Former president George Bush optimistically talked of "a new world order" after the fall of the Soviet Union five years ago. His successor, President Bill Clinton, appeared ready to reap the financial and other benefits of presiding over a nation no longer threatened by another major power. But, in this election year, suddenly old problems are reemerging that seem beyond the president's control or influence. Problems in the Far East, Russia and the Middle East are back with us as if they had never gone away.
Other nations have seen the People's Republic of China as a threat ever since Mao Tse-tung's communist forces took control of the Chinese mainland in 1949. Mao's successors may be in the process of switching to a free-market economy, but the ruling dictatorship remains and is once again flexing its muscles.
The major issue this year has been Taiwan, classed as a renegade province by the leaders in Beijing. Mao's defeated enemies fled to the offshore island of Taiwan back in 1949 and continued their "Republic of China" with U.S. military backing. The defeated Chinese nationalists on Taiwan always claimed the mainland, and the communists in control of the mainland always claimed Taiwan. But not anymore.
Now the Taiwanese want independence. Their country is one of the greatest success stories of Asia, with foreign-currency reserves exceeded only by Japan's, making Taiwan one of the richest countries in the world. The Taiwanese want to preserve their capitalist system as well as the democracy that has only recently been introduced there.
Why has independence become an issue? It is partly because of Hong Kong. This British colony is to revert to China at the end of June 1997, after 156 years of British rule. Although the Chinese have promised to preserve Hong Kong's way of life for 50 years after the takeover, these promises ring hollow to many observers. The inhabitants of Hong Kong fear excessive governmental control resulting in loss of freedom and the collapse of their sophisticated economy, the third most vibrant in the world.
Taiwanese fear that, once China has reclaimed Hong Kong and then Portuguese Macao (scheduled to revert to China on the last day of 1999 after four centuries of Portuguese rule), Chinese attention will turn to Taiwan. Thus the Taiwanese push for independence, but are resisted by Beijing.
Few realize that Taiwan belonged to Japan before and during World War II, so the country has a history of separation from the mainland.
Beijing is also concerned about Taiwan's successful democratic election earlier this year, the first free election conducted by a nation of Chinese people. The people of China have not forgotten the student pro-democracy movement the government crushed in 1989 with loss of life and resulting international condemnation.
China is not the only cause for concern in Washington. China's ally, North Korea, is making threatening noises directed at its neighbor, South Korea, a nation that also depends on the United States for security.
Old battle No. 2
Meanwhile, on a different part of the globe, another chronic problem area has again flared into open conflict.
At a conference of world leaders in Egypt earlier this year in response to a wave of suicide bombings in Israel, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism was confronted by unified international rhetoric, but by little else. Virtually nothing can be done to prevent suicide bombers from taking their own lives along with the lives of as many of their enemies as possible. The freedoms we value in the Western world make responding to terrorism difficult.
At stake is Palestine, the area many Christians refer to as the Holy Land, most of which is now a part of or governed by the Jewish state of Israel. Many Islamic fundamentalists want to see nothing less than Israel's destruction. With such deep division, meaningful compromise is not likely, in spite of Western leaders' constant attempts to mediate peace.
Jerusalem itself continues as a great cause of division. In words reminiscent of those spoken by the prophet Jeremiah-"'Peace, peace!' when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14 Jeremiah 6:14They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
American King James Version×)-the mayor of Jerusalem lamented that his city is the focus of conflict even as politicians talk peace.
In Luke 21: 20 we see that Jerusalem is destined to be a major battleground at the time of the end, just before Christ's return. Armies have often fought over Jerusalem, but the last 50 years have seen dramatically increased contention and bloodshed as the young Jewish state has sought to establish itself and gain recognition from its neighbors.
From the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70 until well into this century, the historical lands of Judea and Israel were not occupied by people of Jewish descent. Jews started returning to their former homeland late in the 19th century with the rise of the Zionist movement. After the First World War, with Palestine then under British control, the Jewish population of the area increased to about 500,000.
