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2023's message to 2014: Yes, they were testing us
Iran, Hamas, China and Russia were indeed seeing how the West would react as they made their expansion plans for 2023
One of the trends on creator spaces like YouTube is “this is future me” segments commenting on content filmed in the past, or more likely, hawking a product sponsor. If “future me” 2023 had a message for us in 2014, it’s that the threats in Iran, Gaza, Taiwan and Ukraine were tests to see the West’s reaction, so that plans can be calibrated for their real intentions. Our opponents were managing their OODA loop while we played political footsie.
Just so you know, an OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop is one way strategy is adjusted in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment (VUCA). VUCA and OODA deal with what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the “unknown unknowns.” OODA is also used for a variety of other purposes, including air dogfighting (you can look it up yourself). Our 2014 adversaries were making overt moves to remove unknown unknowns, observing reactions, orienting their strategy around those, then deciding to act toward their goals.
The West, led by the U.S., was being tested, and we are continuing to be tested in 2023 for whatever’s next, though we have to deal with today before we find out. I promised a few examples in the subheading, so let me focus on those.
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Iran was testing the West’s reaction to its nuclear ambitions. In 2014, the JCPOA (the “Iran Deal”) was entering its final negotiations, and on paper, Iran appeared to be ready for compliance. But as the Mossad’s 2018 Tehran heist evidence shows, Iran was cheating, big time. Tehran was planning to split its nuclear program into an overt, compliant side and a covert, bomb-making side. Meanwhile, Tehran had uses for the cash freed up by JCPOA, mostly funding proxies like Hizbollah and terrorist groups, along with buying influence in Iraq.
Iran also involved itself in Yemen’s war after the Houthi coup d’etat in that nation. The Houthis have been a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia and have harassed American interests in the gulf for the last nearly 10 years. Just a week ago, a U.S. Navy destroyer intercepted missiles fired by Houthis that may have been intended for Israel. Now, President Joe Biden has moved an entire carrier strike group to the region to deal with potential threats.
Hamas used 2014 to test its tunnel, kidnapping and rocket strategy against Israeli defenses. Hamas was able to measure how many targets Iron Dome could defend at once, increase both the range and accuracy of its rockets, and gauge the effectiveness of the IDF’s ground strategy. Israel’s strategy of “mowing the grass” was the result, where Hamas was largely left alone to build its tunnels, using a black market economy, cash from Iran and Qatar, and recycled materials from Israel’s operations.
Israel’s high-tech fences and sensors didn’t deter Hamas from planning its 2023 operation, and in fact gave Israel way too much of a sense of safety. Remote operated guns and cameras fell prey to low-tech drones carrying grenades, while sparsely manned checkpoints supposedly backed by what the U.S. calls Quick Reaction Forces (“QRF”) were overwhelmed when communications were disrupted. What didn’t change was Hamas’ commitment to destroying Israel, using terrorism, partisan-style fighting, and the more powerful domains of lawfare, disinformation, and media manipulation to delegitimize the professional army and democratically-elected government of their enemy.
China was flying relatively high in 2014, with its domestic Belt and Road program and foreign investment in ports and infrastructure. The PRC engaged its first direct talks with Taiwan since 1949. These talks were mere tests of the political will of Taiwan to submit to Beijing. The results were a backlash was Taiwanese rejected any kind of deal. So Beijing pursued a massive military buildup and policy of continual harassment until politics in Taipei change.
“Let me reiterate that peace is the only option across the Taiwan Strait,” said [Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen], who will step down after two terms in office. “Maintaining the status quo, as the largest common denominator for all sides, is the critical key to ensuring peace.”
The PRC has been testing the West’s commitment to Taiwan, and therefore influencing Taipei’s politics, since 2014. While America is distracted elsewhere, they may continue their opportunistic approach until they can build a force capable of a cross-strait invasion. What hasn’t changed is Xi Jinping’s commitment to bringing Taiwan back into Beijing’s fold, either by political, or by military means. China’s own poor economic situation won’t alter that objective, and in fact Taiwan’s success in the semiconductor market might even accelerate their efforts.
And there’s Russia. Joe Biden said in 2014, he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” In 2008, Sen. John McCain, in a presidential debate with President Barack Obama, said, as reported by New York Magazine,
“I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G, and a B.” (McCain may have borrowed this laugh line from Colin Powell.) McCain added, presciently, “Watch Ukraine. Ukraine, right now, is in the sights of Vladimir Putin.”
McCain was right. Biden was right. As much as former President Donald Trump thinks he could have avoided the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by making a deal with Putin, it’s unlikely that would have deterred the invasion. Putin was playing Trump as a patsy. Or worse, Putin was playing off Trump’s obsession with staying in power, and reinforced Trump’s belief that Ukraine was part of a Biden conspiracy network against him. Many Trump supporters still believe that.
Perhaps, if McCain had won in 2008, things would be different today. In 2012, Mitt Romney was mocked by Obama, who in a debate said, “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” referring to Romney saying Russia is the biggest potential threat facing America.
Obama was wrong about Russia; he was wrong about Iran; he was wrong about Hamas; he was wrong about China.
I suppose if 2023 future America had a message for 2014, it’s “don’t listen to Barack Obama.” Unfortunately, that message was delivered, but we just didn’t listen.
But we can listen now. Our adversaries continue to test us. Israel isn’t done fighting for its existence. Ukraine has a long war ahead to take back territory Russia illegally annexed. Taiwan needs assurance that it won’t be abandoned by the West when China makes its next move. Iran has to be dealt with.
The West is being tested. Make no mistake, if we abandon any of our allies, because we think America is not affected by wars in Ukraine, or in Israel, or Taiwan, or that Iran isn’t our enemy (listen to the Ayaltollahs, who say we are their enemy!), we will be worse off in the future than we are today. If we had listened in 2014—if Israel had listened to its own intelligence—we would not be facing most of the crises we now face, and many who are dead would be alive.
If we don’t listen today, our adversaries will add that to their OODA loop, and next time, we won’t have the same advantages we do today. They will get stronger, smarter, and more adaptable, while we navel-gaze and spew hatred against fellow Americans. We must not fail the test today. That’s the message 2023 has for 2014, and we had better listen to it today, or 2032 America will be calling to tell us our own sons and daughters are dying because we missed it again.