Early ’22 Political Musings

Posts on politics are like candy:  easy to write, mostly instinct [and thus, if such is possible, perhaps even more rife with Noise than other notes entered here  ;)].  What follows are reactions on three events we can or might anticipate in 2022, and what might result from them.

The almost certain:  that the House of Representatives’ Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol will issue a report setting forth damning evidence showing that in an attempt to retain power, former President Donald Trump and his traitorous cohort sought to overturn the results of a free and fair election and instigated the Capitol insurrection.  I believe that the political ramifications of such a report will be … nil.  While I absolutely support the vital work that the Committee is doing, those citizens with – to paraphrase the Lord – eyes to see and ears to hear already know that Mr. Trump and his acolytes are guilty of sedition.  Those who willfully and steadfastly reject this fundamental and blatantly obvious truth will be unmoved by whatever the Committee brings forth. 

The seemingly probable:  that at some point before June, 2022, the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and declare that regulation of women’s reproductive rights are best left to the several states.  If such a decision is handed down, it takes no prescience to opine that within the sixty days thereafter, most or all states with Republican governors and legislatures will outlaw abortion within their jurisdictions, either de jure or de facto.  On a purely political handicapping basis, I will venture that if such a holding obtains, it will provoke such a paroxysm of liberal and progressive outrage and generate sufficient unease among Independents and Republican moderates that Democrats, despite all historical trends and the way 2022 political winds now appear to be blowing, will retain their majorities in Congress.  It would be a fitting and final irony to the career of U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell if the hyper-partisan manner in which he wielded his U.S. Senate leadership to place an arch conservative majority on the Supreme Court prevented him from ever regaining what he most desires:  majority leadership in the U.S. Senate.

The perhaps possible:  repeating reflections that I’ve already entered in these pages, that U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney, whether or not she retains her seat in the House of Representatives in the 2022 elections, declares her candidacy for the presidency of the United States in 2024.  She has been vilified in and ostracized by her own party – for having the guts to speak the truth – but she remains a Republican.  (I admire U.S. IL Rep. Adam Kinzinger, but he doesn’t have enough political gravitas to mount a credible presidential campaign.)  Since 1950, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump each won the Republican nomination and the presidency while not holding any elective office.  Ms. Cheney’s presence in the Republican nomination race, whether or not Mr. Trump chooses to run again, would create a sufficient schism in the Republican ranks that I would suggest – if the Democrats put up anybody reasonable [who might be “reasonable” to be left to a post on a later date ;)] — it will be difficult for Republicans to sufficiently repair their rupture in enough swing states to claim the presidency.  (Although Ms. Cheney would seemingly have no realistic prospect of securing the 2024 Republican nomination if Mr. Trump runs, her prospects against a field of Trump Wannabes, who would split the pro-Trump vote in the early primaries, are actually a bit intriguing – a reverse of the strategy Mr. Trump himself used to win the Republican nomination in 2016.)  If Mr. Trump runs, debates between him and Ms. Cheney would literally be the most arresting television of all time.  If he doesn’t, Ms. Cheney’s presence on a debate stage would at a minimum require each Trump Wannabe seeking Mr. Trump’s mantle to declare whether s/he believed that the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump and whether the Capitol events of January 6 were an insurrection or a tourist excursion.  In this scenario, if a Trump Wannabe ultimately prevails, it’s hard for me to believe that a sufficient number of Independents and Republican moderates in enough swing states will countenance voting for a candidate that they know is either a liar or a fool for the Republican to win the White House – assuming, again, that Democrats give them a reasonable alternative (and assuming, of course, that swing state Republican governors and legislatures don’t use their newly-minted election laws to award their Electoral College votes to the Republican notwithstanding their states’ actual vote totals).

‘Nuff said.  Omicron – although by virtually all accounts, not mortally dangerous to those vaxxed and boosted – lurks.  Although maintaining protections is now moving from exasperating to aggravating, stay safe.

