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SANDERS: Crises — but which is the one?
Question of the Day
Cliches come in at least two varieties. There are those sayings that are artfully worded, however empty of logic. Others represent universal truths, vetted over centuries. One of the latter: “History does not travel in a straight line.” It is only afterward, reinforced with additional retrieved facts and by fads, that we concoct a simple, “logical” timeline.
Those of us who lived through long decades of the Cold War can look back to mistaken views of a world scene played out on many stages. Then, as now, drama tended to overshadow more important currents.
Consider the 1956 Hungarian revolt. A Soviet satellite state attempted to escape from Moscow’s grip. The revolt, too, began with youngsters in a square. In part — alas — they were emboldened then too by Washington’s support for “liberation.” But when the brave stood against communist tanks, the U.S. blinked, fearing nuclear war.
Almost simultaneously, Egypt’s military dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser, used the pretext of the Eisenhower administration’s refusal to build the Aswan Dam megaproject to “nationalize” the Suez Canal, which for a century had been an immensely profitable Anglo-French commercial entity. To regain control, London and Paris used another pretext, warding off but actually colluding in an Israeli occupation of the Sinai, undertaken to ensure Israel’s own passage through the essential waterway.
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles forced U.S. allies to relent. Belgian statesman Paul-Henri Spaak, NATO’s secretary-general at the time and an unsung hero of the epoch, tearfully beseeched Dulles: We have sinned, but grab this opportunity to secure Europe’s lifeline to Middle Eastern oil. But Dulles, ever the moralist, refused “to reward aggression.” Nasser got the canal, reinforced pan-Arabism sweeping the region and allied with Moscow to bedevil the West until his death. But his legacy was a mess of pottage, dismally failing to produce that long-awaited Arab renaissance and discrediting the idea of secularism even more to the benefit of his Muslim Brotherhood enemies.
Contradicting another cliche, history does not repeat itself, no more than the same water runs under the same bridge as the stream flows. While our attention is focused on increasingly bloody events in Araby, perhaps again more important events are changing the course of world history elsewhere:
• The German parliament has just laid down the law to a more-than-receptive Chancellor Angela Merkel: It will not accept a “Europeanization” of the euro’s financial debacle. With Greece near civil war as the government tries to impose an austerity program, Athens’ southern-tier debtor neighbors — facing rapidly increasing borrowing costs — move inexorably toward new bailouts. No pan-European institutions or mechanisms can meet those costs. Now the Bundestag has closed the door, at least temporarily, on eurobonds (with Germany as prime guarantor), which might — repeat might — have been a way out of the mess. The euro as we knew it is doomed. Can “the European project” — the effort to create a stable Continent shorn of its age-old capacity for intra-Continental violence — survive it?
• A huge new wave of Muslim refugees from Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, accompanied by “transiting” sub-Saharan Africans, is flooding Italy and the rest of Europe. The refugees come as Mrs. Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and even British Prime Minister David Cameron publicly declare “multiculturalism” dead. The failure of Western nations to assimilate new workers into their otherwise declining populations has led to indigestible, economically deprived enclaves helping to drive the generous welfare states created in the postwar prosperity into bankruptcy.
• Europe, as with the U.S., finds itself in the grip of a growing threat to its physical security from totalitarian Islam, but is plagued by an intellectual confusion reminiscent of the 1930s, when many intellectuals were seduced by the Leninist road to utopia. When the Catholic Church’s scholarly leader, Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — attempted to renew the dialogue between Christianity (and Judaism) and Islam — a 1,500-year-old debate — at Regensburg in September 2006, he was howled down by the politically correct. Yet native Europeans, their governments and their economies are assaulted daily by immigrants who want to continue their non-European lifestyles, including some of the world’s most barbarous customs, while exploiting the Continent’s ideals of tolerance and freedom.
• China, which within a generation has turned itself into “the world factory,” is being drawn into shaky collaborative international financial arrangements, but at only a snail’s pace. Beijing uses its export of “capital” — slave labor and stolen technology — to blackmail its trading partners. It is expanding exponentially its military machine against fictitious enemies. Using largely American and EU debt, Beijing is spurring worldwide inflation, uneconomically pursuing raw materials and increasing worldwide food shortages, shortages it helped create by the neglect of its agriculture. China’s unlimited infrastructure expansion and its rickety financial structure promise a bubble that could burst at any moment.
As dramatic and all-encompassing as current happenings in the Arab world would appear, when this period is looked back upon, it could be other contemporary world crises that proved more important. We, of course, will never know — which should inspire a little humility (admittedly not seen in this unavoidably brief review).
• Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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By Michael P. Orsi
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