Wars and rumors of wars

Threats loom from China and Russia

While we are focusing on internal politics here at home, the rest of the world hasn’t stopped turning. That is becoming very evident as several crises brew around the world.

For most of Joe Biden’s presidency, there hasn’t been much attention or thought given to foreign policy. The one big exception was the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle. But even Afghanistan was only in the news a few weeks before we moved along to something else.

The fall of Afghanistan was less than two months ago and was assumed by many to be the end of the Biden presidency. People were calling for his resignation or impeachment, but now it isn’t even discussed.

But there are other pressing matters of foreign policy that may affect us a great deal more directly than Afghanistan. And I don’t mean foreign trade wars or the trade deficit. To the extent that I’m talking about China, I mean the possibility of a literal war over Taiwan.

There have been signs that China is preparing for a war to retake the island of Taiwan for decades. Recently, there have been indications that the Chinese are preparing for war with the United States and Taiwan would be a likely casus belli. Among the alarming stories is a Chinese hypersonic missile test in which a guided missile flew around the world and dropped off a separate vehicle that impacted a target in China. The ultimate focus of the hypersonic weapon is likely evident from mockups of US warships that are located on a target range in the Chinese desert.

There is a lot of tension between the US and China, but these tensions have been simmering for decades. I remember reading that we were on track to war with China 20 years ago. Today, there is no sign that war is imminent despite the fact that China is openly training on targets that resemble US warships. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t do the same thing.

That may not be true with respect to Russia and Ukraine, however. The war in Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014 when Russia annexed the province of Crimea outright and invaded portions of other eastern provinces. Ukraine has been involved in both a shooting war and a cyberwar with Russian-backed separatists ever since.

At the moment, Russia is massing its own conventional forces near the Ukraine border. The Military Times reports that 92,000 Russian soldiers are in position to attack. Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Ukrainian defense intelligence agency, told the Times that he believes that Putin’s Russia is preparing to attack in late January or early February. Such an attack could include armor, artillery, airborne and special forces.

No recent president has given Vladimir Putin reason to believe that the US will intervene on behalf of Ukraine. President Obama failed to live up to our commitment to protect Ukraine and President Trump played politics with aid that the country needed to defend itself from the Russians. The Biden Administration is considering sending more lethal aid and military advisors to Ukraine as the crisis deepens, but so far has been relatively quiet on the subject.

America is tired of war after 20 years of the War on Terror, but it may be just that hesitance that makes it more likely that we will blunder our way into another war. Dictators bent on conquest are often encouraged by weakness and American leaders since George W. Bush have consistently been weak. We have also seen in the past how American isolationism can feed the territorial ambitions of authoritarians, which ultimately blossom into war.

If our mixed-message diplomacy leads to an invasion that provokes a US military response over some far away and insignificant country, it wouldn’t be the first time. The invasions of both Korea and Kuwait were tied to the erroneous belief that America would not offer more than verbal resistance.

If we do become involved in a war with Russia or China, it will be unlike anything we’ve experienced in decades. Such a war could possibly go nuclear and would certainly involve loss of life on a scale that would dwarf the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a nation, I don’t think we are ready for such a war (as if any nation ever could be).

A final possibility is that a war with one of our rivals might lead the other to take advantage of the opportunity. After years of war and cutbacks, would we still be able to fight a two-front war the way we did in World War II? Writing in the National Interest, Robert Farley thinks we can, citing the fact that we maintain the “world’s most formidable military” and have a powerful military alliance with other NATO members. However, a more desperate, two-front struggle would increase the possibility of both nuclear escalation and a disappointing outcome.

I’ve always been of the opinion that strength and the willingness to use it help to prevent war. Hopefully, our strong and experienced military and our foreign alliances will continue to help to keep the peace.

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Yesterday was the 58th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It seemed like an appropriate time to watch something that I’d had on my list for a while, Hulu’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, “11/22/63.”

I may have mentioned before that the novel is one of my favorite books. Episode one is not strictly faithful to the book (if you read King’s books and then watch the movies, you’ll probably agree that the books are much better), but it was good enough to make me want to continue watching.

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