged Yazidis or the Christian minorities from slaughter, we are the neo-Crusaders. Violence initiated as a tactic has the offense covered.
When terrorists are apprehended and sent to Guantanamo, it is the American government holding them "hostage" that is labeled the "human rights" abuser. In fact, organizations exist to challenge efforts by the government to protect the citizenry from violence using civil rights arguments or selective historical antecedents.
Surely, it is not appropriate to throw out the baby with the bath water, sacrificing civil liberties for security, but we have moved so far in one direction that insecurity prevails at home and abroad. The president is reluctant to use force to protect U.S. citizens oversees and he is reticent to employ the National Guard to stem looting and mayhem at home.
Anarchism is the result with this virus metastasizing in every corner of the culture. Popular music embraces violence. Films glorify terror. Mary and John Q. Public keep their heads down hoping that they won't be affected. But there isn't immunity. Fear is the result of an era when the virus is rampant. There is scarcely a sensible American viewing his television screen who doesn't ask, "What have we come to?"
Will there be a public outcry? It is so hard to predict when the public has been cowed into acquiescence. How many more murders abroad must we endure and how much destruction of property before the Silent Majority is vocal?
The activists have spoken. They control the media narrative, but building in the crevices of public opinion is another voice calling out for the defense of law and order, words that seem quaint in the present atmosphere. Will these people be heard? Do they want to be heard? This may be the most potent question of the 21st century.
Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age
The negotiations in Vienna to restrict or prevent Iran from enriching sufficient fissile material to build nuclear weapons, raise the specter of yet a new round in what some have described as "the second nuclear age." For the uninitiated, the first nuclear age was the period in the Cold War when the U.S. and allies confronted the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The second nuclear age is defined by the multiplicity of nuclear powers linked together by varying levels of cooperation and conflict.
Although the Soviet Union and the United States had tense and hostile moments, they did reach some accord for maintaining strategic stability. However, in the second nuclear age, deterrence involving threats from two or more potential adversaries is complicated. Actions of self-defense by nation one against nation two, may be threatening to nation three. Furthermore, non-nuclear technologies such as missile defense, cyber-attacks, and precision weapons could challenge strategic balance.
Hence, there is a need to carve out a unique and unalterable restraint mechanism among nuclear powers to avoid endangering stability; what I have described as "a safe zone" to reduce the risk of deliberate, accidental, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.
At the moment five nuclear powers, the U.S., China, Russia, France, and England, maintain an uneasy, but recognized, regimen under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty with India and Pakistan included in the forum. Clearly North Korea is an outlier and Israel is an ambiguous supporter. But despite tensions on the foreign policy front among the Big Seven, equilibrium, however shaky at times, has held. Surely this fragile system needs buttressing with transparency and confidence boosting measures.
The fear is that by adding Iran to the mix, as the leading state sponsor of terror, not only is the status quo unsettled, it means that a nation outside the command, control, and communication network that forestalls breakout and possible deployment, will now be in a position to alter the fragile deterrence mechanisms on the world stage. Moreover, recognizing the stated motives of Iranian leaders, a P5+1 deal that gives Iran a green light for further uranium enrichment and the likelihood of nuclear weapons could trigger a cascading desire for nuclear weapons in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Fierce, low intensity conflicts, such as the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir, could escalate into the strategic realm, but thus far deterrence has worked. Whether it will continue to work is dependent to some degree, on restraining Iranian nuclear ambitions. Can an Iran with nuclear weapons, or simply fissile material, be counted on to maintain nuclear stability?
Multilateral participation in the maintenance of stability is essential. But an unreliable nuclear power, assuming its own rules and motivated by theological or imperial goals, could set in motion a nuclear exchange with catastrophic consequences for mankind. It is in everyone's interest to maintain a vigilant balance; yet a nation inspired by terror has a distinct advantage if it strikes first and can withstand retaliation. This is the Iran dilemma. Can the U.S. and other nuclear nations bring Iran into a community in which strategic balance trumps regional hostilities? Will Iran foster confidence by avoiding "breakout"?
Answers to these questions are mystifying, but without answers the world will be entering a long, dark and dangerous tunnel of uncertainty.
What We Are "Sure" We Know about Foreign Policy
What do we know, or think we know, that just isn't true? There are myths, riddles and indeterminate conditions, but for many these factors are ignored in favor of what one believes to be true.
Let me cite several examples.
It has long been contended by foreign policy analysts that the security architecture of the Eastern Mediterranean was based on a preponderance of American power, specifically naval power. What was once undeniable is now subject to clear challenges. The withdrawal of American naval forces from the region has led to a vacuum in which Russian naval presence has become more prevalent than was previously the case and radical Islamic influence has heightened. Moreover, it is not clear that the U.S. is aware of the possibility of losing the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea to Russia or radical Islam, or is preparing to forestall such a scenario.
President Barack Obama has noted that Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was his closest ally, someone on whom he can depend. However, it is clear Erdogan has not cooperated with U.S. military operations in the region, despite his stated opposition to ISIL. Turkey has also violated the sanctions regimen by continuing its trade with Iran. And it pursues a foreign policy that increasingly sides with the most extreme elements in the region.
State Department spokesmen continue to assert that the Arab Spring represents the efflorescence of democratic sentiment. And in Tunisia that may be true; but it certainly isn't anywhere else in the region. Libya, Syria, Iraq - to mention three examples - have been transformed from spring thaw into winter freeze.
It is an article of faith to contend that the U.S. is Israel's closest ally. Indeed, since the creation of the state, Israel has been the beneficiary of American largess. With President Obama at the helm, however, a page has been turned in the relationship. President Obama is considering sanctions against Israel because of the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem; at the same time, relaxing sanctions against Iran in the hope that this will introduce flexibility into the talks on nuclear weapons in Vienna. For many Israelis, deciding on friend or foe isn't easy any longer.
It was a facile judgment to maintain "oil is king" in the Middle East neighborhood. Black gold in the ground paid the bills, gave Arab states leverage in the West and provided riches beyond the contemplation of Croesus. But with oil prices dropping into the neighborhood of $60 a barrel, or half of the price of two years ago, the oil is king scenario has lost its bite. Natural gas and fracking have altered the energy equation. With this shift, the need to deploy troops to protect Middle East oil interest is less pressing.
It was axiomatic that U.S. military influence was a stabilizing influence on global affairs, a position that almost anyone in a foreign policy desk in Washington once accepted. President Obama has a different view, arguably a revolutionary position. He contends that our overseas commitments do not enhance global stability. It is his belief that in order for the U.S. to restore its standing in world affairs, it should channel foreign policy interests to global partners, i.e., "lead from behind."
Alas, the world turns and with it the assumptions of yesteryear - alas, yesterday - no longer apply. Hence the consistency needed to make foreign policy isn't evident. Those who think they know how the world works are often referring to a world that doesn't exist.
There will always be those who appropriately apply the lessons of the past, and yes, we must learn from them. But those lessons must be tested against an ever-shifting backdrop abroad and here at home. Demography, for example, may not be destiny, but it does influence politics and a foreign policy orientation, as does the changing cast of policymakers. What does this all mean? Just when you are sure you know, try reviewing your position again and again. *