It Was God and Guns

A number of years ago, on our then-annual summer sojourn to central Wisconsin – before the political rise of former President Donald Trump, but after former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker had taken office and assumed the acrimonious, politically warlike approach toward Democrats, liberals and all who opposed him that Mr. Trump subsequently adopted on a national scale — we noted a wide number of enthusiastic expressions of support for Mr. Walker throughout the area.  I was then fairly surprised by it.  This part of Wisconsin was then and remains today fairly economically deprived.  Even in summer – the tourist season – many of these little Wisconsin communities are ghost towns during the week.  One day, we happened to encounter a retired social studies teacher who had spent his career in one of the small local high schools.  Some way or other, we became aware of the fact that he was liberal, which enabled me to ask about the issue that had been puzzling me:  all one had to do was look around to see that the Walker Administration had done nothing for these people, but their support for the Republican Governor was ardent and palpable.  Why?  I was even then geeky enough to say:  “These people should be for Roosevelt.”  He was of the vintage to understand the reference.  He replied:  “It was God and guns that did it.”

Although this is merely repeating a lament that I have previously recorded in these pages, it nonetheless seems appropriate today to note that the true danger facing our nation is not Mr. Trump or his cohort.  Through their messaging, spread by propagandists such as Fox News, they have provided an alternate reality regarding the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, COVID, the environment, and on and on; but their supporters have zealously chosen to embrace narratives that anyone willing to apply any level of discernment would immediately recognize as false.  These citizens have done so because they loath what they perceive that a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-gender, urban-based segment of our electorate has done to desecrate their values and denigrate their standing in society — what they consider America to be.  I have heard more than one alt-right proponent – U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan comes to mind – declare that the Democrats and progressives hate conservatives.  I ask you to consider whether in any aspect of life, winners “hate” their adversaries.  They don’t – they’ve won.  It is sometimes the losers that hate.  Mr. Jordan’s declaration amounts to pure projection — not because progressives are any morally better; they reek with condescension toward rural America and its values — but because over the last decades, progressive attitudes have come to dominate our culture.  I would submit that it may be some among those who consider their country to have been overrun by attitudes they find abhorrent that perhaps harbor the deepest antipathy.  They reject demonstrable truths.  I recently heard a commentator use a phrase that frequently comes to my mind:  They want what they want.

I have sometimes quoted Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, in these pages; based upon his research, Dr. Haidt articulately argues that people are ruled by their emotions and use their intellectual powers to provide rationalizations for their visceral inclinations.  Given our national posture today, on the anniversary of the event that I consider to portend the most danger to our democracy since Pearl Harbor, I instead quote another, perhaps as insightful about certain aspects of human nature as he was malignant:

“The broad masses of a people consist neither of professors nor of diplomats.  The scantiness of the abstract knowledge they possess directs their sentiments more to the world of feeling.  That is where their positive or negative attitude lies.  … Their emotional attitude at the same time conditions their extraordinary stability.  Faith is harder to shake than knowledge, love succumbs less to change than respect, hate is more enduring than aversion, and the impetus to the mightiest upheavals on this earth has at all times consisted less in a scientific knowledge dominating the masses than in a fanaticism which inspires them and sometimes in a hysteria which drove them forward.”

  • Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf 

I believe in America:  it has been very good to me and mine, and for the billions in this country and across the world for whom it has, despite its failings, been Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.  I do not dismiss the possibility that we will regain a level of political and cultural equilibrium.  At the same time, I confess that a year after the Capitol insurrection, we continue to face the greatest challenge to our system of government that we have faced since the end of World War II.

The Green Bay Sweep (NOT a Football Post)

Amid all of the mounting revelations of the Trump Cohort’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, I had been vaguely aware of the reports of the publication of In Trump Time, a book by former Trump Administration Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro, but hadn’t focused on it.  I obviously haven’t read the book.  The link below is to an interview of Mr. Navarro conducted last night by MSNBC Commentator Ari Melber.  Mr. Navarro gets to speak his piece, in which he unabashedly outlines the Trump Plotters’ “Green Bay Sweep” strategy to sidestep the certified results of the 2020 presidential election. I am, frankly, numb after viewing it.  Prefatory comments:  as Mr. Melber pointed out and as all who care are aware, over 60 challenges to presidential election results by Trump advocates were rejected by courts across the country; and that in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states whose Secretaries of State were specifically singled out as partisan by Mr. Navarro during the interview, former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden by, respectively, 150,000 and 80,000 votes.  These weren’t close.

