“If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you,” said Calvin Coolidge, whose portrait hung in the Cabinet Room of the Reagan White House.
Among the dispositions shared by the two conservatives was a determination to stay out of other people’s wars.
Peering into 2015, there are wars into which our interventionists are eager to plunge that represent no immediate or grave threat to us.
One is the war the Islamic State group is waging in Syria and Iraq, a menace so great, we are told, it may require U.S. ground troops.
But why? Syria and Iraq are 5,000 miles away. And because of its barbarism and incompetence, the Islamic State is losing support in the Sunni lands it now occupies.
The Kurds have halted the group’s advance toward Irbil, Iraq. Shiite militias, no friends of ours, have halted its advance toward Baghdad. The Islamic State is under steady drone and air attack by the U.S. and Arab allies. Iran is providing men and materiel to Damascus and Baghdad in their battle against the group.
Now the Turks and Gulf Arabs, including the Saudis, appear to have awakened to the threat and are weighing in against the Islamic State.
Why not let them do the fighting?
By staying out of the two world wars of the 20th century until the other great powers were fully engaged and horribly bled, America emerged triumphant with the fewest casualties and least damage.
That used to be called statesmanship.
Moreover, compared with Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China, the Islamic State doesn’t even make the “JV,” to use Barack Obama’s term.
Last month, the drums were beating for an attack on North Korea for what Sen. John McCain called a “new form of warfare” and what Sen. Lindsey Graham called “cyberterrorism” aided by China.
In “A Reply to Kim’s Cyberterrorism,” The Wall Street Journal urged a “forceful response” to deter “future attacks.” Swiftly, there followed the crashing of North Korea’s Internet system.
Query: If reports are true that Sony Pictures was hacked by ticked-off ex-employees yet North Korea’s Internet was brought down by a U.S. cyberattack, who is the cyberterrorist now?
Perhaps some of those Iranian technicians in Natanz who watched their centrifuges breaking down and blowing up from the Stuxnet virus have some thoughts on this.
But the most determined push for war in 2015 will come from neocons and interventionists who want a U.S.-Putin confrontation and regime change in Russia.
And as Russia has a nuclear arsenal to match our own, this is a matter of real gravity.
Because of U.S.-EU sanctions on Russia for its role in Ukraine and the collapse in the price of oil, Russia’s principal export, the ruble has lost half its value, and the economy faces a contraction of 5 percent in 2015.
Real hardships lie ahead for the Russian people. But it seems they are not blaming Vladimir Putin for their troubles. They are blaming us.
“According to the respected Moscow ‘Levada Center,’ which measures political sentiment in Russian society,” the New York Observer reports, “74 percent of Russians have negative feelings towards the USA. … In the 1990s, 80 percent had positive attitude toward America.
“Currently, 76 percent of Russians hate Obama personally and only a meager 2 percent like him. … These are the maximum peaks of anti-American feelings in Russia in years. … Just last week Visa and MasterCard completely stopped their operations in Crimea, leaving more than 2 million people there without access to their money.”
One Moscow supermarket is using American flags as doormats, and customers are wiping their feet on them.
Before going home, Congress voted to levy new sanctions on Russia and authorized U.S. lethal weapons to be sent to Kiev to enable Ukraine to retake Luhansk and Donetsk and perhaps Crimea.
Obama signed the bill.
With Republican hawks taking over all congressional committees dealing with foreign and defense policy, peace and war, in the new year, there will be a competitive clamor that Obama send the guns to Kiev.
And what happens then?
Will Putin abandon the rebels and face the rage of the Russian people for backing down? Will Putin wait for the U.S. anti-tank weapons and ammunition to arrive and be sent to eastern Ukraine?
Or will Putin, a decisive sort, send in the Russian army before the U.S. weapons arrive, hive off a land bridge to Crimea â€” and maybe more for bartering purposes â€” and call Obama’s bluff?
In his New Year’s message to the Russian people, Putin hailed the annexation of Crimea as an achievement that will “forever remain a landmark in the national history.”
Doesn’t sound as if he’ll be giving Crimea up any time soon.
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” said the wise Yogi Berra. But one prediction seems not too risky.
Either Obama and Putin enter negotiations over Ukraine or the war in Ukraine, with 4,700 dead since April, gets bigger and wider.