It is bitterly ironic that just as world leaders and diplomats were gathering in Munich to participate in the annual Security Conference, the threat of enormous insecurity loomed menacingly over Ukraine. Meanwhile Russia, in collaboration with Belarus, tested ballistic and cruise missiles, clearly intended as a reminder that Russia is prepared to escalate the conflict. Against that backdrop, China came out in support of Russia’s demand that Ukraine be forever excluded from NATO, as if Beijing has the right to limit the political choices of independent countries. With that support, Russia invaded Ukraine. Major land war in Europe has returned.
How this confrontation will yet play out and what strategies the US and the West should pursue in the Ukraine crisis are questions that lie far beyond the scope of this essay in the Caravan, which is devoted to issues in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Of course, there is one direct connection to the Middle East in the shape of the strong support Ukraine has been receiving from Turkey, both of which are Black Sea powers: the Ukraine war can also become a Black Sea war and therefore relevant to Middle East strategizing–and then there is the question of the impact on oil prices.
Yet the real implication for the Middle East is different and on a higher level. The US, which is the ultimate guarantor of the international order–in the Middle East and elsewhere–faces a combined threat from Russia, China and their de facto companions, Iran and North Korea. Their goal is to reduce American influence across Eurasia and in the Pacific. Russia wants Ukraine, and China is planning on seizing Taiwan not only for the specific territorial gains but in order to degrade the credibility of the US in international affairs.
This consideration is the focus for all the foreign policy discussions since the Obama administration concerning a “pivot to Asia” or, in the less catchy phrasing, a deprioritization of the Middle East. According to one version of the argument, China is the ultimate challenge to US hegemony in the twenty-first century and therefore the US should redeploy its military assets away from the Middle East, moving them to the Indo-Pacific in order to contain China there. Yet as correct as this assessment of the Chinese challenge is, the conclusion is wrong. Russia has just reminded the world that China is not the only threat. As far as the Middle East is concerned, ceding advantages there in order to expand investments in the Pacific will only create a vacuum which our adversaries will exploit. Russia is already ensconced in Latakia in Syria, and China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti. If we move out, our enemies move in. Because the conflict is global, there is in fact no part of the globe we can leave without benefit to our opponents: see Afghanistan.
Yet at the same time, domestic resource constraints increasingly limit US ability to project power around the world, given the dynamics of the federal budget under pressure from entitlements, unleashed inflation, and debt. Add to this the political pressure of isolationism on the left and on the right, which will increasingly limit defense spending and direct deployments. We are between a rock and a hard place: straddling the urgency of maintaining power to push back against ambitious adversaries and a systemic cap on the resources necessary to support that power.
There is a clear solution to this problem: building networks of allies. While Washington is the strongest voice in the current response to Moscow, the western stance is based on NATO, which, despite the disappearance of the Soviet Union, apparently does still have a role to play, thanks to Putin’s revanchism. In the Indo-Pacific the Quad–Japan, India, Australia, and the US–has emerged as a comparably powerful network, as different as it is from NATO. However, alliances by definition bring together several sovereign states, and they can therefore present challenges, due to divergent, if not fully antagonistic interests. Such intra-alliance diversity requires perpetual diplomatic skill to manage, but in the agonistic context of competing superpowers, it is better to have allies than to stand alone. Indeed, the Russian goal has long involved efforts to split the US from its European allies.
And the lesson for US policy in the Middle East? The Middle East lacks a security architecture comparable to NATO or the Quad. US diplomacy should take a lead in building it. Obviously, any security arrangement in the Middle East will not be identical to either NATO or the Quad because of the different circumstances, histories and geographies. However, in the face of intrusions by Russia and China and the efforts at regional destabilization by Iran, and given the implausibility of any major US military reengagement in the region, we need an alliance structure to maintain order, protect freedom of navigation, engage in counter-terrorism and counter malign activities supported by our adversaries.
Fortunately, a number of factors have set the stage for US leadership to build a network of like-minded states. It is now up to Washington to seize this historic opportunity. The current Israeli government is ideologically broad, including, for the first time, an Arab party as part of the governing coalition. Israeli diplomacy has also built important bridges to some Arab states in the wake of the Abraham Accords. The western inclination of key Gulf states is being reinforced by interests in technological integration as well their threat perception concerning Iranian ambitions. The Saudi government has been carrying out a bold reform process unimaginable only a few years ago. Last but by no means least, the red thread that could pull these diverse elements together is the powerful presence of India, whose relations with Israel are flourishing and whose presence in the Gulf, in terms of investment and diaspora populations, is unmistakable. Because it is in American interest to oppose China’s Belt and Road initiative, which has made substantial inroads in the region, India is surely a likely partner to counter Beijing and could become the cornerstone of a larger regional security strategy, stretching from the Indo-Pacific to the Suez Canal and into the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps even to Turkey.