Perhaps as unnerving as any other element of the exchange is that Mr. Navarro clearly believes that what he was undertaking was right.  Further:  as a resident of Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden’s margin of victory was significantly narrower than in Michigan and Pennsylvania, I would venture that the shameless GOP charlatans masquerading as this state’s legislature – despite the fact that before Republicans got it into their heads that they could simply claim black was white, no less a partisan than former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker tacitly signaled that any challenge to Mr. Biden’s Wisconsin victory was futile – would have used any pretext to throw Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes to Mr. Trump. 

We are in a dangerous fantasy land.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/watch-msnbc-host-ari-melber-clashes-with-trump-aide-peter-navarro-over-2020-coup-attempt

Scaling a Dam of Doubt

With a 12 – 3 record, the Green Bay Packers continue to cling to the No. 1 seed in the NFL’s NFC, the position which entitles the team that secures it to both a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the Conference’s playoffs.  As Green Bay squares off against the Minnesota Vikings in Lambeau Field this evening, a few impressions emerge:

Say what you will of his personal idiosyncrasies — and there is plenty that can be said 😉 — Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers seems, at 38, to be as good as he has ever been and is obviously the difference between the team’s current standing and, I would suggest, around a .500 record.  I don’t know whether a 3- or 4-year deal with record money will hold him in Green Bay after this year, but if it will, I’d pay him.  It is not a large stretch to suggest that the team would fare better next season fielding Mr. Rodgers and the Little Sisters of the Poor than it will by playing Backup Quarterback Jordan Love with the rest of the current team.

Although I thought the team performed well enough overall on December 12 – despite atrocious special teams play – against a weak Bears team, the team has regressed over the last two weeks:

Much has been made of Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh’s decision to go for a 2-point conversion and the win on December 19 — an attempt which failed, providing Green Bay the 31 – 30 victory.  I haven’t seen as much said about Mr. Harbaugh’s decision, at the culmination of Baltimore’s first drive of the game, to forego a certain 3-point field goal to try for a touchdown – an effort which also failed.  If Mr. Harbaugh had taken the chip-shot 3 points (which I would have in his place; I’m an advocate of setting strategy by the game situation rather than by statistics), and all things being equal, Baltimore’s late touchdown would have won the game.  Green Bay was in large part lucky not to have been beaten by a team fielding a second-string quarterback and a fourth-string secondary.

On Christmas Day, as much as I credit Cornerback Rasul Douglas’ contributions to Green Bay’s defense over the last half of the season, it was obvious that Mr. Douglas was guilty of pass interference on his last interception that sealed the 24 – 22 victory.  If instead of letting that last interception stand, an official had made the correct call against Mr. Douglas, the Browns would have had a first down on the Green Bay 40 yard line with over 40 seconds left – seemingly providing Cleveland ample time to set up a victory-clinching field goal.  Green Bay could well have lost despite intercepting Browns Quarterback Baker Mayfield three times prior to the last drive.  Arguably, the Packers were, again, more lucky than good.

Of course, in an NFL game, “all things” are never “equal.”  If the Ravens had taken the field goal early in the December 19 game, it might have affected game strategy and altered outcomes throughout the contest for both sides; and a final Browns field goal cannot be taken for granted, given Mr. Mayfield’s uneven performance and the number of field goals that have been missed across the NFL this season.  Even so, as the Packers enter the last two weeks of the season they hardly seem the juggernaut that their record would imply. 

