I often think that the world in 2017, the world Obama will leave to his successor, will resemble not the world of 2009 but the world of 2001. America will be out of Iraq, America will be out of Afghanistan, terrorism will be handled as a criminal matter, troop strength and defense spending will be cut, and Americans, as they have a habit of doing, will be looking inward, reluctant to play the great-power game, more concerned with commercial activity than with national primacy or international order.
There will be differences. The world in 2017 will be more dangerous than the world in 2001. It will be more dangerous because in addition to safe havens in Afghanistan and Sudan, al Qaeda will have established outposts, or will govern actual territory, in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Mali, Libya, Sinai, and Algeria. It will be more dangerous because Iran will be capable of building a nuclear weapon, and Saudi Arabia and Jordan likely will have started nuclear programs of their own. It will be more dangerous because a heavily armed China and Japan will be at each other’s throats. It will be a world where American power is challenged on every front, a world resembling, even more than it does already, pre-World War I Europe, where declining empires and terrorism and ethno-religious conflict inaugurated the greatest man-made disaster in recorded history.