That is a grand vision that will require committed American diplomatic leadership. There are also undeniable obstacles. Some problems are relatively local and specific, such as differences among the Gulf states, which Washington could work to resolve. The Palestinian question has lost much of its prominence, but it persists nonetheless; given current leadership in Gaza and Ramallah it may be intractable, but a compromise solution ought to be in reach. The Biden administration’s unwillingness to back Saudi Arabia firmly against missile attacks by the Houthis in Yemen is bizarre and should be corrected.
With regard to each of the large states that could become the anchors of a security network–Saudi Arabia, India and potentially Turkey–bilateral relations with the Washington are stuck in unproductive ways: for India and Turkey because of their S-400 purchases and the deleterious role played by sanctions based on CAATSA legislation, and for Saudi Arabia the animosity toward the Crown Prince in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. Potential partners are surely not always blameless, but American foreign policy leadership has to ask some tough questions. Does standing on principle obstruct larger American strategic interests? Entering into a partnership with another country does not mean a blanket endorsement of all of its policies, but it can mean building a partnership to withstand a larger adversary.
In fact, entering into a partnership may even increase the leverage America has to influence a partner’s policies, particularly in the area of human rights. This is an issue relevant to all three countries (and not only them of course). At the very least, Washington has to grapple with the question of whether it will treat criticism of rights issues in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and India as reasons to refrain from entering into an alliance structure. Pursuit of rights and pursuit of international security are both legitimate and positive goals; political leadership should find a way to navigate the competition between them and find the right balance.
Finally, the geostrategic perspectives of the various countries that might be part of a Middle East security structure are by no means identical. As the US is perceived to be withdrawing from the area, some regional states are hedging their bets. As Washington cold-shouldered Mohammed bin Salman, he could fly to Beijing, because in a multipolar world, countries have more than one option. Given the ambiguity of US positions in Syria, Israel has had to coordinate with Russia in its attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian positions there. India remains open to Iran, given long-standing historical ties, in obvious contrast to the US. More perplexing was India’s decision to abstain from the UN Security Council vote calling for a General Assembly emergency session on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether this was an indication of vestigial affinity for Russia or an effort to carve out a diplomatic role as a potential mediator between the sides of the conflict.
Organizing a security structure in this vast region will not be an easy puzzle to solve, but doing so is vital for US interests in the face of competitive adversaries. Washington should devote considerable diplomatic energy–and other resources–to build connections linking India through the Gulf and into the core of the Middle East. One might think of this as a multidimensional expansion of the Abraham Accords across a much larger expanse. The payoff in terms of regional stability and maintaining American influence could be long-lasting.
The announcement of the boycott came as the administration lobbied Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs.
The Biden administration announced it will hold a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, meaning U.S. athletes will still attend and compete, but the U.S. government won’t send any officials. The Chinese government vowed to retaliate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration made the decision due to China’s ongoing human rights violations. Activists and human rights organizations have been calling to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics since 2015. The Chinese government’s recent forced “disappearance” and “reappearance” of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has only energized the boycotting Beijing Winter Olympics movement. The Biden administration’s announcement is a welcome step.
But the announcement took place at the same time the administration faced criticism of its lobbying Congress to weaken a bill regarding the forced labor of Uyghurs. Those two contradictory actions raise questions about whether the administration is committed to standing up to China and upholding universal values such as human rights.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, aiming to “ensure that goods tainted with the forced labor of Uyghurs, and others, in the Xinjiang” do not enter the U.S. market. In July, the U.S. Senate passed its version of a similar bill co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. But House Democrats stalled the bill until it passed Wednesday 428-1, as the Biden administration asked Democrats to slow and water down the bill.
Two key players led the Biden administration’s lobbying efforts. One is the administration’s climate czar John Kerry, who reportedly lobbied against the bill out of the fear it would dissuade Beijing’s cooperation on climate change. Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., criticized Kerry on social media.
