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The Coming War of Civilizations


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The American Mind

America’s decline is not irreversible.

Joel Kotkin

Jan. 15 2024

Media coverage of world events focuses on one crisis at a time, as if each was a separate phenomenon. But Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, the assaults on shipping in the Red Sea, China’s threats on Tawain, the closing of the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthis, and even Venezuelan plans to conquer much of oil-rich Guyana are not separate events, but highly related.

All follow patterns laid out in Samuel Huntington’s 2011 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order which predicted the rise of “revanchist” powers seeking to recover perceived past glory. The most critical struggle will be with China, whose stated aim is to emerge as the leading global superpower by 2050. Yet China’s rise as a totalitarian surveillance state is just one part of the ascendency of autocrats who seek to topple the long-standing liberal capitalist order and replace it with something more feudal in nature, essentially a world dominated by absolute rulers and their satraps.

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Realpolitik Trumps Moralism

The response to the Ukraine war epitomizes the shifting power dynamic. As the West, particularly the traditionally pacifist Left, has rallied with dollars and heightened emotions to the Ukrainian cause, the rest of the world, including rising economic powers like Vietnam, has showed little interest. Virtually no power outside the West has stood by the Ukrainians, except the democracies of East Asia, notably Japan and South Korea, which now have reason to think they too will be abandoned eventually by the West as well.

Many countries have benefited from the war as Russian resources, notably oil, flow to their economies at reduced rates. China uses Russia’s oil, and that of allied states like Iran, to build the world’s most formidable industrial economy. Seeking a way around sanctions on Russia, China uses its considerable financial leverage to develop an alternative credit card system and lead a growing movement away from dollar dominated commercial transactions to ones based on currencies such as the yuan.

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The Defenestration of the West

Rather than confront the reality of the global challenge, the West is throwing its moral and physical assets out the window. As in the 1930s, the West’s political elites seem more interested in diplomatic maneuvering than confronting a real and present danger. It is not too far from the bullseye to describe U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as Tablet recently did, as “Neville Chamberlain with an iPad.”

Power grows from the twin pillars of economic and military might, both of which the West has frittered away, largely to the benefit of China. Since the sixties, the U.S. and the E.U. have seen their share of value-added global manufacturing drop from 65 percent to barely half that today. China’s market share in manufactured exports is roughly equal to that of the U.S., Germany, and Japan combined while, despite much publicized efforts to “reshore” industry, American manufacturing has dropped recently to its lowest point since the pandemic.

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The West Needs a Heart—and a Brain—Transplant

There is nothing inevitable in the coming civilizational war. Autocratic states share the advantage of concentrating resources in a way difficult for nominal democracies. Certainly, dissenters in China, Russia, Iran, or Venezuela have failed to slow the trajectory of autocratic regimes.

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The Middle Eastern conflict also has some nuances. The key player behind the Hamas pogrom, Iran, is deeply feared by Sunni-majority states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who are more threatened by Tehran than Tel Aviv. At the same time, we should point out that China and Russia are secular states which persecute their Muslim minorities, an awkward reality for supposed allies.

Yet all these advantages will be squandered if the West, and particularly American youth, no longer believe in liberal democracy. Our elite institutions—notably academia and the mainstream media—increasingly dismiss the validity of our core institutions. Many young people in Europe and America have been primed, sometimes from grade school, to follow the essentially anti-Western “oppressor” and “colonialist” narrative. A recent report from the Future of Democracy at the University of Cambridge found support for democracy in the West falling most among 18-34 year olds.

This rot has even expanded to the Western defense establishment and intelligence services. The obsession of NATO and the U.S. military in fighting climate change and white nationalism is borderline insane at a time when there are growing concerns about their war-fighting ability, from the quality of troops to the deteriorated industrial base that supports them.

Ultimately the West needs to wake up from its torpor and start building things again. Rather than head towards a new civil war along ideological lines, we need a new sense of civic purpose that includes focusing on skills training, improving basic infrastructure, and expanding hard technology, notably in space. We also need to embrace, not stymie, the status of the United States as the world’s largest gas as well as a major oil exporter. This fundamentally weakens the leverage Iran, Venezuela, and Russia seek to exploit, particularly in Europe, South Asia, and South America.

This is not an utterly hopeless situation.................(Snip)

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