Beware the Axis of Nostalgia

While we Americans contribute to global warming with overheated rhetoric (and little else) about 21st century competitiveness, our enemies around the world are employing a different strategy. Being sensible arch-villains, they know that the future is uncertain. (Just what exactly are all those green jobs anyway? And weren’t we all supposed to have flying cars ...

JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

While we Americans contribute to global warming with overheated rhetoric (and little else) about 21st century competitiveness, our enemies around the world are employing a different strategy. Being sensible arch-villains, they know that the future is uncertain. (Just what exactly are all those green jobs anyway? And weren't we all supposed to have flying cars by now?)

So, they have concluded, "Why fool around with tomorrow when yesterday is a sure thing?"

That is the only way to explain the most recent move by Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Daniel Ortega -- yesterday's men, each and every one of them -- that proclaims loudly that those who repeat the past may not be doomed to be forgotten.

While we Americans contribute to global warming with overheated rhetoric (and little else) about 21st century competitiveness, our enemies around the world are employing a different strategy. Being sensible arch-villains, they know that the future is uncertain. (Just what exactly are all those green jobs anyway? And weren’t we all supposed to have flying cars by now?)

So, they have concluded, "Why fool around with tomorrow when yesterday is a sure thing?"

That is the only way to explain the most recent move by Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Daniel Ortega — yesterday’s men, each and every one of them — that proclaims loudly that those who repeat the past may not be doomed to be forgotten.

According to a story in Ha’aretz, Venezuela, Iran, and Nicaragua are quietly hatching a plan to build a competitor to the Panama Canal along an alternative route that was considered and dismissed roughly a century ago — back when canals were the "plastics" of their era.

Given the megalomania of this trio, one can only imagine that they will soon join with like-minded maniacs elsewhere on the planet to boldly go where everyone has been before.

Among their likely next initiatives:

  • A major project with the Burmese thugocracy to transfer Naypyidaw airport into the world’s leading dirigible port.
  • The establishment of a maritime skunk works in North Korea to produce an entire navy of stealthy (absolutely silent), green (wind-powered) vessels (clipper ships).
  • And revealing his particularly sweeping retroactive vision, Mahmoud the Backwards Looking, will soon unveil his plan to actually set back clocks around the world by 1400 years or so — or as he likes to call it, Tehran Standard Time. This will put us all squarely in his favorite century which featured, among other highlights: major Muslim military victories in Palestine, the sack of Mexico’s most important city, the establishment of Guanzhou, China as one of the world’s most important ports, major Persian attempts to gain influence in what is today Turkey, the conquest of Kabul, multiple Islamic civil wars, and the beginning of anti-Christian persecution in China. (Come to think of it, it’s no wonder he feels perfectly comfortable in the 7th century.)

Fortunately, we have little to worry about. Because we are protected against the plans of this Axis of Nostalgia by our own advanced defenses and worldview, which, although firmly rooted in the last century, still place us decades and in some cases millennia ahead of our potential opponents.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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