Another key player is Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. According to the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, “Sherman’s specific criticism relates to a part of the bill that would require a presumption that all products coming from Xinjiang are tainted by forced labor unless the importer can prove otherwise.” Big corporations such as Apple have been lobbying against the same provision since last year. It is not a coincidence that the Biden administration and big corporations’ interests are aligned.
Frustrated by House Democrats’ inaction, Rubio reintroduced the Uyghur forced labor bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Democrats used a procedural excuse to block the vote on Rubio’s amendment. Rubio tweeted, “The Biden Administration is actively working to stop the passage of an anti-slavery bill targeting # China’s genocide. That is why they don’t want my amendment on this to get on the defense bill.”
Why did the Biden administration act as if the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) atrocities against Uyghur Muslims is reason to hold a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, but not to support a bill that will prevent goods tainted with forced Uyghur laborers’ blood, sweat, and tears from entering the U.S. market?
Since day one, the Biden administration’s China policy has been full of contradictions like these. On the one hand, it continued some of former President Donald Trump’s tough approaches on China, including expanding the Trump-era blacklist of Chinese companies that Americans companies should not invest in.
The Biden administration also deepened the U.S. partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom by establishing the AUKUS. This alliance will begin with helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines as a counterweight to China’s naval expansion in the Asia Pacific.
On the other hand, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced plans to bring American executives to China and further deepen Sino-U.S. economic ties as if everything is fine. The Biden administration also repeatedly capitulated to the CCP’s hostage diplomacy.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) set free China telecom giant Huawei’s senior executive Meng Wanzhou, although Meng admitted she was guilty of some of DOJ’s charges. In return, China released two Canadian hostages it had detained since 2018.
Days before president Biden and Chinese leader Xi Xinping’s virtual summit, the Biden administration sent back to China seven Chinese nationals who were found guilty and served prison terms in the United States. In return, China permitted one U.S. citizen it illegally detained and never formally charged to return to the United States.
During Biden and Xi’s highly anticipated virtual summit, Biden didn’t even bring up important topics such as how the CCP has obstructed an international investigation of the origins of Covid-19.
The Biden administration’s messages on Taiwan are especially confusing. During a CNN town hall, President Biden said that the United States was committed to defending Taiwan if it came under attack from China. The next day the White House clarified that the president wasn’t announcing any policy on Taiwan. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, warned: “Words are important, and we can’t be careless in how we talk about an issue that is so vital to U.S. interests and the security of the Indo-Pacific.”
It seems that after being on the job for almost a year, the Biden administration still doesn’t have a coherent China policy. The mixed signals the administration sent are problematic for three reasons.
First, they do not inspire confidence in the American people that the administration has the competency to protect them and American interests. Consequently, people may not want to lend the administration the popular support it needs to make difficult choices when confronting China.
Second, when the United States needs its allies to establish a united front to stand up to China and uphold universal values, few will follow the U.S. lead because of a lack of confidence that the Biden administration has the political will to see it through.
Third, the CCP may take the Biden administration’s mixed signals as a sign of weakness and be encouraged to take risky actions, such as invading Taiwan sooner rather than later. China’s invasion of Taiwan will not only threaten regional peace but also jeopardize the survival of the liberal democratic world order.
The great power struggle between the United States and China is the most consequential event in our lifetime. Ambiguity in policies and mixed signals could lead to disastrous consequences. The Biden administration needs to show clarity, commitment, and coherence in its China policy.
America is a diplomatic fox, while Beijing is a hedgehog fixated on the big idea of reunification.
In a famous essay, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin borrowed a distinction from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
“There exists,” wrote Berlin, “a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to … a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance” — the hedgehogs — “and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory” — the foxes.
Berlin was talking about writers. But the same distinction can be drawn in the realm of great-power politics. Today, there are two superpowers in the world, the U.S. and China. The former is a fox. American foreign policy is, to borrow Berlin’s terms, “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels.” China, by contrast, is a hedgehog: it relates everything to “one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision.”
Fifty years ago this July, the arch-fox of American diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, flew to Beijing on a secret mission that would fundamentally alter the global balance of power. The strategic backdrop was the administration of Richard Nixon’s struggle to extricate the U.S. from the Vietnam War with its honor and credibility so far as possible intact.More fromArchegos Appeared, Then VanishedHedge Fund or Billionaire? For Tribune, It’s a No-BrainerIllinois Owes Georgia Voters a Debt of GratitudeOne Cheer for the Return of Earmarks
The domestic context was dissension more profound and violent than anything we have seen in the past year. In March 1971, Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty of 22 murders in the My Lai massacre. In April, half a million people marched through Washington to protest against the war in Vietnam. In June, the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers.
