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The War On Extremism And The Future Of Democratic States

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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential town hall debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential town hall debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

It's clear both from the earlier "Commander-In-Chief Forum" and from the two presidential debates to date that Donald J. Trump needs much better senses of the past and the future in international affairs, which are insights Hillary Clinton has in abundance as a highly accomplished former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State.

From listening both to Mr. Trump's foreign relations speeches and comments over the last sixteen months and to certain of his international affairs rants on Sunday evening, let's start with what he keeps missing about the past.

For the 44 years following the end of the Second World War until the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, the national question for most every country, large and small, was pretty simple: "Whose side are you on, the East's or the West's?"

After the fall of the Wall and the subsequent 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, however, "identity politics" emerged, just not the sort of identity politics which Francis Fukuyama alerted us to in 1992 in The End of History and the Last Man or which Samuel P. Huntington suggested in 1993 in Clash of Civilizations which contemplated a future where "wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures."

Fukuyama believed the collapse of Communism and a consequent advent of Western liberal democracy would "signal the endpoint of humanity's sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government...and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

But in fact the national question has in many instances become, "Who are you?"

This national question, which is completely lost on Donald Trump, is certainly more in keeping with Fukuyama's subsequent book Trust: Social Virtues and Creation of Prosperity (1995) which acknowledged that "culture cannot be cleanly separated from economics." However, as we've been recently observing, it's now a country's faith base, its form of government or its sectarianism that has become the prominent aspect of its national identity.

This national characterization is consistent with Huntington's much later conclusion, not long before his death in 2008, that "Islamic extremism would become the biggest threat to Western world domination."

While I loudly reject both Huntington's seeming call for "Western world domination" and his persistent use of the phrase "Islamic extremism" to indict, as he was wont to do, an entire major faith community, his anticipation of an era of "extremism" was prescient.

As for the future -- a sense of which Mr. Trump also seems to be missing -- it's now indisputable that in just 25 years or so, we find in many parts of the globe a new era of consciousness wherein a citizen's loyalty to his government passes through the portals of his religion and his ethnicity.

And of course these matters of identity and self-consciousness very readily translate into adopted national policies and actions, whether they are internal civil conflicts on one end or major military interventions abroad on the other.

The implications of all of this to foreign relations are profound, especially to America's foreign relations but as well as to the foreign relations of every other major power. At the same time, many countries around the globe now reflect the flip-side of this changed viewpoint, including virtually all of the Muslim countries, most of the budding democracies, and even Russia, India and China.

In the Middle East alone -- despite the once promising Arab Spring -- there is now pervasive tension throughout the region between and among the pan-Muslimism of the Muslim Brotherhood, the contradictory pan-Sunnism of Saudi Arabia with its denigration of Jews and Christians as well as of Muslims of Shiite, Sufi and other traditions, the aggressive pan-Shi'ism of Iran, and the destructive pan-Islam of ISIS with its goal of a new massive treacherous caliphate.

And in its own way similar is the rising pan-Zionism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his now seeming 'one-state' vision for Israel.

With the "War on Terror" now more correctly being called the "War on Extremism," the relevant question becomes, "Can democracies, but especially budding new democracies, prosper in an era of extremism?"

Of course some of them will, but for others it's going to be very tough. And the most telling affirmation of this conclusion is how quickly, again, the Middle East has become 'ground zero' for addressing the future of democratic states when confronted with extremes of faith and sectarianism.

In contemplating "foreign relations" by the major powers in this new era of consciousness, President Obama early in his administration said that the cardinal rule should be, "Don't do anything stupid." As attributed to Colin Powell during the Iraq-Kuwait War, the better expressed rule for today might be, "Don't break the china", since our world is now a maelstrom begging for ill-conceived interventions which could result in devastating unintended consequences.

And this maelstrom with its profoundly altered sense of national identity politics will challenge the next President of the United States like no predecessor before. In my strongest possible opinion only Secretary Hillary Clinton has the experience, the senses of history and the future, and the temperament to lead our nation in the next Presidential term.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Co-chair of the Task Force on Jobs Creation, founder of Jobs First 2012, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media.