Israel’s battle to neutralize Hamas has dominated our collective attention, as it should. For all of its existence, Israel has been the canary in the mine shaft, the West’s beleaguered outpost of political freedom, tolerance, and equality in the midst of illiberal and tyrannical enemies that want to destroy the West’s power and influence. As Israelis have said over the past month, Israel’s fight is our fight, and always has been.
Yet our country is at a dangerous crossroads, with other threats both at home and abroad that demand our attention, and that should be the focus of next year’s elections. We are at the point where democracy’s historically bad habit of kicking multiple cans down the road is becoming unsustainable, if not lethal.
The Ukraine Stalemate
You didn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict that the Russo-Ukrainian war would become a stalemate redolent of the Western Front in World War I. For all the self-congratulation of the Nato countries about standing up to Vladimir Putin and protecting the “rules-based world order,” their money and materiel have been just enough to create the current stasis.
We seem to be pursuing a Mr. Micawber foreign policy, waiting for “something to turn up,” like a coup in Russia, to get us out of this quagmire. But more-realist commentators are casting doubt on Ukraine’s chances of defeating Russia and recovering their purloined territories.
In the U.S., the policy positions have settled into a bipartisan contrast: America First isolationism and a “no more costly endless wars abroad” sentiment vs. “aggression must be checked and deterred” by intervention lest we incentivize other aggressors to try conclusions. The result is the choice still facing us, between the bad and the worse.
Yet this debate is an exercise in shutting the barn door after the horse got out. The real story here is how our feckless foreign policy in the Nineties assumed that in a post-Soviet world we could enjoy the “peace dividend” and cut our defense spending. This bad choice meant that the Nato nations would not have the stockpiles and manufacturing resources–– not to mention the will–– to quickly ramp up production of weapons like long-range missiles, fighter jets, and tanks, and to quickly get them to Ukraine when they were most needed.
Worse, it’s not unlikely that the Nato West will try to pressure Ukraine into surrendering territory to Russia, or simply walk away and vitiate the only justification for supporting Ukraine in the first place–– deterring Russia and other aggressors.
This crisis, worsened by the effects of Israel’s war to end Hama’s serial terrorist attacks on civilians, will likely still be unresolved next November. Nor will take place the reform of our foreign policy fossilized paradigms and group-think–– obvious not just in the Ukraine crisis, but also those in the Middle East, Iran, and China’s neighbors in the Asia-Pacific.
Our Titanic Budget Woes
Part of the reason our foreign policy is a mess reflects our feckless borrowing and spending policies, which don’t leave enough money to create a military powerful and credible enough to deter, let alone defeat our enemies. Instead we are spending trillions on entitlements, servicing our metastasizing government debt, and providing subsidies for corporations being bribed to pursue dubious policies like net-zero carbon, a goal a Princeton study priced at $2.4 trillion by 2050.
For decades this fiscal iceberg has been relentlessly getting closer, yet few citizens and politicians are interested in slowing down our ship of state, let alone turning it around––even as spending on defense is stuck at 3.4% of GDP, not nearly enough to maintain a military with global obligations and threats to its power.
Raising defense spending, however, is politically impossible given our economic straits and democracy’s preference for butter over guns. As of September this year, our government debt reached 123% of nominal GDP, while gross debt hit $33.7 trillion. The deficit so far for 2023 has reached $1.5 trillion, more than doubling last year’s tab. And Social Security and Medicare trust funds are underfunded by $75.5 trillion.
Unsurprisingly, The Heritage Foundation reports, “The credit rating agency Moody’s last week downgraded its assessment of the federal government’s debt outlook to ‘negative.’ The move Friday followed the Fitch agency’s August downgrade of the overall federal credit rating.”
This rating means “payments on federal debt are soaring as interest rates rise. CBO says interest payments have climbed $149 billion in the first 11 months of the fiscal year to $644 billion, up 30% from last year. Debt payments are getting close to spending on national defense of $692 billion, if you can believe it. A third of the current deficit is going to pay interest on money borrowed for previous spending blowouts.”
That’s not the end of the warning signs. As George Will recently reminded us, “America’s population is aging, life expectancy is increasing, a quarter of Medicare spending is on services in the last year of life, and 40 percent of that 25 percent on the last 30 days. Within a decade, Medicare providers and Social Security recipients are set to face 11 percent payment cuts and 20 percent benefit cuts, respectively.”
But as Will warns, these cuts “will not happen. General revenue (including borrowed money) will be poured into both programs to protect incumbent legislators and prevent social upheaval.” The political price for even proposing such cuts can be fatal, as the powerful retiree lobbies flood the news with attack ads. Meanwhile, the younger generations, those whose payroll taxes are funding these benefits, are oblivious. No wonder, as Heritage’s David Ditch adds, “Perhaps the most astonishing thing about these depressing numbers isn’t the size of the problems they point to, but the complete unwillingness of most of the U.S. political class to take the situation seriously.”