The Nazi holocaust in World War II, which left six million European Jews dead, increased the pressure for a Jewish homeland. The modern nation of Israel came into being in May 1948 as a result of a partitioning of Palestine. The partition was imposed by the United Nations aided by the administration of U.S. President Harry Truman. Israel immediately faced a war for survival against the armies of its Arab neighbors.
Further wars followed, in 1956, 1967 and 1973. In the last 20 years Israel has gained recognition from neighboring states once hostile to its existence. Some nations still want to see Israel removed and are willing to help Palestinians seeking retribution for loss of land in 1948. Among those most hostile to Israel are the Islamic leaders (mullahs) who overthrew the shah of Iran in 1979.
Continuing support by the mullahs for Hezbollah, a Palestinian organization based in Lebanon, has enabled the Hezbollah to stage devastating terrorist attacks on civilians inside Israel. Israel retaliated with massive bombing raids on southern Lebanon late in April in an attempt to destroy a Hezbollah support base. A cease-fire was arranged after international intervention, but the problem is far from solved.
We need to keep our eyes on the Middle East.
Old battle No. 3
Add to Asia and the Middle East the possibility of a return to communism in Russia. Recent campaigns and elections have shown that many people are dissatisfied with incumbent Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and many are turning to communist candidates for solutions to the country's problems.
In presidential elections held June 15, President Yeltsin garnered 35 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for communist party challenger Gennady Zyuganov. Since none of the 10 presidential candidates received a majority, much is at stake in the runoff between Yeltsin and Zyuganov to determine Russia's next president.
Little attention was given in the press to the recent decision by the Duma-the Russian parliament-to resurrect the Soviet Union, dismantled in December 1991. By a vote of 250-98, elected members of the Duma voted to restore the old Soviet Union. The vote is not binding on the president. But a change in the Russian leadership could result in yet another name change for the country.
It is not the name that matters so much as the people's perception. After centuries of dictatorship the Russian people are unaccustomed to the democratic process. And they know that in the five years since the collapse of the communist system prices have soared, unemployment has worsened, crime and violence are endemic, and the country's standing in the world has declined.
The simple solution in the minds of some people is to restore the Soviet Union. It is no more realistic a solution than for Americans to restore the British monarchy in the hope that the country will return to pre-1776 levels of crime.
But a return to communism could happen. What would be the consequences? Initially, great fear would emerge in many of the former Soviet republics, now independent nations like Ukraine and the Baltic states. Fear would also likely arise farther afield, among the old Soviet-dominated nations of the Warsaw Pact. A return of communists to power in Russia would send shivers down the spines of most Europeans and would result in greater enthusiasm for a united Europe.
The only other experiment with multiparty democracy in Russia was in 1917. It lasted eight months. Other nations in the Eastern bloc of communist countries are more European in their thinking and will want to continue on the path of reform. Pressure will increase on the West to allow them to seek membership in the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth addressed the Polish parliament at the end of March, pledging British support for Poland's membership in both organizations. Visits to other nations in the former communist bloc are likely to result in similar promises. Russia is opposed. A war of words is likely over the issue, but Russia is not prepared for a conflict on the international front.
Problems closer to home
A worst-case scenario for Mr. Clinton, then, is that all these problems come to a head at the same time, before the November U.S. elections.
Domestically, President Clinton may not fare much better. In spite of a surprisingly strong economy, rising fuel and food prices are issues that could affect the election. They are also problems no president or Congress can do much about. Changing weather patterns resulted in one of the worst winters on record, with increased demand for heating fuel, which in turn drove up prices. The same weather problems resulted in fresh-food-price increases averaging 43 percent over last spring.
A substantial tax cut would help people maintain their standard of living, but some fear that could be achieved only by controversial cuts in government programs or raising the already high budget deficit. (Others believe lower taxes would increase government revenues as more money in circulation and controlled by companies and individuals revved up the economy.)
Added to people's worries are concerns among the electorate over corporate downsizing. As big companies shed tens of thousands of jobs-many of them high-paying, white-collar positions-secure, long-term employment with one company is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. American companies must increasingly compete with rivals around the world, many of which pay their employees lower wages with few or no benefits.
Domestically and internationally, there may be little room to maneuver regardless of who is in the White House. GN