In his latest New York Times column Thomas Friedman expresses alarm at how woefully unprepared to wield the primary powers of the presidency as commander-in-chief and head diplomat the announced candidates for the presidency are:
Great-power conflict is in, but U.S. democracy promotion is out. We need allies more than ever, and we have fewer than ever. And some guy in Moldova with a cellphone and a few cyber tools can now shut off the power grid in Montana.
No wonder no one wants to boast being the best person to answer the White House crisis line at 3 a.m. They all prefer to let it ring and hope that it’s a wrong number.
As the late Mayor Daley would have said, let’s look at the record. Since 1900 only the following presidents have been prepared to wield those powers on their inauguration days:
George H. W. Bush
and that’s only if you think that Cactus Jack Garner was wrong. If you exclude former vice presidents, it’s only Ike. And maybe George H. W. Bush by virtue of having been the head of the CIA.
But there’s another passage in the column on which I wanted to comment:
The post-post-Cold War era, which has been slowly unfolding since the early 2000s, requires a president to manage and juggle three huge geopolitical trends — and the interactions between them — all at once.
The first is the resurgence of three big regional powers: Russia, China and Iran. Each is seeking to dominate its home region and is willing to use force for that purpose. This trend is compellingly described in a new book by Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins emeritus professor of U.S. foreign policy, titled “The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth.”
As Mandelbuam notes, in Europe, Russia has occupied part of Ukraine. In East Asia, China has claimed most of the Western Pacific as its own territory, contrary to international law; has built artificial islands there; and has placed military installations on them. In the Middle East, Iran has trained and funded proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen and has pursued nuclear weapons.
None of which represents anything new. Ukraine was part of Russia from the 17th century until the 1950s when Ukrainian native Nikita Khrushchev made it in “independent” Soviet republic. China has been the 500 lb. gorilla in most of East Asia for much of the last two millennia. A century is just a blink of an eye from that perspective.
Iran has been a major if not the major Middle Eastern power for even longer.
I’ll leave the processes that put Russia, China, and Iran on the paths that led them to becoming regional powers again to the interested student. You’ll notice an interesting pattern.