Kissinger’s meetings with Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, were perhaps the most momentous of his career. As a fox, the U.S. national security adviser had multiple objectives. The principal goal was to secure a public Chinese invitation for his boss, Nixon, to visit Beijing the following year.
But Kissinger was also seeking Chinese help in getting America out of Vietnam, as well as hoping to exploit the Sino-Soviet split in a way that would put pressure on the Soviet Union, America’s principal Cold War adversary, to slow down the nuclear arms race. In his opening remarks, Kissinger listed no fewer than six issues for discussion, including the raging conflict in South Asia that would culminate in the independence of Bangladesh.
Zhou’s response was that of a hedgehog. He had just one issue: Taiwan. “If this crucial question is not solved,” he told Kissinger at the outset, “then the whole question [of U.S.-China relations] will be difficult to resolve.”
To an extent that is striking to the modern-day reader of the transcripts of this and the subsequent meetings, Zhou’s principal goal was to persuade Kissinger to agree to “recognize the PRC as the sole legitimate government in China” and “Taiwan Province” as “an inalienable part of Chinese territory which must be restored to the motherland,” from which the U.S. must “withdraw all its armed forces and dismantle all its military installations.” (Since the Communists’ triumph in the Chinese civil war in 1949, the island of Taiwan had been the last outpost of the nationalist Kuomintang. And since the Korean War, the U.S. had defended its autonomy.)
With his eyes on so many prizes, Kissinger was prepared to make the key concessions the Chinese sought. “We are not advocating a ‘two China’ solution or a ‘one China, one Taiwan’ solution,” he told Zhou. “As a student of history,” he went on, “one’s prediction would have to be that the political evolution is likely to be in the direction which [the] Prime Minister … indicated to me.” Moreover, “We can settle the major part of the military question within this term of the president if the war in Southeast Asia [i.e. Vietnam] is ended.”
Asked by Zhou for his view of the Taiwanese independence movement, Kissinger dismissed it out of hand. No matter what other issues Kissinger raised — Vietnam, Korea, the Soviets — Zhou steered the conversation back to Taiwan, “the only question between us two.” Would the U.S. recognize the People’s Republic as the sole government of China and normalize diplomatic relations? Yes, after the 1972 election. Would Taiwan be expelled from the United Nations and its seat on the Security Council given to Beijing? Again, yes.
Fast forward half a century, and the same issue — Taiwan — remains Beijing’s No. 1 priority. History did not evolve in quite the way Kissinger had foreseen. True, Nixon went to China as planned, Taiwan was booted out of the U.N. and, under President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. abrogated its 1954 mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. But the pro-Taiwan lobby in Congress was able to throw Taipei a lifeline in 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act.
The act states that the U.S. will consider “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.” It also commits the U.S. government to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and … services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capacity,” as well as to “maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”
For the Chinese hedgehog, this ambiguity — whereby the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state but at the same time underwrites its security and de facto autonomy — remains an intolerable state of affairs.
Yet the balance of power has been transformed since 1971 — and much more profoundly than Kissinger could have foreseen. China 50 years ago was dirt poor: despite its huge population, its economy was a tiny fraction of U.S. gross domestic product. This year, the International Monetary Fund projects that, in current dollar terms, Chinese GDP will be three quarters of U.S. GDP. On a purchasing power parity basis, China overtook the U.S. in 2017.
In the same time frame, Taiwan, too, has prospered. Not only has it emerged as one of Asia’s most advanced economies, with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. the world’s top chip manufacturer. Taiwan has also become living proof that an ethnically Chinese people can thrive under democracy. The authoritarian regime that ran Taipei in the 1970s is a distant memory. Today, it is a shining example of how a free society can use technology to empower its citizens — which explains why its response to the Covid-19 pandemic was by any measure the most successful in the world (total deaths: 10).
