Let’s take a quick stock of the world scene, shall we?
ISIS continues to ravage the cradle of humanity, taking and ransacking ancient cities, reversing the gains we fought for in Iraq and seemingly growing as an international threat despite a rather lackluster bombing campaign. In the most important ways, the area controlled by ISIS terrorists is ominously reminiscent of Afghanistan in the years and months leading up to 9/11.
Meanwhile, officials in China are talking quite seriously about imposing an Air Defense Identification Zone in the South China Sea over the disputed Sprattly Islands. This comes a little more than a year and a half after China established an ADIZ in the East China Sea covering islands claimed by Japan. This also comes at a time when the Chinese are embarking on a — ambitious is not a strong enough word — program of building on the islands, including construction of airstrips large enough to support People’s Liberation Army aircraft. The program of island reclamation is so aggressive Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of U.S. Pacific Command, described the pace as “astonishing” to the U.S. Senate last month, saying that it gave de facto control of the islands to the Chinese.
This is something of a big deal to the Philippines, who claim the islands as its own and whose commerce and freedom of movement is threatened by China. Even the oh-so-cautious Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose members would traditionally immolate themselves before suggesting they even harbored unendearing thoughts towards China, has stated it has “serious concerns” about the island reclamation.
And let us not forget that Russia remains in the Crimea and stills fosters discontent and violence in the eastern Ukraine, blatantly and unapologetically thumbing its nose at the Post Cold War European order.
Now, with all of this in mind, what is considered the greatest challenge to U.S. national security? Well, according to America’s commander in chief, it is nothing less than climate change.
Admittedly, should Syria and Iraq ever become deserts, that could be a game-changer.
Now, I don’t know any more than apparently anyone else just what the earth’s climate is going to do in the coming decades, as computer models and earnest predictions have failed with remarkable consistency. And certainly any military commander worth his salt is going to factor in climatic and meteorological conditions into any planning. Historically, local changes in climate, like shorter-term anomalous weather phenomena — a particularly harsh winter or conditions leading to widespread crop losses, for instance — have had strategic impact. But this is a factor to be planned and prepared for, not a threat in and of itself. Just as importantly, it’s unlikely to be a top consideration of any potential strategic adversary. I don’t think, for instance, the Chinese are moving as they are on the Sprattly Islands in anticipation of securing an imminent land bridge to Manilla.
Obviously, there’s an ideological bent to the president’s proclamation that CO2 is the new SS-19. He wants to impose more control on the energy industry, and this is a rhetorical way to promote that agenda. But I think that another part of it may be an almost willing, Epicurean detachment from the harsh realities of the world that faces him as president. If the biggest challenge is climate change, Chinese and ISIS aggression don’t seem so bad any more.
Barack Obama is certainly not alone. While the news of the PRC’s contemplation of an ADIZ over the South China Sea was emerging, most of America was contemplating the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner.
Epicurus, and later Lucretius, thought happiness was derived from detachment, from approaching the human condition as spectator. Kenneth Minogue wrote some 12 years ago of how society is devolving into a new Epicurean state. We have detached from consequence, resulting in the plethora of “choice,” but also, like the president, from the harsher realities of the world, focusing instead on, say, the Kardashians.
Quite frankly, as far as Jenner goes, it’s a personal decision about which I couldn’t care less. I neither condemn nor idolize her. I don’t believe she’s particularly “heroic” or that her situation need be elevated to status of emulation. But I’m not inclined to cast stones. There could be deeper and interesting cultural questions involved. But for the moment, I’m more concerned about what we will cast at the Chinese navy if its actions imperil freedom of the seas.