Lack of American Commitment Makes This a Dangerous Time
England and France declared war two days after Hitler entered Poland.
Once hard-won deterrence is lost, it is almost impossible to restore credibility without terrible costs and danger.
Last week, Russian officials warned the Obama administration about the installation of a new anti-ballistic missile system in Romania and talked of a possible nuclear confrontation that would reduce the host country to "smoking ruins" and "neutralize" any American-sponsored missile system.
Such apocalyptic rhetoric follows months of Russian bullying of nearby neutral Sweden, harassment of U.S. ships and planes, warnings to NATO nations in Europe, and constant threats to the Baltic states and former Soviet republics.
China just warned the U.S. to keep its ships and planes away from its new artificial island and military base in the Spratly archipelago -- plopped down in the middle of the South China Sea to control international sea lanes.
Iranian leaders routinely threaten to close down the key Strait of Hormuz. North Korea and the Islamic State are upping their usual unhinged bombast to new levels -- from threatening nuclear strikes on the U.S. homeland to drawing up hit lists of Americans targeted for death.
But why so much tough talk -- and why now?
After the abject pullout from Iraq in 2011 and the subsequent collapse of the country eroded U.S. credibility, after the fake Syrian red lines, the failed reset with Russia, the Benghazi fiasco and the slashing of the military, America has lost its old deterrence.
In a recent interview, President Obama claimed that his Syrian flip-flop was one of his prouder moments, and he disparaged some of our allies (presumably Britain and France among them) as unreliable, glory-hogging freeloaders.
Israel has formed an alliance with some of its longtime enemies in the Persian Gulf based on their shared fears of Iran and their mutual distrust of American commitment. Israelis and Saudi Arabians alike are confused about whether the Obama administration naively appeased Iran with a nuclear deal or deliberately courted it as a new ally.
Japan and South Korea have hinted about going nuclear, prompted by their growing distrust of decades-old American pledges to protect them from neighborhood bullies such as China, North Korea and Russia.
If we know how and when the U.S. lost its ability to deter enemies and protect friends, why is the world suddenly heating up in the last year of Obama's presidency?
Recent interviews with the president and his advisors might confirm the impression abroad that the global order is, for a rare moment, up for grabs, as a lame-duck administration retreats from America's role of world leader. And given that there are only eight months left to take advantage of this global void, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Islamic terrorists are beginning to believe that the U.S. will not do anything to stop their aggressions once they change global realities by force.
Aggressors are not sure whether Hillary Clinton, if elected, will govern more like a traditional Democratic president committed to leading the Western alliance. And if Donald Trump were to be elected, no aggressor would know exactly why, when or how he might strike back at them.
Given those uncertainties, it may seem wise in the waning months of 2016 for aggressors to go for broke against the predictable Obama administration before the game is declared over in 2017.
For that reason, the next few months may prove the most dangerous since World War II.