Russia and China have upset the international post-Cold War order by making military grabs for neighboring territory. Russia has seized Crimea and is threatening other parts of Ukraine, while China is attempting to put under its military control most of the international waters of the South China Sea and various islands within it.
Meanwhile with Russian and Iranian help Syria President Bashar al-Assad is crushing a rebellion that sought to bring in democracy by removing one of the premier supporters of terrorism. In neighboring Iraq, al-Qaida is undoing gains made by U.S. forces in unifying the country. In Afghanistan, the Taliban is simply waiting for the U.S. to go home.
The global order that the United States has worked so hard to achieve, at the cost of so many lives, is crumbling.
President Barack Obama appears surprised that the international system has not been not self-regulating.
He has called Russia's seizure of Crimea "absurd," and based on an "older" view of power. As president he has repeatedly expressed a view that "the tide of war is receding," leaving ample time and resources "to focus on nation building here at home."
To find funds for his nation-building projects, the president's budgets have progressively slashed defense spending to levels not seen since about 1948.
But any interested observer of his policies from the day he took office, and of his stubborn neglect of the government's long-range budgetary crisis, could have predicted that his administration was leading toward weakness.
Ever since the mid-1990s, the Congressional Budget Office has issued annual warnings that the growth in Social Security and Medicare expenditures is unsustainable and would eventually lead either to much higher taxes or crushing debt that would also crowd out other necessary government spending.
These warnings, sadly, appeared to fall on deaf ears in the Washington establishment for years, with the exception of a belated backlash in Congress against pork-barrel spending. It was not until the elections of 2010 that one half of Congress, the House, acquired a majority of representatives ready to address the long-range issues highlighted by the CBO by addressing entitlement reform.
But President Obama set his face against long-range entitlement reform and countered with a series of tax proposals that were both anathema to House Republicans and too small to redress the foreseeable imbalances.
His assumption seems to have been that there would be ample time to address those problems later. But the deteriorating international situation suggests that the damage from neglecting this overriding issue has arrived.
If the conflict between entitlements and all other government spending is not soon resolved, the United States will no longer be able to play a stabilizing role in world politics.
Russia and China appear to have already reached the conclusion that we and our allies won't do anything to stop them. Soon that could translate into can't do anything.
If so, our nation must look forward to a very different and far more dangerous world than the one we inherited from previous generations.
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