As Harvard University’s Graham Allison argued in his hugely influential book, “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”, China’s economic rise — which was at first welcomed by American policymakers — was bound eventually to look like a threat to the U.S. Conflicts between incumbent powers and rising powers have been a feature of world politics since 431 BC, when it was the “growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta” that led to war. The only surprising thing was that it took President Donald Trump, of all people, to waken Americans up to the threat posed by the growth in the power of the People’s Republic.
Trump campaigned against China as a threat mainly to U.S. manufacturing jobs. Once in the White House, he took his time before acting, but in 2018 began imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. Yet he could not prevent his preferred trade war from escalating rapidly into something more like Cold War II — a contest that was at once technological, ideological and geopolitical. The foreign policy “blob” picked up the anti-China ball and ran with it. The public cheered them on, with anti-China sentiment surging among both Republicans and Democrats.
Trump himself may have been a hedgehog with a one-track mind: tariffs. But under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. policy soon reverted to its foxy norm. Pompeo threw every imaginable issue at Beijing, from the reliance of Huawei Technologies Co. on imported semiconductors, to the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, to the murky origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan.
Inevitably, Taiwan was added to the list, but the increased arms sales and diplomatic contacts were not given top billing. When Richard Haass, the grand panjandrum of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued last year for ending “strategic ambiguity” and wholeheartedly committing the U.S. to upholding Taiwan’s autonomy, no one in the Trump administration said, “Great idea!”
Yet when Pompeo met the director of the Communist Party office of foreign affairs, Yang Jiechi, in Hawaii last June, guess where the Chinese side began? “There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The one-China principle is the political foundation of China-U.S. relations.”
So successful was Trump in leading elite and popular opinion to a more anti-China stance that President Joe Biden had no alternative but to fall in line last year. The somewhat surprising outcome is that he is now leading an administration that is in many ways more hawkish than its predecessor.
Trump was no cold warrior. According to former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s memoir, the president liked to point to the tip of one of his Sharpies and say, “This is Taiwan,” then point to the Resolute desk in the Oval Office and say, “This is China.” “Taiwan is like two feet from China,” Trump told one Republican senator. “We are 8,000 miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a f***ing thing we can do about it.”
Unlike others in his national security team, Trump cared little about human rights issues. On Hong Kong, he said: “I don’t want to get involved,” and, “We have human-rights problems too.” When President Xi Jinping informed him about the labor camps for the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang in western China, Trump essentially told him “No problemo.” On the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Trump asked: “Who cares about it? I’m trying to make a deal.”
The Biden administration, by contrast, means what it says on such issues. In every statement since taking over as secretary of state, Antony Blinken has referred to China not only as a strategic rival but also as violator of human rights. In January, he called China’s treatment of the Uighurs “an effort to commit genocide” and pledged to continue Pompeo’s policy of increasing U.S. engagement with Taiwan. In February, he gave Yang an earful on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and even Myanmar, where China backs the recent military coup. Earlier this month, the administration imposed sanctions on Chinese officials it holds responsible for sweeping away Hong Kong’s autonomy.
In his last Foreign Affairs magazine article before joining the administration as its Asia “tsar,” Kurt Campbell argued for “a conscious effort to deter Chinese adventurism … This means investing in long-range conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned carrier-based strike aircraft and underwater vehicles, guided-missile submarines, and high-speed strike weapons.” He added that Washington needs to work with other states to disperse U.S. forces across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean and “to reshore sensitive industries and pursue a ‘managed decoupling’ from China.”
In many respects, the continuity with the Trump China strategy is startling. The trade war has not been ended, nor the tech war. Aside from actually meaning the human rights stuff, the only other big difference between Biden and Trump is the former’s far stronger emphasis on the importance of allies in this process of deterring China — in particular, the so-called Quad the U.S. has formed with Australia, India and Japan. As Blinken said in a keynote speech on March 3, for the U.S. “to engage China from a position of strength … requires working with allies and partners … because our combined weight is much harder for China to ignore.”
This argument took concrete form last week, when Campbell told the Sydney Morning Herald that the U.S. was “not going to leave Australia alone on the field” if Beijing continued its current economic squeeze on Canberra (retaliation for the Australian government’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the pandemic). National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has been singing from much the same hymn-sheet. Biden himself hosted a virtual summit for the Quad’s heads of state on March 12.
The Chinese approach remains that of the hedgehog. Several years ago, I was told by one of Xi’s economic advisers that bringing Taiwan back under the mainland’s control was his president’s most cherished objective — and the reason he had secured an end to the informal rule that had confined previous Chinese presidents to two terms. It is for this reason, above all others, that Xi has presided over a huge expansion of China’s land, sea and air forces, including the land-based DF‑21D missiles that could sink American aircraft carriers.