May we Packer fans see championship-worthy performances against the Vikings tonight and on the road against the Detroit Lions next weekend.  Wall Street has a term, “Climbing the Wall of Worry,” to describe financial markets’ sometime tendency to keep rising in spite of negative indicators; until we see more dominant play from the Green and Gold, I would submit that optimism about Green Bay’s prospects of winning a Super Bowl is tantamount to Scaling a Dam of Doubt. 

“Never Seen Anything Like It.”

On Thursday, a young couple in our extended family to whom we are very close had to flee their home to escape the wildfires that swept Colorado in the Boulder vicinity.  They and their young daughter were thankfully able to evacuate safely.  They discovered yesterday that their house was one of the few in their area not consumed by the flames, but as this is typed, they don’t know whether the structure, given its immediate proximity to the inferno, is or can be made habitable.

Friday morning reports were full of what we have come to recognize as standard reporting for these tragedies:  that it had been exceptionally dry for a Colorado December; that the winds, driving the fire in seconds across football field-sized areas, were unprecedented; that those covering this wildfire declared that they had “never seen anything like it.” The comments, though wrenching, were dishearteningly familiar — the same as those we have heard in descriptions of our nation’s fires, floods, and mudslides in the northwest, tornados across the great plains, droughts devastating once-fertile farmland, and hurricanes ravaging Puerto Rico, the east, west, and gulf coasts, let alone of the destruction wreaked in so many areas of the world:  Haiti, Africa, Asia, South America, etc., etc., etc.  From the comfort of our homes, we view these disasters with horror and sadness but now, perhaps also a level of detachment:  there have been so many, they have become so common, that it is difficult – at least for me – not to become a bit numb … until it hits somebody you know, somebody you love. 

While progressives passionately advocate for all measures that will reduce America’s carbon emissions to limit the destructive effects that these have upon our climate, there are factors that the most ardent frequently ignore, among them:  we have a lot of families that depend on the fossil fuel industry for their incomes, with at this point – despite Democrats’ protestations – less than comprehensive means to avoid the significant deleterious economic and psychological effects on many of these Americans that would result from the elimination of their livelihoods; our efforts will have little impact if other nations, most notably China (who is reported to be currently relaxing its climate control efforts to counter its slowing economy), don’t employ similar measures; and the more we rely on electricity, the more our power sources may become prey to terrorism and natural disasters that might critically impact our access to power during the north’s frigid winters and the south’s torrid summers.

When we visited Alaska, I was struck by the fact that although it is among our most politically conservative states, no Alaskan we met disputed climate change or the need to address it.  They have seen their glaciers disappear and watched the abundance of their wildlife and its behavior patterns – upon which so many depend for their livelihoods – alter drastically.

I am confident that our young couple will be fine; they survived, and no matter what the ultimate determination of the condition of their home, they are smart and resilient, they will be sustained by their love of their daughter, and they will enjoy the support of a large and loving family.  Even so, the fact remains: It’s not that we haven’t seen anything like this before; it’s that we’ve seen too many like this before.  As I’ve indicated earlier in these pages, I consider the need to safeguard voting rights and outcomes our most immediate national legislative priority.  That said, while taking into account the many interests and issues affected by climate change policy, may this new year be the year in which we as a nation, despite our factious political atmosphere, make meaningful progress toward protecting our world for our children and grandchildren.

May you and your family have a Happy and Healthy New Year.  Stay Safe. 

On Conservatism with a Small “C”

I consider one American commentator to stand above all others, who articulates what I wish I was bright and erudite enough to think:  David Brooks, Columnist for the New York Times, contributor to The Atlantic, participant on Friday’s PBS NewsHour.  Below is a link to an article Mr. Brooks published in The Atlantic earlier this month, “What Happened to American Conservatism?”.  An ode to what American conservatism used to be and making stark distinctions between that philosophy and what passes for Conservativism in the Trump Era, it is not the lightest of reading, but I would submit that it is well worth the investment of your time. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/01/brooks-true-conservatism-dead-fox-news-voter-suppression/620853/

May Peace Be With You

“… [M]ay the Lord bless his people with peace.”

