I was just re-watching a talk by now US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, given to The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, back in 2015, after he had retired from the United States Marine Corps and before he joined the Trump cabinet. In it, at about 44’30” he said, he would offer just four words to describe the current strategic situation:
- Decay ~ of the international system; and
- Disillusionment ~ amongst the people.
With regard to the last point he says that when the first three increase in the world, as they have done for the past generation or so, then the last one rises, also. The people, especially in democracies, and amongst those especially the people in the liberal democracies like America, Australia, Britain and Canada, begin to worry that democracy doesn’t work well enough any more, that it seems unable to cope with the first three Ds, and they then begin to cast about for alternatives or, worse, for saviours. One of General Mattis’ solutions is to move, more quickly, younger folks up into positions of influence and authority. But, the “saviour” that many young progressives in Canada found, in 2015, was Justin Trudeau ~ I do not think that is working out very well; in America it was the Disillusioned middle aged and elderly white, male voters in a few states who came out in large numbers and voted against the apparently progressive choice and, therefore, for Donald Trump ~ I don’t think that’s working too well, either.
General Mattis’ second last point is, it seems to me, pivotal. As the established bipolar (liberal (American led) vs totalitarian (Soviet Russian led)) world order began to Decay, arguably beginning in 1969 when China and Russia split, but, in earnest in the late 1980s when the first the Warsaw Pact and then the entire USSR began to disintegrate, then Disorder and Discontent grew; and as they grew then the Decay, this time in the US led West, grew faster. The Disorder and Discontent also spread, fairly early on and dangerously, too, to regions which had, previously, been ‘clients’ of either America or the USSR, most notably in the Middle East and, most notably there, in 1979 when Iran had its most famous revolution which set an enormous train of events in motion … one which has yet to be stopped or even slowed very much.
One of the points that James Mattis made was that social Discontent across much of the Muslim world led radical clerics to teach Muslims to blame and hate the US led West for what were the deep rooted, historic mistakes made by countless generations of Muslim leaders from North Africa to (and past) Iran. At one point, about 500 years ago, the Muslims were, almost literally, on top of the world … they had met, matched and absorbed the fearsome Mongols, they ruled from Spain to the Far East. Then it all began to Decay and disintegrate and then, by 1918, it was all gone. That hatred of the West, driven by envy and an unwillingness to assign the blame where it belonged, with inept and corrupt Muslim leaders, led us, almost directly, to 9/11 and to everything that followed. The outrage that the Muslim Discontent created has further exacerbated by Disillusionment in the West regarding the question of “Why do they hate us?” Many people in the West could not, and still cannot understand the roots of Muslim rage. Americans and Canadians and Danes and Germans look at their own history and see nothing that should provoke hatred by Muslims in, especially, the Middle East. But the hatred isn’t directed at America or Denmark, in particular, it is against all of Christendom which, seemingly (to Muslims, anyway) inexplicably, rose from the ashes of defeat after defeat, for over 700 years, at the hands of Muslims, and then, beginning in the late 15th century but especially in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, rose ~ as China is doing right now ~ and displaced the Muslim empires from Spain all the way to Indonesia and the Philippines and imposed its own colonial rule over Muslim lands.
In the process, in the 260 years between about 1688 and, for the sake of argument, 1948, the West built a liberal, democratic, secular, capitalist world order that seemed to reward, mainly, one particular (Anglo-American) world view. Many Muslims and now the Chinese and, albeit to a much lesser degree, the Indians are seeking to, at least, modify that ‘order’ or, in the case if Islam, replace it entirely with a complete, coherent social system that they (Muslims) believe is divinely ordained. But Disorder and Discontent are the norm throughout almost all of the Muslim world; and the West, sadly, shows many signs of Decay and Disillusionment.
So, if the many but Disorderly and Discontented Muslims are, effectively, powerless and if the US led (or, perhaps, leaderless) West is both Disillusioned and Decaying and less and less inclined, year after year and decade after decade to project its power where it might do some good, but then, given that, cui bono? The answer, it seems to me, are China and India and, I suppose, the countries, which might include Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and the Philippines, that are in their orbits. But if China and India rise, as I expect they will, to equal and then surpass the US led West, they will still face the challenges posed by the Disorder and Discontent which seems to be almost a permanent feature of the Muslim world.
The one place where, it seems to me, that all four Ds, Disorder, Discontent, Decay and Disillusionment, are at high levels is Russia and that, in my opinion, makes Russia a very pressing danger to the world.