While America’s multitasking foxes have been adding to their laundry list of grievances, the Chinese hedgehog has steadily been building its capacity to take over Taiwan. In the words of Tanner Greer, a journalist who writes knowledgably on Taiwanese security, the People’s Liberation Army “has parity on just about every system the Taiwanese can field (or buy from us in the future), and for some systems they simply outclass the Taiwanese altogether.” More importantly, China has created what’s known as an “Anti Access/Area Denial bubble” to keep U.S. forces away from Taiwan. As Lonnie Henley of George Washington University pointed out in congressional testimony last month, “if we can disable [China’s integrated air defense system], we can win militarily. If not, we probably cannot.”
As a student of history, to quote Kissinger, I see a very dangerous situation. The U.S. commitment to Taiwan has grown verbally stronger even as it has become militarily weaker. When a commitment is said to be “rock-solid” but in reality has the consistency of fine sand, there is a danger that both sides miscalculate.
I am not alone in worrying. Admiral Phil Davidson, the head of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific, warned in his February testimony before Congress that China could invade Taiwan by 2027. Earlier this month, my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Max Hastings noted that “Taiwan evokes the sort of sentiment among [the Chinese] people that Cuba did among Americans 60 years ago.”
Admiral James Stavridis, also a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, has just published “2034: A Novel of the Next World War,” in which a surprise Chinese naval encirclement of Taiwan is one of the opening ploys of World War III. (The U.S. sustains such heavy naval losses that it is driven to nuke Zhanjiang, which leads in turn to the obliteration of San Diego and Galveston.) Perhaps the most questionable part of this scenario is its date, 13 years hence. My Hoover Institution colleague Misha Auslin has imagined a U.S.-China naval war as soon as 2025.
In an important new study of the Taiwan question for the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Blackwill and Philip Zelikow — veteran students and practitioners of U.S. foreign policy — lay out the four options they see for U.S. policy, of which their preferred is the last:
The United States should … rehearse — at least with Japan and Taiwan — a parallel plan to challenge any Chinese denial of international access to Taiwan and prepare, including with pre-positioned U.S. supplies, including war reserve stocks, shipments of vitally needed supplies to help Taiwan defend itself. … The United States and its allies would credibly and visibly plan to react to the attack on their forces by breaking all financial relations with China, freezing or seizing Chinese assets.
Blackwill and Zelikow are right that the status quo is unsustainable. But there are three core problems with all arguments to make deterrence more persuasive. The first is that any steps to strengthen Taiwan’s defenses will inevitably elicit an angry response from China, increasing the likelihood that the Cold War turns hot — especially if Japan is explicitly involved. The second problem is that such steps create a closing window of opportunity for China to act before the U.S. upgrade of deterrence is complete. The third is the reluctance of the Taiwanese themselves to treat their national security with the same seriousness that Israelis take the survival of their state.
Thursday’s meeting in Alaska between Blinken, Sullivan, Yang and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi — following hard on the heels of Blinken’s visits to Japan and South Korea — was never likely to restart the process of Sino-American strategic dialogue that characterized the era of “Chimerica” under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The days of “win-win” diplomacy are long gone.
During the opening exchanges before the media, Yang illustrated that hedgehogs not only have one big idea – they are also very prickly. The U.S. was being “condescending,” he declared, in remarks that overshot the prescribed two minutes by a factor of eight; it would do better to address its own “deep-seated” human rights problems, such as racism (a “long history of killing blacks”), rather than to lecture China.
The question that remains is how quickly the Biden administration could find itself confronted with a Taiwan Crisis, whether a light “quarantine,” a full-scale blockade or a surprise amphibious invasion? If Hastings is right, this would be the Cuban Missile Crisis of Cold War II, but with the roles reversed, as the contested island is even further from the U.S. than Cuba is from Russia. If Stavridis is right, Taiwan would be more like Belgium in 1914 or Poland in 1939.
By Russ Read • The Daily Caller
The head of U.S. intelligence believes that Iran’s recent actions speak loudly to its intentions, particularly given the country’s recent provocations since the Iran nuclear deal came into effect.
