The American public has no idea just how dangerous the international scene is right now.
The world closely watched the 2020 Presidential Election because the divides in the United States are now closely connected to rapid changes presently underway in global geopolitics.
Covid-19 proved to the entire world that the United States is a decrepit, decaying power. To an observer not completely brainwashed by a lifetime of rah-rah nationalist media nonsense, the position of the “sole superpower” is shakier than at any point in the past 80 years.
Which is why it is so absurd to see the Biden Administration engaging in the old Boomer Democrat obsession with talking tough and stoking tensions with the two countries most concerned about America’s future trajectory: China and Russia.
Both not have a golden, once-in-a-generation opportunity to plunge the United States into an existential crisis it might never escape.
And the hell of it is American leaders are walking straight into the trap.
The trouble with thinking of the United States as a superpower has always been the immense challenges the country’s military faces in simply getting to the battlefield in the first place. So despite fielding 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, dozens of fighter wings, and around 10 Army divisions, the effective strength of the United States military abroad is only about 1/3 of its capabilities on paper.
Further, American forces face potential conflicts in three different regions, because administration after administration has committed the country to long-term entangling alliances, well, everywhere. Eastern Europe, the Western Pacific, and the Middle East are all equally vital to American interests, in their conception.
Worse, American diplomats and military officials stake the country’s entire reputation on being able to win a conflict anywhere it has a national security interest.
China, Russia, and Iran all feel existentially threatened by the United States. and the rhetoric of the Biden Administration has largely matched Trump’s in terms of demanding displays of strength against America’s adversaries has proven to leaders in each country that it no longer matters whether a Democrat or Republican administration is in charge — both are willing to use international affairs as another front in their endless civil war.
A deadly tension now reigns in international affairs. The United States insists on demonstrating strength and committment to a “rule-based international order” it happily defies whenever it feels like it. China and Russia both have leaders committed to proving that no other country can push them around.
And the incredible fragility of American democracy right now has given them a golden opportunity to prove America’s many weaknesses to all the world — what Putin and Xi do this will likely determine the shape of the rest of this decade.
As I write this, China is engaged in aggressive military maneuvers around what it terms the rogue province of Taiwan, designed to prove to the Taiwanese people that resistance to future reunification is futile. Russia is simultaneously building up its military forces along Ukraine’s borders, immediately following the conclusion of major military exercises, which are often a prelude to miltiary action because they leave personnel at maximum readiness for a fight.
If China and Russia choose to, they can deliver a stunning repudiation of the United States’ claim to be able to protect its allies. Because America’s foreign policy “experts” are committed to pretending they can intervene and win anywhere in the world (repeated failures in the Middle East notwithstanding), they have put themselves in an incredibly vulnerable position.
And it is now up to Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to decide how badly they want America to suffer.
The simple truth that America’s leaders refuse to acknowledge is that the United States cannot defend Taiwan, or Ukraine, or the Baltic States, or even its own bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The United States military is a hollowed out mess that can’t field new weapons systems that work and is desperately trying to maintain the old ones that do at ever-higher costs. Its officer corps is largely inept, so focused on paperwork and careerism that the non-commissioned officer corps is the about only thing keeping the lights on.
But there is no accountability for the Pentagon, no public understanding of just how badly our tax dollars (50% of all income taxes collected in the United States go to “defense”) are wasted. And as a result there is no meaningful public debate about the overall myopia of American strategic thought.
Ultimately, the United States claim to be a superpower is just a bluff.
China and Russia have so fair failed to call this bluff because having a powerful America to blame for their authoritarian leaders’ many failures suits their purposes. Putin and Xi Jinping both get away with domestic mistakes — as do American Presidents — by shifting attention onto military affairs.
Looking at a future where the United States might recover from its current crisis and actually pose a threat, it is easy to see how leaders in Russia and China may recognize that there may never be a better moment to deliver a series of brutal humiliations against the United States of America.
Putin’s basic objective as a leader is to restore as much of the old Russian Empire as he can, maintaining a ring of frozen conflicts around his terrority that lets him spark a crisis whenever it suits him. This lets him deflect from domestic troubles that beset Russia, and American leaders help him maintain his power by further stoking tensions, particularly when they talk about deploying military personnel to Ukraine or the Baltic States or expanding NATO.
Right now, with Ukraine’s President asking to join NATO, Russia now has a strong incentive to further dismember and destabilize Ukraine. Surrounding Ukraine’s borders with active military forces is a powerful reminder of how little NATO can and will do to protect Ukraine.
No one is going to fight a war with Russia that could go nuclear over Ukraine — or Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia for that matter. But America and NATO like to pretend that they will, hoping this will deter Putin from acting.
Problem is, that bluff, if successfully called, will probably break NATO completely. Russia has already been working to split the eastern NATO members like Poland and Hungary from the rest — threat of a real war will shatter the alliance.
Does Putin want this? He certainly does if he believes the United States and NATO will be in a stronger position than Russia 4 or so years down the line.
A similar question faces China. Xi Jinping has made it clear that China’s claims to Taiwan, the South China Sea, and islands in the East China Sea belong to Beijing. China’s military is now capable of bombarding every forward American base in the Pacific, even threatening America’s vaunted aircraft carrier battle groups.
Currently, a spat between the Philippines and China is seeing threats of conflict that the United States would be expected to participate in on some level. Which means — just as with Russia, America’s potential adversary has the freedom of action to provoke a limited conflict on its borders that is almost guaranteed to end in China’s favor.
It would take weeks for the United State to build up a 3–4 aircraft carrier battlegroup force and supporting deployments to Guam and Okinawa necessary to resist a major Chinese effort along the First Island Chain. If Taiwan were to come under some kind of attack, the country would likely be surrounded and cut off from the rest of the world in a matter of hours.
Would the United States then send a massive fleet to rescue Taiwan, knowing that the moment its ships come within 1000km they risk being targeted by swarms of Chinese missiles? An island few Americans can even locate on a map?
Very, very doubtful. And if it did, the United States Navy would be walking into a situation China has prepared and trained to fight to a stalemate for two decades.
If Russia and China were to launch a coordinated set of provocations in 2021, while the United States is mired in political crisis and losing tens of thousands of people to Covid-19, they would very likely win.
Not by killing Americans — but by demonstrating to the world that the United States cannot fulfill its promises.
If they choose to, they can destroy Joe Biden’s administration and almost guarantee the United States will fall into a political crisis the likes of which it has never seen. A civil war might even erupt, given the hostilities between Democrats and Republicans.
Trump’s re-election in 2024 would be all but guaranteed — and this too would serve China and Russia’s interests, proving to the world that the United States simply cannot be trusted. Alliances would crumble, and the American economy would reel.
Will this be the year they make a move?
We’ll find out.