One of the great motivating forces in human events is inertia. In the geopolitical realm this is a most powerful force that causes nations to slide inexorably into disasters that hindsight predicts 100% of the time.
In 1980 the USSR was expected to be a rival for the foreseeable future and Ronald Reagan was derided as a cowboy likely to lead us to disaster. Instead, within a decade the Berlin Wall crumbled and the monolith shattered in short order, to the surprise of all the Solon and commentators. Once the USSR fell, its disintegration, in retrospect, was noted to be inevitable.
The Executive can only focus on a limited number of problems at a time. If Obamacare is the primary concern of the administration, there is less energy and attention available for other problems, such as the war in Afghanistan. Less pressing troubles fall off the radar completely.
There is little doubt that unless there is an intervention Iran will soon have a nuclear weapon. This will certainly empower and embolden Islamists everywhere, yet there are a couple of brewing crises that may yet make our troubles with Islamic expansionism exponentially worse.
The first bit of bad news for the West is that the model of a moderate Muslim state is no longer operative, from Daniel Pipes:
"There is no doubt he is our friend," Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even as he accuses Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of threatening to use nuclear weapons against Gaza. These outrageous assertions point to the profound change of orientation by Turkey's government - for six decades the West's closest Muslim ally - since Erdogan's AK party came to power in 2002.
Read the whole thing, and try to imagine the near future when Turkey has become, more overtly, an Islamist state. Too many "sophisticated, enlightened" Westerners, sadly over-represented in the diplomatic corps, simply cannot believe that another nation can be motivated by deep religious beliefs which are in conflict with their (assumed) rational national interests. Why would Turkey go down the Islamist pathway when we see in every instance that it causes a decrease in freedom and economic vitality? Since our elites assume that only primitives believe in irrationalities like religion, the assumption is that the Turks, who after all wear business suits to meetings, are just like them; ie, they imagine the Turkish leadership uses religion to acquire legitimacy among their constituents, but don't really believe in that nonsense.
Barry Rubin gets it just right in his depiction of the fecklessness and provincialism of our leadership: [All emphases mine-SW]
As for foreign policy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone out of his way to make it clear he stands with Tehran, not Washington, on the nuclear issue. He called Iran’s nuclear program a peaceful one and said that the country has a right to have nuclear weapons. This statement was cheered by Iran’s client, Hizballah, and shocked European Union diplomats who called the Turkish leader clearly pro-Iran.
This is not the Turkey we have known for decades. The dissidents—people who were in the mainstream for many decades and now find themselves marginalized--are desperate to find some way out. The democratic margin is steadily narrowing. Ideally, the opposition parties would forget their differences, unite, make a broad appeal to the nation and stop the slide toward a Turkish version of Islamism.
In fact, though, the Turkish opposition politicians are among the world’s most incompetent. The social democratic party is led by an arrogant buffoon—every time his party loses an election he blames the voters—while the nationalist right is narrow and unimaginative. There is no international lobbying effort against the AKP regime to inform the West what’s going on in Turkey.
The traditional hope is that the army would step in to preserve the secular republic but it has been too weakened (ironically, in large part due to European Union pressure to get it out of politics) and knows it wouldn’t enjoy Western support. The AKP is also popular enough to make the prospect of a coup seem like the road to civil war. And as time goes on, perhaps the army will not be able to depend on its own troops and officers.
What about decisive U.S. action? ...
... one of the underappreciated aspects of the contemporary world scene is the extent to which there are many people like this Turkish liberal who are feeling deeply concerned or even abandoned by current U.S. policy.
While a lot—too much, actually—of focus has been put on Israel, the same thing can be said to an even greater extent of Central Europeans and Caucasus people (Azerbaijan, Georgia) who , fear being appetizers for the Russian bear, pro-democratic Arabs, freedom-seeking Iranians, desperate Turks, and many others. There are also Arab rulers and regime supporters who wonder if they can depend on America to defend them from Iran.
Even in British, French, and German ruling circles there is more concern than is being generally appreciated. True, they saw President George W. Bush as a cowboy, but now they see Obama as a cowed man.
Then there are those who are neutral or antagonistic who just can’t quite believe what they are seeing. I was told by a good source that a non-government person who works for Obama a lot showed up in Pakistan and gave the Pakistanis a lecture about how they should give up nuclear weapons and everyone in the world also wouldn't have them any more.
Can you imagine how Pakistanis thought of this proposal when they see nuclear weapons as their trump card against India, and don’t necessarily trust Iran or China that much either? Such people either think, the Americans are engaged in some incredible conspiracy or are so naive that it defies belief.
Americans are used to the idea that others may see them as irresponsible, overbearing imperialist bullies. Yet just as powerful a stereotype is that idea of Americans as sweet, well-meaning childlike creatures who are too nice to survive and have no idea what the real world is like.
Few understand that when Graeme Greene wrote a book entitled The Quiet American about why Americans are so often held in contempt it was the latter stereotype, not the former, he presented. The main character an American who is well-intentioned but makes a mess out of things holds the philosophy that the United States encourage underdeveloped countries to pursue a third way, different from capitalism or communism and based on local traditions. He sounds more like Obama than George W. Bush.
Barack Obama and those who surround him grew up during an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. They came of intellectual age in an environment where it was simply assumed that most of the world's problems were caused by American imperialism and over-reach. There was rarely a challenge to such naivety in academia, that place where 1 + 1 = precisely whatever you want it to equal, and cause and effect are routinely deconstructed.
Losing Turkey to Islamism will have reverberations. It is possible that out of the Turkish dialectic will evolve a new form of liberal, tolerant Islam, but there is no evidence of such a development on the horizon. Much more likely is that as freedoms are curtailed in the new Turkey, the economy will suffer, and Turkish society will regress further. This is not a happy thought.
Finally, John Robb notes that it is often only the stupidity of our enemies that prevents them from attaining their goals:
Pakistan. Attacks on government/military personnel continue while ignoring the fact that Pakistani infrastructure is past the breaking point (which makes it easier to disrupt). If the "Taliban's" current level of effort at blood and guts terrorism were redirected against urban infrastructure -- all Pakistani cities would be inoperative, the national economy would be in free fall, and social fragmentation would be inevitable. Unlike blood and guts terrorism, system disruption would minimize backlash/opposition (both at the national and global levels) and likely manufacture a plethora of open source allies rather than foes.
Consider, if the Taliban were smart, they could easily destabilize Pakistan by attacking its infrastructure yet they insist on terrifying people by murdering women and children, the surest way to mobilize opposition to their advance.
As our President dithers on Afghanistan, desperate for a way to "square the circle" there, consider that as we race to abandon the fight against expansionist, radical Islam, there are trends appearing that do not bode well for the West. We can only rely on the stupidity of our enemies for so long; at some point we need to get smarter.
Inertia in international affairs works as a guiding principle right up until the time it no longer works.