  • Psalm 29:11

“… Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

  • John, 20:19

“As-Salaam-Alaikum.

  • A religious salutation among Muslims, meaning, “Peace be unto you.” 

“Inward his peace, and his vision inward shall come to Brahman and know Nirvana.”

  • Hinduism:  Bhagavad-Gita

“May I be a balm to the sick, their healer and servitor until sickness come never again …”

  • Buddhist Philosopher Shantideva

“If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.”

  • Confucius

It took little time to find quotations representative of faiths of which I am less familiar; a longing for peace seems universal.  May you and your loved ones enjoy its warmth during this Season. Happy Holidays. 

“What are you doing here?”

[Hopefully, all reading this note will excuse my adaptation of a well-known fable.]

“Look, we did something that was historic, we saved tens of millions of lives worldwide when we, together, all of us, we got a vaccine done.  This was going to ravage the country far beyond what it is right now, take credit for it… it’s great, what we’ve done is historic. … [I am both vaccinated and boosted.]”

  • Former President Donald Trump, December 20, 2021

So, the man died and arrived at the Pearly Gates.  The Lord looked out, saw him, and said, “What are you doing here?”

“I died, Lord,” he replied.

“What did you die from?”

“I died from the Coronavirus, Lord.”

“How did that happen?  Did you get vaccinated?  Did you get boosted?”

“No, Lord!  It was my freedom!  It was my faith!”

“So … First, I sent you Dr. Fauci, an eminent doctor, who told you vaccinations were safe.  Then, I sent you Pope Francis, who told you that getting vaccinated was an ‘Act of Love.’  Finally, I even sent you … Donald Trump, who told you that vaccinations protected America. 

What are you doing here?” 

On Chris Wallace

Yesterday, Chris Wallace announced he was leaving Fox News for CNN+, CNN’s streaming service.  It is reported that his Fox News contract was up, and he’s out of there.  As I noted when CNBC News Anchor Shepard Smith left Fox News in 2019, I place the highest credibility upon those willing to speak the truth when the truth is contrary to their own interest.  I accordingly considered Mr. Wallace’s approach on Fox News a particularly vital contribution to the ongoing cable news debate of national issues specifically because he was on Fox News, which generates its revenues by serving Trumplican sugar to an audience that laps it up.  I observed when noting Mr. Smith’s departure: 

“It is no surprise to the readers of these pages that I am generally in agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Morning Joe panel and the rest MSNBC lineup (although I’m occasionally surprised that they don’t asphyxiate themselves on their own hyperventilation); I enjoy the relish with which the majority of the CNN talking heads pursue [former President Donald Trump’s] falsehoods and inanities (although I wonder how they avoid drowning in their own antagonism); but I’m always acutely aware that no matter how sincerely these MSNBC and CNN commentators hold their views, they’re on those networks’ air because their employers’ business models in part involve inciting antipathy toward Mr. Trump and his cohort.  What made Mr. Smith different was the fact he was speaking to an audience that generally mostly strongly disagreed with the truth he offered.”

It also made Mr. Wallace different.  It has been reported that Mr. Wallace recently objected to Fox News leadership regarding the network’s airing of Patriot Purge, a 3-part series conducted by Fox News Commentator Tucker Carlson.  I have been aware without following the situation closely – I want to spend as little of my remaining life space as possible attending to Mr. Carlson, and to the reporting on Mr. Carlson’s pronouncements – that Patriot Purge seeks to rewrite the history of the January 6th Capitol insurrection, and has been lampooned by credible fact checkers for boosting Trumplican propaganda.

Godspeed to Mr. Wallace in his new endeavors.  Although he is reported as leaving of his own volition, I doubt that the Murdoch Family and Fox News leadership care that much.

“The nationalization of the broad masses can never be achieved by half measures, by weakly emphasizing a so-called objective standpoint, but only by a ruthless and fanatically one-sided orientation toward the goal to be achieved.”

  • Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On the China and Russia Advances

On one occasion, an eminent Chinese told me that letting Stalin lead Mao into authorizing the Korean War [in 1950] was the only strategic mistake Mao ever made because, in the end, the Korean War delayed Chinese unification by a century in that it led to America’s commitment to Taiwan.

  • Henry Kissinger, World Order

When [Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and] the United States and NATO did not come to Georgia’s aid militarily … [Russian President Vladimir Putin understood that NATO] did not have the political will to fight for partners outside the alliance … that the United States’ security priorities were focused elsewhere. …   

The notion that Putin is an opportunist, at best an improviser, but not a strategist, is a dangerous misread. …

The 2014 war [in which Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine] is essentially a big (war) game of “chicken.”  Based upon the West’s past performance in Georgia, Putin anticipated that the West would blink first in Ukraine, balking at the high costs of the confrontation, which he had laid out very clearly with his offensive defense. … This game of chicken will be a long one.

  • Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, Mr. Putin

Perhaps a bit lost in some U.S. quarters amid Thanksgiving gatherings, the coming of Omnicron, and the Supreme Court’s consideration of an abortion case, were recent complementary statements and actions by the Chinese and Russian governments.  While China was condemning the passage of the USS Milius through the Taiwan Strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland – although the American destroyer was apparently entirely in international waters and operating in accordance with international law – Russia, while amassing thousands of troops, drones, and electronic-warfare systems at its border with Ukraine, criticized what it called, “significant intensification of the actions of American strategic bomber aviation near the borders of Russia.”

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe declared that “China and Russia are united together like a great mountain. Our friendship is unbreakable.”  The Russian Defense Ministry separately indicated at almost the same time, “The heads of the military departments [of Russia and China] stressed the inviolability of friendship and the strength of ties between Russia and China.”    

Presumably to both tire and test Taiwan’s defenses, China increased the number of aircraft it is sending into “gray” airspace near Taiwan, the realm just outside Taiwanese territorial airspace that Taiwan monitors to provide it with additional time to respond to threats.  Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency has claimed that Russia has plans to invade Ukraine this winter.  Mr. Putin has indicated that any NATO deployment of troops or advanced missiles to Ukraine would cross a “red line,” and Russia would act, while making reference to Russia’s hypersonic missiles.  (Hypersonic weapons travel at more than five times the speed of sound, and are intended to evade American defense systems.)

Although America has sold defensive weapons to Taiwan for decades under the Taiwan Relations Act (the “TRA”), and maintains a token troop contingent on the island, the TRA does not obligate the U.S. to defend Taiwan if it comes under attack.  As most are aware, Ukraine is not a member of NATO and thus isn’t covered by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter, which obligates NATO members to defend each other if one is attacked.  Mr. Putin has warned against admitting Ukraine to NATO.  (President Joe Biden reportedly opposes Ukraine’s NATO admission until its government does more to address corruption.)  Even so, in response to the Russian buildup, NATO officials have threatened economic and political ramifications for Russia while noting that they have no military obligation to Ukraine.  U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has intoned that any further escalation by Russia against Ukraine would be of “great concern” and “trigger serious consequences.” 

How seriously can Vladimir Putin be expected to take this verbal posturing?  Can anyone who has ever read about the bitter torment that the Russian population endured in defeating the Nazi invasion during World War II believe that the Russian people can’t withstand any hardships caused by any level of NATO economic and political sanctions?  Who would one suppose that the vast majority of Russians, fed only Russian media, will ultimately blame for their misery – NATO, or Mr. Putin?  As for the steadfastness of the NATO bloc, I found a website indicating that in 2019 (seemingly a sufficiently-current reference for this note), 41% of the European Union’s natural gas, 27% of its crude oil, and 47% of its solid fuel were imported from Russia.  With winter looming, how staunch will Mr. Putin believe that the European NATO allies will really be?

