The West's Long-Lasting Enemies Cannot Be Cajoled
Other Western countries are in similar flux. Britain awaits a vote of some 160,000 Conservative Party members that will determine who becomes prime minister next month. France's Emmanuel Macron lost his parliamentary majority last month. Germany's Olaf Scholz, in office since December, leads an unwieldy coalition. Japan's prime minister lacks the counsel of his long-lasting predecessor Shinzo Abe, assassinated July 8.
Successive Western leaders have supposed that they can change the behavior of revisionist leaders. American China policy since Henry Kissinger assumed that China could be prodded to be more open, more democratic, less aggressive. It didn't work much before Xi, and under Xi, China has been moving in the opposite direction.
The first three presidents this century sought some kind of reset with Russia, and Donald Trump had some positive words for Putin (but the charge he colluded with Russia was always a hoax). But these approaches never worked out better than Hillary Clinton's mislabeled reset button. As for Iran, presidents including Reagan, Obama and now Biden have reached out for better relations -- and have gotten nothing for their concessions.
Putin and Xi are both 69, and Khamenei, the only one older than Biden and Trump, is 83. None will last forever. But deaths are hard to forecast and regime change even harder. There are underlying geopolitical forces behind Russia's and China's challenge to American leadership, and a religious motivation behind Iran's.
The downside risk is that revisionist leaders, or Western mistakes, may plunge much of the world into destructive war. That has happened in Ukraine, although the violence is minuscule next to the carnage of the 20th century's two world wars. The negative potential in Taiwan could be worse, and the reverberations of communist conquest more profound, as defense analyst Elbridge Colby argues. But those are subjects for another column.
In the meantime, let's hope recent events have made the West's wobbly buttressed leaders skeptical of the possibilities of enticing the revisionist leaders to see things our way. They've played this game before.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.Copyright 2022 U.S. News and World Report. Distibuted by Creators Syndicate Inc.