Can the Pax Americana save Trump?

Thus we rely on our unpleasant friends the Saudis not to start a regional war because they depend on us for military hardware and, often, to do their fighting for them. We rely on our unpleasant enemies the Iranians not to start a regional war because they don’t want to risk going up against our juggernaut directly. We expect Qatar to accept our mediation because (among other reasons) we have a major military base in their territory. And while the Qataris and all the other players — Kurdish, Turkish, Iraqi, Israeli — have ways to be the tail that wags our dog, they know there are limits, that they have to get what they want without doing anything that makes us turn on them.

All of this can work, and it has worked, in the Middle East and elsewhere: Recent decades have seen fewer major wars, fewer combat deaths and many fewer inter-state conflicts than in a multipolar, pre-Pax Americana age.

But it doesn’t inevitably work, and it won’t inevitably last. Our leaders can destabilize things from above, as George W. Bush did when he tried to remake Iraq by force of arms. And local actors can expose the limits of our hegemony, as they did under Obama’s more hands-off style, which avoided an Iraq-level blunder but saw the world’s peace weaken as bloody proxy wars increased.

Now the heir to Bush’s blunder and Obama’s struggles is a man who has no idea what he’s doing in almost any aspect of the presidency. And not surprisingly, that inexperience or incompetence is one reason the Qatar crisis has become this dangerous already.