This note anticipates a post on foreign policy strategy that has been in the works for some time, but every President faces challenges requiring grand strategy to yield to immediate necessity; President Biden may well be facing such a challenge at present.  It is certainly arguable that China and Russia are probing American readiness in contemplation of a de facto pincer movement in the coming months to test American resources and resolve.  I would submit that we will be best served if Mr. Biden responds steadily but proactively.  A few notions:

The President came to office pledging to make diplomacy rather than militancy the linchpin of American foreign policy.  That’s an admirable sentiment, but as Richard Haass noted in A World in Disarray, “As a rule of thumb, diplomacy and negotiations tend to reflect realities on the ground, not change them.”  Global strongmen operate according to the same code as grade school bullies; they will be deterred by soft speech only if those they confront are willing and able, as President Theodore Roosevelt observed over a century ago, to accompany their measured tones with a big stick.

America currently maintains the most formidable military and weaponry in the world (although we are behind in some areas; for example, I have read commentary stating that we currently trail China in the afore-mentioned hypersonic missile technology).  At the same time, our advantage appears to be waning as both China and Russia are able to prioritize military preparedness in a way that we, with domestic obligations in a democracy, are having and will have trouble matching in coming years.  Arguably, time is not on our side.

China’s President Xi Jinping has demonstrated less patience in advancing Chinese territorial interests – principally, in the manner that the Mainland has over the last several years asserted its governmental dominance over Hong Kong in clear contravention of the “One Country, Two Systems” embodied in the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration under which the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty of the region to China — than his renowned predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.  China has threatened that it will not countenance the elevation of Taiwan to nationhood status. 

Ms. Hill and Mr. Gaddy make clear in Mr. Putin that the Russian President, in addition to his savvy, is paranoid and aggrieved.  While one might assume that the leader of the nation with the world’s second-mightiest nuclear arsenal would be confident that no nation would ever seek to invade Russia, the country’s experience and his own background make him wary and aggressive.  Ukraine gained its sovereignty when the Soviet Union dissolved.  Most recall Mr. Putin’s 2005 declaration that “the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”  He later indicated that he considered the Soviet Union to be Russia, “only it had a different name.”  These are dangerous sentiments; they would lead one to believe that Mr. Putin considers Ukraine part of Russia, and perhaps any outside intervention on Ukraine’s behalf a de facto invasion of Russia.  That said, the Russian President is perhaps unsurpassed among today’s global leaders at assessing the strengths as well as the weaknesses of his adversaries.  It is hard to believe (at least for me) that unless provoked beyond all bounds, he is going to start a confrontation that he believes might result in an escalation that he might not win and could result in nuclear conflagration.  He has to assume that despite all of China’s and Russia’s mutual professions of friendship, that if he gets into a major struggle with NATO, Mr. Xi will not stop to aid Russia, but will instead exploit the distraction to advance China’s interests in Asia.

Mr. Biden faces a daunting balancing act.  The U.S. Defense Department recently released an unclassified summary of its Global-Posture Review that the Wall Street Journal aptly described as an assessment of how to best deploy our resources as “the U.S. moves to take on Beijing while deterring Russia and fighting terrorism in the Middle East and Africa.”  Presidents Biden and Putin are holding a virtual summit about Ukraine today; hopefully, Mr. Biden will take none of his options off the table.  If he simply talks at Mr. Putin and hereafter at Mr. Xi and they correctly conclude that he will do nothing more, I would predict that within five years – and perhaps much sooner — Ukraine will again be a Russian satellite and Taiwan will have truly been made into the Chinese province that China now claims that it is.  If he pushes back too hard, and presents what either Mr. Xi or Mr. Putin view as too egregious an affront, a military conflict could result.  These calculations are complicated by the reality that America’s military might is vast, but it is not unlimited.

I would submit that the time to move is now:  that Mr. Biden should press the case while he still holds a relatively stronger military hand than Messrs. Putin and Xi.  I would hope that he will be resolute without being foolhardy [obviously easier said than done  ;)]. 

