Why did the Berlin Wall fall? Not because Ronald Reagan told Russia to bring it down.
Russia chose an arms build-up in the Cold War to keep up with the United States. What happened, briefly, was that Russia bankrupted itself in the effort. It could no longer support its satellite states. It had no funds for national development, or what we call infrastructure. Nor money for education. A large percentage of its adult population was unemployed. Poverty was increasing. It was at war in Afghanistan. What was left went to the space race.
The wall collapsed under its own weight.
We are now engaged in an embryonic war in Syria and Iraq. We are still at war in Afghanistan. We have troops stationed in half a dozen countries around the world. Our space program has been depleted. A large percentage of our adult population is unemployed. We have no money for education. Nor for infrastructure. Poverty is increasing. Our veterans – of so many wars – are in bureaucratic limbo, rather than in therapy.
We are facing two versions of the future.
The first is the above-mentioned Russian model: spending to keep dreams of empire alive at the same time we are fighting a war against insurgencies around the world. In order to continue to do this, we have to ignore the needs of a population getting poorer, hungrier, more polarized than ever before. We have no money to repair roads, bridges, hospitals, airports. We have to minimize or ignore social safety nets. We cannot help or heal our wounded veterans. And, most importantly, we have to ignore the clearly stated needs and desires of our own nation.
The second version is mostly make-believe, but barely possible.
Could it be that our president, about whom we complain with a good deal of righteousness, has actually looked into the future and decided to fight it all alone, without telling anyone?
Could it be that Mr. Obama has learned something from history at last? Could this be the reason he has held back for three years, declining to enter the skies above Syria? Could it be he actually understands the end of the Cold War and wants nothing like that to occur again?
Could it be that he alone understands what is to follow should he be drawn into battles in the Mid-East?
Much of this sounds dire and alarmist, we know. But sometimes the only way to bring matters to peoples’ attention is to present the most frightening picture of the future that could exist.
To fight ISIS or ISIL might be to break the U.S.’s bank. We would have nothing left to spend here at home, for anything. Forget about education, Medicare, social security, Medicaid, pensions, buying homes, training for new jobs. Forget about improving healthcare. Forget about the roads, bridges, highways, airports. Not to mention the millions of jobs they entail. Forget about funding research, into anything. Forget about helping industry develop new pathways, jobs, products. Forget about clean air and water and fighting climate change. Forget about being able to care for or funding research into PTSD.
To fight ISIS or ISIL might be to allow, eventually, a national black market in food, medicines, gasoline, uel oil, and healthcare. Without focusing on income equality, such as it may be, poverty will multiply horrendously. Without maintaining civil rights and common decency, an angrier people will have no recourse, nothing on which to fall back. Respect for authority, for police, for the armed forces will wither further.
And then there is the specter of inflation.
If we allow our imaginations room, they will fill with darkness and despair. And after 2016, while we are still fighting in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, the need for a Strong Man to lead us out of this wilderness will not only grow clearer, the voices of despondent citizens will grow ever louder, and they won’t be calling for McCain or Graham, Rubio or Cruz. Or Hillary Clinton. Out of the Dust Bowl of 2016 and the years to follow will come, from the grasslands up, a thirst for decision, strength, answers that seem both simple and easy. We will give up certain liberties, small ones at first, later larger and more convulsive, in order to reassure ourselves that our history and our future are one and the same.
Could it be that Mr. Obama, knowing all this and seeing more clearly than most what the future might bring, has dug his heels into the ground beneath him, and will struggle not to be dragged forward into chaos? He will allow our Armed Forces to go only so far before he pulls their chain and says, ‘No more.”
This is all make-believe and a long shot, but we can certainly hope.