Testifying to the Senate Committee on Armed Services Tuesday, director of national intelligence James Clapper gave a very somber description of what he sees as Iran’s intentions toward the U.S. now that last summer’s nuclear deal has commenced. In particular, his statements offered little assurance that Iran is acting as an honest actor with the U.S. and the other states involved in last year’s negotiations, or that the nuclear deal will stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Iran probably views JCPOA [Iran deal] as a means to remove sanctions while preserving nuclear capabilities, as well as the option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure,” said Clapper, who also noted that, so far, he sees no evidence that Iran is violating the nuclear deal. Continue reading
By Dave Clark and Nicolas Revise • Yahoo
The United States failed to manage its traditional Sunni Arab allies in the region while it reached out to mend ties with their bitter Shiite foes in Tehran.
As a result, experts warn, Washington has suffered a loss of influence at a time when it needs to implement the nuclear accord and work with both Tehran and Riyadh to end the Syrian war.
“I think the administration has had a one-eyed policy on this,” Salman Shaikh, founder and CEO of regional consultancy the Shaikh Group, told AFP. Continue reading
Just three years ago, President Obama famously ridiculed GOP opponent Mitt Romney’s statement that Russia remained America’s main geopolitical foe by taunting: “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”
Four years before that, Obama stood at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to declare that once he became president, all people would join him around a global campfire, hold hands and put an end to the world’s evils and miseries.
Well, seven years into Obama’s presidency, the promised worldwide Kumbaya is instead global chaos — caused in large measure by his willful retreat from America’s position of leadership. Continue reading
For the Obama administration, there’s always a surprise when it comes to the Middle East. Having pulled out of Iraq before Iraq was ready, they were taken unawares by the Islamic State’s rise. Now Russia’s strategic moves to be the big dog on the block in the Mideast have thrown them for another loop.
Russia has forged an alliance with Syria, Iran and Iraq to share intelligence to destroy the Islamic State — without inviting the U.S. The pact has a powerful moral rationale, given the monstrosity of the enemy and the U.S. lack of will to fight. But it also will permanently extend Russian power in the region, something that Russia had under the USSR but that is also a longstanding imperial ambition dating back to the days of Vlad the Great. Continue reading
The danger of Russia’s intervention in Syria, and America’s timidity in Afghanistan
To hear Vladimir Putin, Russia has become the leader of a new global war on terrorism. By contrast Barack Obama seems wearier by the day with the wars in the Muslim world that America has been fighting for more than a decade. On September 30th Russian jets went into action to support Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered troops. It is setting up an intelligence-sharing network with Iraq and Iran. The Russian Orthodox church talks of holy war. Mr Putin’s claim to be fighting Islamic State (IS) is questionable at best. The evidence of Russia’s first day of bombing is that it attacked other Sunni rebels, including some supported by America. Even if this is little more than political theatre, Russia is making its biggest move in the Middle East, hitherto America’s domain, since the Soviet Union was evicted in the 1970s.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, America’s campaign against the Taliban has suffered a blow. On September 28th Taliban rebels captured the northern town of Kunduz—the first provincial capital to fall to them since they were evicted from power in 2001. Afghan troops retook the centre three days later. But even if they establish full control, the attack was a humiliation. Continue reading
by Yeganeh Torbati • Reuters
Addressing concerns that a landmark nuclear deal reached this year could boost Iran’s military power, the Obama administration reassured critics that it would maintain and enforce its remaining tough sanctions against the country.
Yet the U.S. government has pursued far fewer violations of a long-standing arms embargo against Iran in the past year compared to recent years, according to a review of court records and interviews with two senior officials involved in sanctions enforcement.
The sharp fall in new prosecutions did not reflect fewer attempts by Iran to break the embargo, the officials said. Rather, uncertainty among prosecutors and agents on how the terms of the deal would affect cases made them reluctant to commit already scarce resources with the same vigor as in previous years, the officials said. Continue reading
by George Landrith • Human Events
A good football coach knows that on third down and inches, a quarterback sneak might be the best play. Conversely, on third down and 25, his team will likely throw a long pass. The right play for one situation isn’t necessarily right in every situation.
Likewise, an effective U.S. President knows when to intervene and project strength and when to keep a low profile. Obama’s problem is that when he should show strength and resolve, he is passive and weak. And when he should show restraint and patience, he needlessly inserts himself and seeks to impose his will. Simply stated, given the circumstances, he calls the wrong play. Obama’s miscues are endangering the future of South Sudan.