My definition of the difference as to Ukraine:  Increase the provision of defensive arms to Ukraine.  Despite Mr. Putin’s rumblings and reported Biden Administration disinclinations regarding American troop involvement, arrange for an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and then station a NATO force (including American troops) in Kiev.  (Kiev, Ukraine’s capitol, is removed from Ukraine’s separatist regions and the Russian border.)  Unless there are indications that the pervasive corruption in Ukraine is of the kind that would divulge NATO military secrets to Russia, I would expedite Ukraine’s admission into NATO.  (Would the West rather have a corrupt Ukraine within its orbit and subject to its pressures, or have another Russian satellite, like Belarus, on its borders?)  On the other hand, I would not – repeat not – place missile or other systems in Ukraine which could be used to fire into Russia. 

Mr. Putin will seethe.  Will he act militarily?  I’d warrant that he won’t, if he is convinced that NATO is ready to respond militarily if he does.  Despite his bluster, he well knows that neither little Ukraine nor NATO is going to invade Russia.  Would he severely restrict energy exports to Europe?  At least highly possible; unquestionably a severe concern for Europe.  At the same time, Russia’s exports to Europe are almost 40% of its economy.  Unless Mr. Putin can find other ready buyers for his oil and gas, his voluntary restriction of trade with Europe in a dispute he has precipitated will seemingly send his own economy into recession and provoke his populace, clearly already restive with his 20-year rule.

The Biden Administration should simultaneously take similar steps with regard to Taiwan.  Despite China’s bristling, the U.S. should continue to look for ways to expand its relationship with the island, such as the Administration’s recent invitation to Taiwan to attend its “Summit for Democracy.”  It should increase its provision of defensive arms to the island under the TRA.  After arranging for an invitation from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, it should increase American troop presence on the island, but – given the ambiguous nature of Taiwan’s legal status — not beyond the point that the force can be called “advisory” or credibly be considered “token.”  It should increase its naval presence around Taiwan. 

Will Mr. Xi smolder?  Undoubtedly.  However, I would venture that Mr. Xi seeks to have China control the world, not destroy it.  It is hard to believe (again, perhaps only for me) that he will risk a military invasion of Taiwan at this point, if he believes that there is a real possibility that the United States will militarily intervene.  It is also hard for me to believe that he will view increased U.S. presence in the Asian theater as an overt threat (although he will certainly consider it an irritant and affront).  He knows that we are not going to invade China.  In the face of an orchestrated but not overdone U.S. buildup, he will presumably pause.  He will hopefully conclude (hopefully incorrectly) that time is on his side with regard to Taiwan; but not yet.

Right now, I suspect that many of those that have gotten this far in this ponderous note are mighty glad that I’m not in a position to advise Mr. Biden  ;).  I fully understand that America is war-weary after 20 years of grotesquely-squandered blood and treasure in wantonly ill-conceived warfare in a part of the world less strategically important than either Europe or Asia.  I fully acknowledge that it’s easy for a retired Midwest blogger to pontificate; I would hate to have actual foreign policy responsibility.  That said, I submit that the only manner in which we will maintain equilibrium in an increasingly illiberal world is if those who would take what they believe they can get away with are persuaded that we will act if need be.  For any who believe that Russia and China are amenable to reasoned persuasion if they have no fear of military reprisal to their military aggression in their respective spheres, I would respond:  Crimea.  Hong Kong.  If we dither, we will again be perceived as meekly turning our backs on those who asked for our help – to not only their detriment but our own.  While the approaches outlined in this post are but holding actions while a broader collective containment strategy, based upon enhancing the capabilities of our allies, can be undertaken, I would suggest that we need to heed a prophetic (and poetic) reminder from long ago:

“All is over.  Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness.  She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies …

You will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed ….[T]hat story is over and told. … It is the most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years – five years of futile good intention, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat of British power …

Those are the features … which marked an improvident stewardship for which Great Britain and France have dearly to pay. …

Many people, no doubt, honestly believe that they are only giving away the interests of Czechoslovakia, whereas I fear we shall find that we have deeply compromised … the safety … of Great Britain and France. …

You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and … that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses … with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force.   That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”

  • Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, October 5, 1938