“Arming proxies to fight for America’s national interests is a sound military and political strategy.” – The Lonely Realist
An often-overlooked proxy war heralded America’s emergence as global hegemon. The year was 1939 and the proxy warrior was the British Empire. Great Britain had lost much of its military hardware at Dunkirk. It needed replacements as well as economic support in order to survive. America gave it both, providing Britain and the Soviet Union with the ability to hold off Adolf Hitler. America did so in the face of powerful 1930s “America First” isolationism, preserving both countries as future military allies. That’s one example of a proxy war beating the alternative.
Today America is facing a similar threat, though a less obvious one. Unfortunately, a difference between 1939 Britain and Soviet Russia is that America’s 21st Century friends have severely limited military capabilities. In the aggregate and without America, NATO, Japan, Australia, etc., cannot approach the armed might or the arms production capabilities of China, Russia, Iran et al (after all, even destitute North Korea produces nuclear weapons and ICBMs). The Ukraine War and threatened conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Taiwan and elsewhere call to mind President Roosevelt’s 1940 call for America to act as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” a phrase that mobilized 20th Century America against very real threats. Although 21st Century Americans have a myopic focus on partisan domestic issues (and detest facing international realities), rapidly increased military spending now is a necessity. For those who have been keeping their heads in the sand (as TLR cautioned four years ago in America at War), America has been engaged for over a decade in active hostilities with Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and a number of their fellow travelers in Africa and the Americas. This Axis of the Sanctioned has been waging a “cold war” against America and its interests (“cold” even though American troops have been stationed in and fighting America’s enemies in Syria, Africa and elsewhere). That war heated up with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It’s not hard to discern what Vladimir Putin must be thinking and what he intends to do about the current Ukraine standoff. Onerous NATO sanctions are biting and will bite harder over the next two years. Russia’s military supplies and equipment are running out. Without help, Russia cannot endure American-led economic sanctions and military pressures. Putin can count on the limited support of China’s Xi Jinping – they are “best friends” – and on Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. After all, Russia and its allied Axis members have both a common interest in weakening America and the tools to succeed in doing so.
Central to Axis opposition is Iran’s role in the Middle East, a region of continuing international instability upon which the U.S. lavishes substantial financial aid and has stationed more than 34,000 troops that provide Israel, Egypt, Jordan and others with military assistance. It is a region in which the 21st Century’s Great Game is being played out. A change in that Game was revealed in the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report which found that Iran has refined uranium to near-nuclear weapons grade and that it can now produce a nuclear weapon, should it so choose, in a matter of only a few weeks. With its proven missile delivery systems and support for a broad range of well-armed anti-Israel, anti-American organizations, Iran poses a grave threat to America and American interests. What raises further alarm is that Iran recently asked Russia to provide it with an advanced air-defense system, the S-400. Deploying such a system would make it virtually impossible for Israel – America’s Middle East proxy – to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities should Iran decide to further upgrade its uranium stockpile. Such an upgrade would be an existential threat to Israel. Although it could take as long as two years for the S-400 system to become fully operational, there can be little doubt that Israel’s leader, Bibi Netanyahu, would not allow such a process to begin. Any military action taken or even threatened by Israel would be to Russia’s advantage, a reality that provides Russia with every incentive to promote an Iranian nuclear agenda. An increase in Middle East tensions would cause oil prices to spike, to the benefit of Russia and to the detriment of anti-Russian economies. Such a conflict would compel America to supply weaponry to its Middle Eastern allies, much of which America currently is supplying to Ukraine. This would place further pressure on American military resources and production capabilities as well as on Ukraine’s military. A Middle East conflict also would benefit China by deflecting American military focus away from Asia, thereby altering the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. Finally, a Middle East conflict would constrict supply chains and increase inflation worldwide, placing the Biden Administration in an untenable political position that would incentivize domestic anti-Ukraine War sentiment and encourage America’s embedded isolationist minority. Selling the S-400 system to Iran therefore would be quite a potential Russian coup!
Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is the wisest of policies. America can best address the Axis’s international risks by allocating appropriately to proxy defense – turning America’s defense industry into a 21st Century Arsenal of Democracy. President Biden’s recently-announced defense budget doesn’t do so. It provides only $170 billion for weapons procurement and allocates $145 billion to fund the development of future weapons systems, a greater focus on future wars than nearer-term threats. Assuring the adequate arming of America’s proxies should be one of today’s national priorities.
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Finally (from a good friend)