On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address after having won the Presidency by one of the smallest margins in U.S. History. In that address, undeterred by his margin of victory, he said “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
On June 12, 1987 President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall where he said “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Those men could speak like that because they were confident of America’s future. They were confident in America’s future because they knew that it rested on a foundation of liberty.
On November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down as the Soviet Union imploded.
A funny thing happened between then and now. Unlike Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, current and former Presidents Joe Biden, Barrack Obama and Donald J Trump, didn’t and don’t give a hoot about liberty. They are all about using the coercive power of the administrative state to re-engineer American society. While they may pay lip service to the idea, fundamentally, they simply do not believe in the power of liberty and the promise of a free America.
That is why Obama and Trump were failures and why Biden is failing right before our eyes. Consider for instance, Biden’s handling of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. For the first time since World War II a European power has launched a military invasion of a neighbor, with the prospect of still more aggression yet to come.
And what has been the Biden Administration’s response? Well, they predicted what Russia would do and used diplomacy to deter what they predicted would happen, from actually happening. In the end, Vladimir Putin simply ignored Biden and invaded Ukraine. So on his own terms, Biden failed.
Biden then announced that he and our allies were united (which we are not) and would impose sanctions on Russia. Sanctions that are supposed to do what, exactly? No one seems to know. The sanctions are essentially toothless in that they have not, and will not in the future, dissuade Vladimir Putin from doing what he wants. Which is to resurrect some semblance of the old Soviet Empire.
Putin’s effort will no doubt fail and eventually come crashing to earth. But that is no thanks to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Putin simply lacks the financial muscle or diplomatic savvy to succeed. Consider some numbers. In 2020 Russian GDP expressed in dollars was about $1.479 trillion, only about 55% of the UK’s GDP which was $2.7 trillion. In terms of per capita GDP, Russia’s was only $10,225, which is only about 25% of the UK’s $40,428.
Russian defense spending was about the same as that of the UK; $63 billion for Russia compared to $60 billion for the UK. When viewed in terms of government budgeting, a whole other story emerges. Russian defense spending represents 11.4% of the budget; but only 4.23% of the UK’s—because the UK economy is so much bigger. In the end Russia is a gas station armed with nuclear weapons. The burden its government imposes on its citizens is plainly enormous.
And just to be clear about all this, while Russian GDP is only around $1.479 trillion, the GDP of the Eurozone is $13 trillion, while the GDP of the US is $22.9 trillion. The population of Russia is 146 million people. US population is 329 million and the Eurozone population is 342 million people.
So why are the Western allies so hesitant to step up? The citizens of the Eurozone have been more than happy to let the US bear the burden of their defense. Moreover they are far more likely to view these rivalries in ethnic terms, rather than ideological terms as the US does (or did).
A second, and probably more important factor is that much of the foreign policy establishment in the US has bought into the idea of American decline. Consequently, US politicians do not lead with confidence as Kennedy and Reagan did. In fact, they don’t lead at all. Mostly they are born followers who prefer bureaucratic rule making to the dynamism of free people and free markets.
But it is always darkest before dawn. Back in the late 1980s all the talk was of America being overstretched. Anticipating the declinism of Donald Trump, Patrick Buchanan published “A Republic, Not an Empire”. Paul Kennedy a Yale historian published “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, suggesting that the US was falling victim to imperial overstretch. Every management guru thought that Japan was going to rule the world. President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were constantly being told not to upset the Kremlin.
The experts never guessed that the Wall would ever come down. But it did. The experts never guessed that Japan’s economy would be sluggish and close to zero growth for the next 30 years. But it was. The experts never guessed that inflation would come tumbling down and usher in the 25 years of growth that economists now refer to as the Great Moderation. But it happened.
The experts were sure that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq. They are still looking for them. They were positive that they could bring down health care costs with Obama Care. Enough said about that. In March of 2020, Dr. Fauci, then of the Trump Administration asked people to stay home for 15 days to slow the spread of the Corona Virus. Two years later the CDC is still on its mandate kick.
In the summer of 2021, the experts assured us that inflation wasn’t a problem, it was merely transitory. That social protests in big cities were “mostly peaceful” while buildings burned on TV screens. That there wasn’t really a surge in violent crime. And so on.
We have gone through this sort of thing before. America always seems to muddle through, despite expert predictions. We will again. But it’s going to be a long hard slog. The first sign of a turn around will be the scaling back of the Nanny State, accompanied by a robust defense of the culture of liberty. With any luck, it could begin as early as November.