Distinguished scientist Freeman Dyson has called the 1433 decision of the emperor of China to discontinue his country's exploration of the outside world the "worst political blunder in the history of civilization."
The United States seems at this moment about to break the record for the worst political blunder of all time, with its Obama administration deal that will make a nuclear Iran virtually inevitable.
Already the years-long negotiations, with their numerous "deadlines" that have been extended again and again, have reduced the chances that Israel can destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities, which have been multiplied and placed in scattered underground sites during the years when all this was going on.
Israel is the only country even likely to try to destroy those facilities, since Iran has explicitly and repeatedly declared its intention to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
How did we get to this point — and what, if anything, can we do now? Tragically, these are questions that few Americans seem to be asking. We are too preoccupied with our electronic devices, the antics of celebrities and politics as usual.
During the years when we confronted a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, we at least realized that we had to "think the unthinkable," as intellectual giant Herman Kahn put it. Today it seems almost as if we don't want to think about it at all.
Our politicians have kicked the can down the road — and it is the biggest, most annihilating explosive can of all, that will be left for our children and grandchildren to try to cope with.
Back in the days of our nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, some of the more weak-kneed intelligentsia posed the choice as whether we wanted to be "red or dead." Fortunately, there were others, especially President Ronald Reagan, who saw it differently. He persevered in a course that critics said would lead to nuclear war. But instead it led to the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War.
President Barack Obama has been following opposite policies, and they are likely to lead to opposite results. The choices left after Iran gets nuclear bombs — and intercontinental missiles that can deliver them far beyond Israel — may be worse than being red or dead.
Bad as life was under the communists, it can be worse under nuclear-armed fanatics, who have already demonstrated their willingness to die — and their utter barbarism toward those who fall under their power.
Americans today who say that the only alternative to the Obama administration's pretense of controlling Iran's continued movement toward nuclear bombs is war ignore the fact that Israel bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear facilities, and Iraq did not declare war. To do so would have risked annihilation.
Early on, that same situation would have faced Iran. But Obama's years-long negotiations with Iran allowed the Iranian leaders time to multiply, disperse and fortify their nuclear facilities.
The Obama administration's leaking of Israel's secret agreement with Azerbaijan to allow Israeli warplanes to refuel there, during attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities, was a painfully clear sabotage of any Israeli attempt to destroy those Iranian facilities.
But the media's usual practice to hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil in the Obama administration buried this news, and allowed Obama to continue to pose as Israel's friend, just as he continued to assure Americans that, if they liked their doctor they could keep their doctor.
Some commentators have attributed Barack Obama's many foreign policy disasters to incompetence. But he has been politically savvy enough to repeatedly outmaneuver his opponents in America. For example, the Constitution makes it necessary for the President to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate to make any treaty valid. Yet he has maneuvered the Republican-controlled Congress into a position where they will need a two-thirds majority in both Houses to prevent his unilaterally negotiated agreement from going into effect — just by not calling it a treaty.
If he is that savvy at home, why is he so apparently incompetent abroad? Answering that question may indeed require us to "think the unthinkable," that we have elected a man for whom America's best interests are not his top priority.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.