Middle Israel: 2018 - The year it all fell apart

How the unraveling of the Western political order accelerated in 2018.

LEADERS POSE for a photo during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November. (photo credit: REUTERS)
LEADERS POSE for a photo during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘When liberty destroys order, hunger for order will destroy liberty,” warned historian of civilization Will Durant.
Hapless, aimless and leaderless, Western civilization watched in 2018 how the abuse of its liberties undid the order that once was its pride.
Order’s gathering collapse, having already breached Europe’s outer borders, this year carved its realms from within, and hammered at their political foundations.
The age-of-disorder’s unfolding turbulence, which began with retreats from judicial independence and freedom of the press in Hungary and Poland, proceeded this year to Italy, Germany, Britain and France.
In Rome, newly elected populists expanded the deficit, despite presiding over the world’s fourth highest per capita national debt.
In London, the navigation system for leaving the European Union, which the prime minister spent two years assembling, was shattered by her own colleagues, making her announce she would not run for reelection.
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel also announced she would not run for reelection, having emerged as both a victim and an engine of the era’s disorder.
And in Paris, flames of protest consumed the promise of the president whose very emergence the previous year was the gathering disorder’s result.
The common denominator among all these crises is their origin in Europe’s perversion of liberty.
HAD EUROPE treated illegal immigration as a legal crime and strategic menace, it would have invested in Arab and African industry and government so the desperate people crossing the Mediterranean would have reason to stay where they come from.
Liberty’s misinterpretation also made Europe’s leaders assume its weaker economies’ governments would behave morally with the stronger economies’ money. Instead, they abused this trust, with one of them – Greece – sinking at one point in unpayable debt, nearly twice the size of its entire economy.
The same libertarian naïveté inspired America’s trade with China, ultimately spawning trade wars and commercial disorder.
Considering 2018’s dynamics, Germany’s generosity seems headed the same way as Merkel’s career. Liberty had gone overboard, and bred the disorder that now makes people want order restored.
Yet disorder took years to brew, and order will take years to restore.
Having already unseated the current British leader and her predecessor as well as the current German leader; and having buried France’s and Italy’s postwar political establishments; and having severed the EU’s British flank and alienated its Central European flank – Europe’s gathering chaos is set to further loosen and splinter what its leaders once thought would be a superpower.
This, in brief, is how the West seemed in 2018 from its European end, where an epochal crisis demanded towering leaders, figures like Adenauer, De Gaulle or Thatcher, or, in the absence of such a European, an American like Truman, Kennedy or Reagan.
Alas, the American leader opposite Europe’s gathering disorder has been for order what fire is for wood. Not only would he not offer a formula for order’s restoration – say, a Marshal Plan for African development – he spent 2018 hammering at the West’s strategic foundations.
DONALD TRUMP, the leader of the free world, has established himself in 2018 as a major threat to the West’s interests, honor and sense of purpose.
June’s summit with North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un yielded a noncommittal statement that Pyongyang will “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Still, Trump pompously claimed “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” raising suspicions the leader of the free world had been taken for a ride by a weirdo hardly half his age.
The same strategic frivolity was displayed in this month’s decision to quit Syria.
Lacking any consultation, and shot from the hip during a telephone conversation with a foreign leader, this move meant handing the Middle East to Russian tutelage, abandoning America’s Kurdish allies to their Turkish and Syrian enemies’ devices, and undermining Trump’s own anti-Iranian crusade.
Meanwhile, the man who ingratiated the world’s most notorious dictator shamed some paragons of democracy, including Canada, which he called “a national security threat” on the US; France, about which he tweeted “they were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along”; and Merkel, whom he fingered as “totally controlled” by Russia.
This was besides publicly taking the side of Vladimir Putin, of all people, against the judgment of the CIA, of all outfits, when Trump said of Russia’s meddling in American elections “President Putin says it’s not Russia, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
While all this was happening geopolitically, back home Trump’s lieutenants were falling one after the other, like the riflemen in World War I’s trenches.
The departures in 2018 of Secretary of Defense James Mattis; attorney-general Jeff Sessions; Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley; Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly; national security adviser Herbert McMaster; McMaster’s deputy Ricky Waddell; Waddell’s successor Mira Ricardel; and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn are but part of a list that laces Trump’s presidency from its inception.
What began with national security adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation six weeks into this presidency, and continued the following summer with the removal of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and the subsequent resignations of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and secretary of state Rex Tillerson adds up to major-league chaos. The free world’s nervous center is spinning out of control.
It was in this setting that a country like Saudi Arabia, which until recently obeyed, respected and feared the US, in 2018 felt it could murder a Washington Post journalist with impunity. After all, Trump himself said journalists are “some of the most dishonest people in the world,” they must have figured in Riyadh, before concluding that the West had changed its values, and journalists are now fair game.
This, then, is where disorder arrived in 2018. Sadly, there is no indication that 2019 will be any better. If anything, it is set to be worse.