It is hard to think of a period in the past five decades in which this country was more painfully bereft of national leadership than it currently finds itself. On one side we have an increasingly isolated president who, as Edward Luce opined recently, “prefers to campaign than govern.” On the other is a House-controlling GOP that, in the words of Thomas Friedman, “has gone nuts.” What’s more, the highly negative campaign that 2012 is shaping up to be will secure no governing mandate for the eventual winner, meaning that things are likely to get far worse.
The result will be much more destabilizing than what Ian Bremmer accurately described as a “G-Zero world,” and nowhere is that more obvious than in U.S.-China relations. America has deep economic problems at home and a financial relationship with China that desperately needs rebalancing. But because Obama and the Republicans cannot agree on dealing with the former and lack the strategic vision and political courage to effectively recast the latter, we are left with atmospherics of the worst order -- namely, plopping down a couple thousand U.S. Marines on Australia’s northern coast and pretending that represents effective management of China’s rise. The sheer impotence of such theatricality is stunning.
But expect far more of the same, as the Pentagon, like any unsupervised child given such “home alone” conditions, will behave in its usual self-absorbed fashion, while ginning up fantastically frightening future projections of our world as justification. A recent one I sat through by the Air Force was ludicrous from start to finish, betraying a myopic misunderstanding of globalization’s dynamics matched only by the worst thinking from China’s top military brass. Wired’s Danger Room lambasted a similar global forecasting drill put together recently by the Army as “mostly doom, some idiocy.”