Conrad Black says not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and prior to that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.
The Soviet Union crumbled jurisdictionally: In 1990-1991, one country became the 16 formerly constituent republics of that country, and except perhaps for Belarus, none of them show much disposition to return to the Russian fold into which they had been gathered, almost always by brute force, over the previous 300 years.
The cataclysmic decline of France, of course, was the result of being overrun by Nazi Germany in 1940. And while it took until the return of de Gaulle in 1958 and the establishment of the Fifth Republic with durable governments and a serious currency, and the end of the Algerian War in 1962, and the addition of some other cubits to France's stature, the largest step in its resurrection was accomplished by the Allied armies sweeping the Germans out of France in 1944.
What we are witnessing now in the United States, by contrast, is just the backwash of inept policy-making in Washington, and nothing that could not eventually be put right. But for this administration to redeem its credibility now would require a change of direction and method so radical it would be the national equivalent of the comeback of Lazarus: a miraculous revolution in the condition of an individual (President Obama), and a comparable metamorphosis (or a comprehensive replacement) of the astonishingly implausible claque around him.
Until recently, it would have been unimaginable to conceive of John Kerry as the strongman of the National Security Council. This is the man who attended political catechism classes from the North Vietnamese to memorize and repeat their accusations against his country of war crimes in Indochina, and, inter alia, ran for president in 2004 asserting that while he had voted to invade Iraq in 2003, he was not implicated in that decision because he did not vote to fund the invasion once underway. (Perhaps Thomas E. Dewey would have been an upset presidential winner in 1944 if he had proclaimed his support for the D-Day landings but advocated an immediate cut-off of funds for General Eisenhower's armies of liberation.)
As has been touched upon here before, the desire to avoid America in another foreign conflict is understandable. But if that is the policy, Barack Obama should not state that presidents of countries in upheaval (e.g., Bashar Assad) "must go," should not draw "red lines" and ignore them, should not devise plans to punish rogue leaders but not actually damage their war-making ability, should not promise action and send forces to carry out the action, and then have, in current parlance, a public "conversation" with himself about whether to do anything, and should not thereby abdicate his great office in all respects except the salary and perquisites.
A Senate committee has voted Obama the authority to attack Syria. But he is the commander-in-chief. He has that authority already, and what he is doing is implicitly making the exercise of that power dependent on Congressional approval. How does that square with the presidential oath, which requires of the inductee that he "faithfully execute the office" and that he "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution"?
President Truman famously said, "The buck stops here," and he was right. The American public despises Congress, with good reason. Most of the members are venal, politically cowardly, and incompetent; the idea of those 535 log-rolling gas-bags sharing the command of the United States armed forces does not bear thinking about.
And if the United States is effectively blasé about countries using chemical weapons on their people, as it apparently is about the formerly "unacceptable" development of nuclear weapons by Iran, this depressing news should be imparted to the world explicitly by the administration and not left to be surmised from the waffling of the Congress.
What is more worrisome than the fact that the United States has an inadequate president, is that the public still accords the incumbent a significant degree of support. If the American people, who have responded to intelligent leadership so often within living memory, have become so morally obtuse that it buys into this flimflam, the problem is more profound than I imagined.
What Americans will need in 2016 is a new president who enunciates a clear policy: foreign intervention only to prevent genocide, to avenge extreme provocations, or to preserve world peace, and in accord with constitutional and international law. That policy would have cut post-Korea war-making to evicting Saddam from Kuwait, the Taliban from Afghanistan, modestly assisting the opponents of Gaddafi and Assad, (as leaders who had monstrously provoked the West), and would have spared everyone the chimerical extravagance of nation-building in hopeless places. Vietnam and the second Iraq War would have been sidestepped altogether.
The Americans show no sign of wanting their country to be regarded as absurd in the world, and they are so America-centric, and so suffused with the heroic mythos of America, that they seem unable to grasp the possibility that it is.
There is a contagion that makes the condition less startling: The United Kingdom suddenly has begun to appear ridiculous, too. The British replaced leaders who did not conduct wars effectively, during the Seven Years', American Revolutionary, Napoleonic, Crimean, and both World Wars. But never in their history until last week have they had a prime minister who summoned Parliament to seek authority to make war and then was denied that authority. The Grand Alliance of Churchill and Roosevelt, the Special Relationship of Thatcher and Reagan, is reduced to slap-stick, farce.
The country that could pick up the slack and lead is Germany, but it is psychologically incapable. A third of its voters are communists, eco-extremists or cyber-nihilists calling themselves "pirates." They are still in attrition-therapy over the after-effects of Nazi and communist rule. And the European power that can't take the lead, because it is almost bankrupt, over-centralized, suffocating in pettifogging regulations and governed by idiots, is France (though it yet has the superb, often misplaced, feline confidence of a Great Power, and admittedly has been magnificent on Libya, Mali and Syria).
Canada could play a role -- but first it must acquire an aircraft carrier and the other equipment necessary to project power. For starters, we should buy one of these splendid aircraft carriers the United States is retiring because of the gridlock-fed deficit and the idiocy of sequestration, rename it H.M.C.S. Canada, recruit the 6,000 people necessary for the crew and partner with other countries in the aviation industry that can help provide it with the aircraft it would carry, and show the aid and defense flag in the world. Nearly 70 years ago, recall, we had two -- admittedly much smaller -- aircraft carriers despite having a population of just 11.5-million. At the least we could get a helicopter carrier.
The United States is a hard-working, patriotic country with a talented work force and a political system that can generate policy and govern and lead effectively. Unless the environmentalist extremists who predicted that by now Manhattan would be underwater, the average temperature in Toronto in February would be 20 centigrade, and that we would all be gasping for oxygen, find richer electoral sugar daddies than the oil industry and get political control of that country (almost impossible), the United States will be self-sufficient in energy in a few years.
This will end the suicidal U.S. balance-of-payments deficit, cut the worst terrorist-supporting, oil-producing regimes in the world off at the ankles financially, and drastically reduce the federal government budget deficit.