We have a president who imagines he can keep this country safe by reaching out to Syria, haggling with North Korea and Iran, winking at Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and smiling at Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Washington is rife with politicians and pundits willing to entertain the idea that if America withdraws in defeat from Afghanistan, there will be no hell to pay.
Imagination now tells us that with the help of the United Nations, the politicians of the world can fine-tune the climate and the tides. Imagination says there can be state-planned healthcare for all, but rationing and deficits for none. Imagination says America can be centrally planned, but free; nanny-state, but strong; apologetically appeasement-driven, but secure. Imagination has reduced "war" to "overseas contingency operations," and imagination posits that – Afghanistan apart — what remains of those overseas contingency operations can mostly be fought and won through the U.S. courts.
Meanwhile, the alarms are clanging. Signs are that Iran will soon be rolling out nuclear bombs. North Korea has already run its second nuclear test. New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau goes to Washington to warn an unheeding administration that a fast-rising "axis of unity" between Venezuela and Iran is on a path leading toward nuclear-tipped missiles in America's "backyard." Pirates, and freighters stuffed with North Korean weapons, ply the seas. Al Qaeda digs into Africa. Russia and China blaze the way toward a world order in which ruthless autocracy outranks democracy, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman sees a certain charm in the idea. Later this month, an extraordinary parade of swaggering and emboldened tyrants — including Qaddafi, Chavez and Ahmadinejad– will arrive in New York to share the UN stage with the U.S. president who has already shaken hands with two of them, and wished happy new year, on webcast, to a third.
We don't yet know on what date, precisely, the next terrible fruition of all these realities will rudely interrupt Washington's orgy of imagination. For now, for a place marker, call that date Sept. 12th. In the reports that will later be written, it won't be failure of imagination that should figure large. Rather, failure of cognition, and of will.