So don’t expect any candidates next November to propose solutions to this fiscal doom loop. We the people have repeatedly shown that we’d much prefer borrowing from the unborn to making the sacrifices needed to stave off the coming disaster. Meanwhile, our military can’t meet recruitment quotas, we’re running out of ammunition and materiel, our navy is dwarfed by China’s, and Iran is on the brink of possessing nuclear weapons.
Finally, we can’t ignore the longest-running crisis in our times: the degradation of our public discourse and policies by unscientific fads like transgenderism, the blatant racism of “systemic racism” and “white fragility,” and their “praxis,” as the cultural Marxists put it, in policies such as the “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity” shibboleths, this year’s model of the old “multiculturalism” and “political correctness.” All of these toxic ideas were incubated in universities, whence they trickled down to the public schools.
The great ignominious leap forward in this anti-American and anti-Western oikophobia has been the protests and attacks on Israel and Jews by pro-Hamas, antisemitic “woke” university students and Middle Eastern foreign students. The latest enormity is Tik-Tok’s posting of Osama bin Laden’s 2002 “Letter to America,” which until Tik Tok took it down, elicited reams of positive responses from juvenile “woke” supporters of Hamas.
But as the Wall Street Journal wrote, it’s what this bit of stupidity tells us about our institutions of higher education that’s telling: “It should be a cause for contemplation on university campuses that some young Americans in 2023 can apparently read Osama bin Laden’s justifications for 9/11 and see a reflection of what they’ve been taught about ‘settler colonialism.’ To some degree, those who embarrass themselves on social media are merely publicizing who they are in ways that could not have been revealed in an earlier age.”
However, we shouldn’t be surprised. Osama bin Laden knew well the affinity the West’s left has for terrorism. In his other communications to Americans and Muslims, he cleverly evoked numerous leftist ideological hobby-horses, on the principle that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
In his 2002 letter he evoked George Bush’s failure to sign the Kyoto agreement on global warming “so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and industries.” He also stated that “your law is the law of the rich and the wealthy people,” and accused the U.S. of using “ your power to destroy more people than any other nation in history––not to defend principles and values, but to hasten to secure your interests and profits.”
In his 2002 address “To the Muslims of Iraq,” bin Laden urged Iraqis not to fight for “capitalists, the lords of usury and arms and oil dealers.” In 2003 he told American soldiers that they were “spilling [their] blood to swell the bank accounts of the White House gang and their fellow arms dealers and the proprietors of great companies.”
And in 2004, he warned American voters not to support the war in Iraq “in order to give business to their [the Bush administration’s] various corporations.” And channeling Michael Moore’s cinematic agitprop Fahrenheit 9/11, he claimed that Bush brought “tyranny and the suppression of freedoms to his own country––and this they called the ‘Patriot Act,’ implemented under the pretext of combating terrorism.”
Obviously, bin Laden was pandering to Western leftists, recycling bromides from Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, and the editorial board of the New York Times or the editors of the BBC. And given bin Laden’s plutocratic background, that hypocrisy also bespeaks the Western left, especially the well-heeled professors who run-down our country from the comfort of tenure, IRAs, and captive callow students.
Indeed, the reactions of many academics and intellectuals after 9/11 confirmed bin Laden’s analysis. The Dean of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson School told Americans to “think about our own history, what we did in World War II to Japanese citizens by interning them,” an egregiously false analogy. A Brown professor similarly equated the attacks to the first Gulf War, which was “also terrorism.” A journalist at a University of North Carolina “teach-in” wanted the president to apologize to “all the millions of victims of American imperialism,” sheer ignorance of history and imperialism. A Rutgers prof opined that the “ultimate cause [of 9/11] is the fascism of U.S. foreign policy over the last many decades,” obvious ignorance about fascism.
Another professor at the University of Texas asserted that 9/11 “was no more despicable than the massive acts of terrorism . . . that the U.S. government has committed during my lifetime.” And who can forget University of Colorado professor and fake American Indian Ward Churchill, who smeared the victims of 9/11 as “little Eichmanns”? Or the dean of lunatic anti-Americanism, MIT professor Noam Chomsky, who accused the U.S. military of conducting a “silent genocide” in Afghanistan, and while on tour in Islamabad called the U.S. the “world’s biggest terrorist state”?
So no wonder that decades of toxic higher education curricula produce ignoramuses and moral cretins like the TikTok commentators who enthusiastically approved of bin Laden’s left-wing boilerplate, or marched in support of terrorist murderers, or shamelessly flaunted their antisemitism and barely veiled approval of the Holocaust.
The crisis of education that has created this cultural, intellectual, and moral rot is unlikely to be resolved by whatever party gets elected, though it’s safe to say that Democrats, who have ceded their party to their radicals, won’t make any changes.
Likewise with other crises. As usual with representative governments whose officials are dependent on the people’s votes, in the end these crises are unlikely to be resolve by whoever is elected president next year. We’ll just keep ignoring those crises until we have one foot dangling over a cliff, and the other on a banana peel before we rouse ourselves to action. Let’s hope the awakening doesn’t come too late.