Sunday, December 08, 2013

The 'Axis of Weevils'

In my American politics class we read a piece that argued the US faces no real enemies and that therefore we should sharply decrease defense spending. The students in my class were not persuaded; I was struck by how much support there was for increased defense spending given our difficult economy and the difficulties many of their own families are facing. But they had trouble articulating the precise source of the danger we were facing. Do we have an actual enemy? Is that enemy the kind that we would fight with tanks and aircraft carriers? Are China and Russia really opposed to us? Are they someone we are going to have a war with? The article on the opposing side of the dispute did not help the case for increased defense spending much. The author brought up Russia's actions in Ossetia. Until they had read the word on the page I am confident that they had never known of its existence, much less attached sufficient importance to it to be willing to fight for it, where ever it is!

Now comes a blog post by Walter Russell Mead that puts the nature of the danger and the challenge that we face in a way that makes sense to me. In The End of History Ends - The American Interest, he characterizes our present predicament in foreign policy as a confrontation with a triumvirate of dissatisfied powers that are continually on the look out for ways to diminish US power and influence.

Russian, China and Iran may not have a lot in common but they all strongly dislike the international system as it is set up now and, as it is the US that set up and guarantees this system, are opposed to the US and most things that help the US project and maintain its power. They are not strong enough nor necessarily inclined to oppose it in a direct military confrontation, but they are working constantly and opportunistically to chip away at the foundations of the US backed world order.

Think of the Central Powers as an ‘axis of weevils’. At this stage they are looking to hollow out the imposing edifice of American and maritime power rather than knock it over. This is not the most formidable alliance the United States has ever faced. Not everything the Central Powers want is bad; like all revisionist powers, they have legitimate grievances against the status quo. They don’t always agree, and in the long run their differences with one another are profound. But for now, they have not only agreed that they have a common interest in weakening the United States in Eurasia and disrupting its alliances; increasingly, with the United States government still largely blind to the challenge, they are pushing ahead.
The Obama administration sees the grievances and focuses primarily on removing the causes of those grievances and building trust through diplomacy. It is not an ignoble impulse. But they fail to recognize that some conflicts cannot be solved to everyone's satisfaction and that sometimes there just has to be a winner and a loser. In its determination to turn enemies and adversaries into friends it often turns its back on our friends and emboldens our enemies. Through wishful thinking and, it must be admitted, a certain degree of ineptitude, it has handed the axis a series of tactical victories that are starting to make the US look like a bad bet, an inconstant friend and a timid enemy.

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