These are confusing times, and President Biden is not helping to bring clarity. Last week, for example, he told the Business Roundtable that “there’s going to be a new world order.” What could he possibly have meant?
The old “new world order” was established by the U.S. following World War II. With the hopefully named United Nations at its core, the goal was to prevent or at least limit armed conflicts, promote human rights and establish a body of international laws and norms.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 1991 Persian Gulf War, then-President George H.W. Bush announced the advent of a new “new world order,” one that would feature “new ways of working with other nations … peaceful settlement of disputes, solidarity against aggression, reduced and controlled arsenals and just treatment of all peoples.”
It was a lovely idea but, like the older new world order, it failed to coalesce. Or, as the scholar Joseph S. Nye Jr. wrote in 1992, “reality intruded.”
Today, dictators with dreams of conquest — including a Russian neo-imperialist, a Chinese communist and a jihadist — are attempting to establish yet another new “new world order,” one they would dominate.
“We have entered a new era,” Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami said last week, inadvertently echoing Mr. Biden. “The sun has set on the evil powers.”
Matt Pottinger has been bringing clarity to these issues. A White House deputy national security adviser from 2019 to 2021, he now chairs FDD’s China Program. In recent interviews, including with The Wall Street Journal, the Vandenberg Coalition, and AEI’s “What the Hell Is Going On?” podcast, he’s framed the current international situation this way: “A Cold War has been declared against us.”
That term is “contentious,” he acknowledges, and there are “differences between Cold War I and Cold War II.” But as “Niall Ferguson, the historian, has pointed out, there were big differences between World War I and World War II as well, but the similarities really overshadow the differences.”
This is not merely an academic observation. It is — or should be — a call to action. Wars, hot or cold, are not won willy-nilly. If our opponents are mobilizing and fighting, and we are not, a good outcome is unlikely.
Mr. Pottinger sees Russia’s war on Ukraine as analogous to the Korean War, the first armed conflict of the first Cold War: “Stalin had given a green light for Kim Il-sung to invade South Korea. He noticed that the West had clearly drawn South Korea outside of our defensive perimeter” — just as NATO kept Ukraine outside its defensive perimeter.
Though Russian forces in Ukraine have performed poorly and Ukrainian defenders have performed spectacularly, Russia’s defeat — on the battlefields or in diplomatic palavers — is by no means assured.
Historians of the future are likely to cite Feb. 4 as a significant milestone in Cold War II. It was on that date, just 20 days before the Russian invasion, that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin released a 5,000-word statement declaring that, subsequently, their relationship would have “no limits.”
Mr. Xi has been providing Mr. Putin immoral support and, according to Mr. Pottinger, is “at least on the verge of providing material, military, and financial support.”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his part, is reportedly loaning Mr. Putin fighters from Hezbollah, Tehran’s military/political proxy which, over recent years, has turned Lebanon into a failing state and, in tandem with Russia, helped prop up the Assad dictatorship in Syria at the cost of more than half a million lives.
Last week, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen used drones and missiles to attack oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Afterward, Iranian authorities celebrated. Despite this and many other provocations, Mr. Biden appears determined to cut a deal with the clerical regime, enriching it and putting it on a path to developing a nuclear weapons arsenal. His claim that the deal will stop — as opposed to, at most, slightly delay — the regime’s progress is unserious.
Iranian diplomats have refused to sit at the same table with Americans, so Mr. Biden — mindbogglingly — entrusted a Russian diplomat to act as an intermediary. The new deal will reportedly allow Moscow to sell Tehran both weapons and nuclear facilities (for peaceful purposes only!) despite U.S. sanctions imposed in response to Mr. Putin’s war on Ukraine.
Mr. Biden told the Business Roundtable that his goal is to “unite” and “lead” the “free world” within the “new world order.” That would represent a great achievement, to the detriment of the Cold Warriors from the fear societies. But to get from here to there would require a long list of policies that Mr. Biden does not have in place. I’ll briefly mention just three.
First, he’d do whatever is necessary to restore the U.S. military and its allies to at least Cold War I levels of spending, capabilities and readiness.
Second, he’d spend less money at the U.N., where key entities such as its Human Right Council have been subverted by human rights abusers. Nor should the International Monetary Fund be committing American money to regimes that regard America as their enemy.
Third, he should make America a great energy power again. Climate change is a challenge, not an emergency that overrides all other threats.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels last week, Mr. Biden said: “I don’t think you’ll find any European leader who thinks I’m not up to the job.” Perhaps, but there are despots in Europe, Asia and the Middle East who hold a different view. Let me be clear: I hope he proves them wrong.
• Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.