South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation. In 2011, after decades of conflict and civil war, South Sudan was carved out of Sudan along cultural and geographical lines. But the new nation has had growing pains and conflict as it establishes itself as a new democracy. These difficulties have been made worse by Obama’s interference. Continue reading
by Jonathan S. Tobin • Commentary Magazine
This morning, President Obama got what he’s been working toward all year. With Senator Barbara Mikulski’s announcement that she will vote to support the Iran nuclear deal, the administration got its 34th vote in the Senate, thus assuring that the president will have enough support to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval of the pact. Mikulski was just the latest of a number of Senate Democrats to throw in with the president on Iran. The only suspense now is whether Obama will get to 41 and thus have enough for a filibuster and prevent a vote on the deal from even taking place. Leaving aside the terrible damage the deal does to U.S. security and the stability of the Middle East, the most far-reaching effect of the deal is that from now on Democrats own Iran. From this moment forward, every act of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, every instance of Iranian aggression and adventurism as well as the Islamist regime’s inevitable march to a nuclear weapon can be laid at the feet of a Democratic Party. With a few exceptions, the Democrats fell meekly behind a president determined to prioritize détente with Iran over the alliance with Israel and the need to defend U.S. interests. By smashing the bipartisan consensus that had existed on Iran up until this year, the Democrats have, in effect, become the hostages of the ayatollahs. This is a decision that will haunt them in the years to come.
In analyzing the struggle that was ultimately won by Obama, it must first be acknowledged that the outcome was determined primarily by a mismatch in terms of the relative power of the two sides. Continue reading
The President on Wednesday secured a 34th supporter in the Senate, enough for him to veto disapproval without fear of an override, and he began pushing for additional votes that would enable supporters to let the pact stand without a roll call.
Although the fight is lost, the Senate owes the people an up-or-down vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy agreements in decades.
Obama says he has boxed the Iranians so tightly that they have no chance of expanding a greatly reduced nuclear program in the short run, and that he or a future President could “snap back” economic sanctions should the Iranians go rogue. Thus, he argues, America will be better positioned to curb Iran for the 15-year life of the pact. Continue reading
With the Senate lacking the two-thirds majority it would need to stop him, President Obama will succeed in implementing his nuclear deal with Iran. At this point, barring a miracle, Obama has outmaneuvered the Congress and won that fight.
He has also lost the argument.
For all the millions of dollars they promised to spend influencing public opinion, his allies failed to put a dent in the overwhelming opposition among the American public. The demeaning videos they trotted out featuring vapid celebrities failed to convince the undecided to embrace this deal. Nor could they assuage the glaring problems in its terms for those following closely enough to feel confident expressing an opinion. Continue reading
By John Podhoretz • New York Post
It’s rare for people to celebrate getting 41 percent of anything. If you score 41 percent on a test, you get an F. If you win 41 percent of the vote in a two-person race, you lose. If your tax rate is 41 percent, you’re likely to feel ripped off.
In the matter of his Iran deal, President Obama and his team have spent two months working relentlessly to secure 41 percent — and now they’re claiming an enormous victory even though by any other standards what they’ve achieved is nothing but a feat of unconstitutional trickery.
They worked throughout the summer to browbeat Senate Democrats so they could get 41 of them to say they would support the Iran nuclear deal. They’re up to 42 now — that’s a mere 42 percent of the Senate. Continue reading
By Editorial Board • Washington Post
In July, President Obama said he had been “encouraged” by a telephone call Russian President Vladimir Putin had initiated to discuss Syria. The Russians, Mr. Obama confidently declared, “get a sense that the Assad regime is losing a grip over greater and greater swaths of territory” and “that offers us an opportunity to have a serious conversation with them.” Not for the first time, Mr. Obama was supposing that Mr. Putin could be enlisted in a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian civil war along lines Washington and its Arab allies support. Not for the first time, the president appears to have badly misread the Russian ruler.
Far from abandoning its support for the Assad regime, Moscow appears to be doubling down. According to numerous reports, Russia is establishing a base at an airfield near an Assad stronghold on the Mediterranean coast and has filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries. Analysts believe Russia may be preparing to deploy 1,000 or more military personnel to Syria and to carry out air operations in support of Assad forces. Syrian rebels already have reported seeing Russian aircraft over territory they control. Continue reading