Vladimir Putin just massed troops on the border of Ukraine while warning the U.S. that anyone who threatens Russia “will regret their deeds more than they have regretted anything in a long time.” As fleets of Chinese fighter jets, armed with electronic warfare technology, now regularly buzz Taiwan, China’s top foreign affairs policymaker just declared that the U.S. “does not have the qualification … to speak to China from a position of strength.” Yikes, that’s life imitating art a little too closely for comfort. Why now? The answer can be found, in part, in a book I have written about before : Michael Mandelbaum’s “The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth .” It tracks how we went from a world defined by the Cold War between American democracy and Soviet communism — 1945 to 1989 — to a singularly peaceful quarter century without big power conflict, buttressed by spreading democracy and global economic interdependence — 1989 to about 2015 — to our current, much more dangerous era in which China, Iran and Russia are each deflecting the pressures of democracy and the need to deliver constant economic growth by offering their people aggressive hypernationalism instead. What has made this return of Chinese, Iranian and Russian aggressive nationalism even more dangerous is that, in each country, it is married to state-led industries — particularly military industries — and it’s emerging at a time when America’s democracy is weakening. Our debilitating political and cultural civil war, inflamed by social networks, is hobbling Americans’ ability to act in unison and for Washington to be a global stabilizer and institution builder, as the United States was after World War II. Our foolish decision to expand NATO into Russia’s face — after the fall of the Soviet Union — hardened post-Communist Russia into an enemy instead of a potential partner, creating the ideal conditions for an anti-Western autocrat like Putin to emerge. (Imagine if Russia, a country with which we have zero trade or border disputes, were OUR ally today vis-à-vis China and Iran and not THEIR ally in disputes with us.) Meanwhile, the failure of the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq to produce the pluralism and decency hoped for after 9/11, coupled with the 2008 economic crisis and the current pandemic — together with the general hollowing out of America’s manufacturing base — has weakened both American self-confidence and the world’s confidence in America. The result? Right when China, Russia and Iran are challenging the post-World War II order more aggressively than ever, many wonder whether the United States has the energy, allies and resources for a new geopolitical brawl. “Just because communism is gone — and we don’t have two political and economic systems that claim universal legitimacy competing to govern every country — doesn’t mean that ideological considerations have disappeared from international politics,” Mandelbaum argued to me. Regimes like those in China, Iran and Russia feel much more threatened — more than we think — by democracy, Mandelbaum added. During the first decade of the 21st century, these regimes were able to generate sufficient public support through economic progress. But after that proved more difficult in the second decade of the 21st century, “the leaders of these countries need to find a substitute, and the one they have chosen is hypernationalism.” Are we up to the challenge? I’m pretty sure we can keep a more aggressive, nationalistic Russia and Iran deterred at a reasonable cost, and with the help of our traditional allies. But China is another question.


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2021 NFL Draft Seriously, not a single, truly bad move has been made by the team. So of course it’s to be expected that the Chargers would rise from wherever some had them in their end-of-season rankings from several months ago. But would you believe it if I told you that someone loved the Chargers’ offseason moves so much that they ranked them third in the entire league following the draft? Well, that’s exactly what USA Today’s Dour Farrar did in his latest rankings at Touchdown Wire . Here’s what he had to say about the team’s placement: “The last we saw of Chargers first-round offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, the Northwestern alum was kicking Chase Young’s butt, and Young just won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Now, Slater will protect the blind side of 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. Nice transition for either the best or the second-best tackle in this class, depending on your preference. Left tackle was the Chargers’ one glaring need, and they nailed the fix with Slater. Second-round cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is a perfect fit for new head coach Brandon Staley’s complex coverage schemes, and if everything else breaks right, the Chargers might be ready to compete with the Chiefs for control of the AFC West. And if they’re ready to do that, could control of the AFC be next?” For context, the top-six in his rankings are the Patriots, Bills, Chargers, Packers , Ravens, and Chiefs. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure what the Chiefs and Packers did to fall behind the Chargers and the other teams but I could maybe make a case for the Ravens, whom lost their starting pair of edge rushers from a year ago. On the flip-side, however, they added legitimate receiving threats and re-tooled their offensive line at the same time. The Chiefs may have released both their starting tackles from a year ago but they already replaced one with Orlando Brown Jr. on top of signing free agent guard Joe Thuney and drafting top center prospect, Creed Humphrey. They return the entire set of weapons on offense, as well. There’s no reason the Chiefs should be that low. Also, the Packers are coming off a year where they were near the top of the NFL in scoring.