25 Dec The 21st Century’s Biggest Loser?
“If you haven’t been paying attention to America’s conflicts with China, Russia, and Iran, START DOING SO NOW! Those three nations are waging a coordinated multi-front war against America and, unless America resolves its own internal conflicts and its citizens address their challenges, the U.S. stands to be the 21st Century’s biggest loser.” –The Lonely Realist
America has gotten into the habit of losing wars …, and not only in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Some might argue that America won the First and Second Iraq Wars in 1991 and 2003, but those were pyrrhic victories. Neither endured and America ended up the long-term loser. Others might assert that America hasn’t fought any “hot wars” since Vietnam and that it merely has engaged in police actions …, but that would be wrong. America since WWII has been the global policeman. It’s exercised its powers and privileges aggressively … but, in hindsight, unsuccessfully. Its military might, economic preeminence and diplomatic muscle created a ~70-year Pax Americana that now has ended. The defeat of its only 20th Century challenger, the former Soviet Union, happened over 30 years ago. America’s power and influence have eroded since then as Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden have directed an American retreat from global responsibility. Each chose isolationism over the projection of hegemonic power, withdrawing America from the Middle East, empowering China’s economic, military and diplomatic rise, and detaching American interests from those of its European allies. By dong so – abandoning leadership in the Middle East, ignoring China’s aggressive/expansionist policies, and declaring that Europe should bear responsibility for its own defense –, America invited Russia, China and Iran to fill the resulting American vacuum … and that is precisely what they’ve been doing. America’s mere saber-rattling over the past dozen years – all talk with no action – further failed to deter America’s enemies in Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere. While America’s self-inflicted foreign policy wounds have festered, China has deftly expanded its influence, its mercantilist policies, and its military presence in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America, while at the same time adding the East and South China Seas to its growing Empire.
“War” isn’t fought only in blood or on physical battlefields. China, Russia and Iran have been fighting wars against America on a broad range of economic, cultural, social and political battlefields, arenas in which America so far has been the loser. Unless Americans address the reality of eroding power and influence, America stands to become the 21st Century’s biggest loser.
“War” in the 21st Century has evolved from the bloody battlefields of WWI and II. Millions of people no longer need to die in order for stronger nations to subjugate weaker ones, for rising nations to undermine established ones, or for newly-empowered nations to achieve regional or global hegemony.
The goal of waging war is to obtain an advantage, whether economic, territorial, mercantile, military, strategic, cultural, or political. In a majority of those arenas and over the past two decades America has been outflanked by its enemies. Although wars most often are fought nation-to-nation, a variety of allies and surrogates (whether terrorist, anarchist, or revanchist) have been deployed against America to both create internal turmoil and add to America’s foreign policy pressures. The goal has been to stretch America’s resources. Weapons-of-choice have included – but have not been limited to – manipulating commerce, withholding critical/strategic resources and/or technologies, cultural campaigns, extraterritorial use of electromagnetic waves, drugs, and poisons, and hacking/cyberattacks on infrastructure, industry and industrial trade secrets, government computers, and instruments of democratic process …, as well as by blatant assassination. Each delivers a measure of violence, aggression, destruction and mortality. Don’t be deceived by the subtlety of a “cold war/hot war” distinction. China, Russia, Iran and their allies and surrogates have been “at war” with America for several decades. Although the result to-date has been fewer outright “war deaths,” the success of America’s enemies has incentivized their increasingly aggressive actions. The success of those actions hints at their escalation.
Vladimir Putin sees his legacy in an expansion of Russian territory that has been thwarted by NATO and an adversarial America …, and he has been executing a multi-year campaign to restore Russia’s Empire. His next step requires absorbing Ukraine (Russia already has re-absorbed Belarus), Ukraine being a doorway to Western Europe. It was in 2014 that Russia bit-off a small piece of Eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea. It followed up with a Winter 2016 cyberattack on Ukraine’s electric grid, exerted further economic leverage through development of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and is now preparing to swallow the rest of the country through military action. Some have likened Russia’s Ukraine strategy to Germany’s dismembering of Czechoslovakia in 1938, a slow-moving Munich-like Moment. Although America has threatened increased sanctions against Russia should it invade Ukraine, no country has offered to come to Ukraine’s militarily defense – a Munich-like Moment indeed! The absorption of Ukraine into the Russian Empire therefore seems a foregone conclusion … and increased sanctions against Russia thereafter will do little to dampen its aggressions or its aspirations. If history is a guidepost, the opposite will be the case.
Iran has been “at war” with the U.S. for more than 40 years. In pursuing its Persian Empire ambitions, Iran has been exporting hard-edged Shiite religionism and expanded its territorial and regional influence by planting its flag in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza and Yemen. America’s response has been economic sanctions, arms sent to Iran’s enemies, support for Israel’s key-person assassinations and nuclear facilities sabotage, and abandonment of the 2015 Iran multinational nuclear deal …, none of which has thwarted Iran’s ambitions or undermined its Islamic Regime. Iran’s actions, however, have impeded America’s strategic plans and weakened its regional alliances. America has withdrawn support from its Kurdish allies in Syria, disengaged from its nation-building commitment in Iraq, separated its interests from those of Saudi Arabia, its former Middle East ally, ignored Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia and its aggressions against America’s NATO allies, admitted defeat in Afghanistan, and left Israel to unilaterally address Iran’s military threats (all as previously discussed here).
As TLR has highlighted, China’s campaign of ambitious territorial, economic, cultural and political expansion has targeted technological dominance through its Made in China 2025 plan, economic leverage over developing nations through its frontier market-lending program, and been anchored in its multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road initiative (each of which initially was discussed by TLR here). At the same time, China has engaged in aggressive military actions, notably in armed border clashes with India and through joint military exercises with Russia and Iran as well as by its forcible takeover of Hong Kong, by its crushing of religious dissent in Tibet and Xinjiang, by building military bases in the East and South China Seas, by its plans to supplant the Dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and by its acquisition of port facilities in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Most significant, however, is China’s stated goal of absorbing Taiwan, a goal Chairman Xi has indicated is China’s highest priority. The list of economic, technological and political “battles” that China and America currently are “fighting” are becoming increasingly heated. Perhaps the U.S. and China indeed are Destined for War, as Graham Allison warned in his 2017 book.
America may at long last be pivoting to Asia as President Obama first proposed in 2011, a time when there was still a strategic ability to limit China’s expansion. By all appearances, however, the delayed pivot will be too little and too late. However, even if it were timely, America is being attacked on multiple fronts, both domestically and abroad. No country has the ability to successfully respond to so many threats. Externally, America is being threatened by China’s global Great Power aspirations, by Russia’s European ambitions and by Iran’s accelerating nuclear program and its military operations throughout the Middle East … as well as from China’s, Russia’s and Iran’s surrogates, satrapies and allies in Asia, Africa and the Americas (including North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela). Global leadership requires national will. History provides far-too-many examples of the consequences of internal disunity and of isolationism. The world doesn’t need a repeat of 1939. Addressing the threats to its national security requires that Americans reconcile their internal disagreements and successfully face its avowed enemies. The alternative is that America becomes the 21st Century’s biggest loser.
Finally (from a good friend)