America Not Ready to Handle China & Russia Threats
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty (National Review)
In Washington, there is a habit of talking about "the liberal world order," as if this is something we protect. The liberal world order isn't NATO or the EU. It's not the WTO, or America's defense relationships with Japan and South Korea. Those are all real things, with relatively legible meanings. The "liberal world order" is said to include all those things but also much more. It apparently includes the integrity of Ukraine's national borders, as Comrade Stalin redrew them in 1954. It includes the relative independence of Taiwan. And occasionally, its defenders say it includes the Paris climate agreement too
Basically, the liberal world order is the geopolitical status quo as a transnational class of political elites would have it. It’s a world where Russia is supposed to stay behind the 700,000 square miles of territory it gave up peacefully after 1991, and it’s supposed to take whatever trading relationships the United States sees fit for it. It’s a world where China is making that international elite much richer than before. Consequently, conflicts with China are minimized by the liberal world order’s institutions, or blamed on foolish “America First” presidents.
The United States under president Joe Biden is expected to defend this liberal world order, to restore it , or even expand upon it somehow.
I wouldn’t count on it.
The vast Russian military buildup on the border of Ukraine and the provocative military exercises conducted by China near Taiwan show us powers that are at least thinking about testing the boundaries of this liberal world order, at least where the commitments of the United States are ambiguous.
China would prefer that Taiwan come under its control without a major military confrontation. It would prefer the fait accompli it executed on Hong Kong’s relative independence. A hot war over Taiwan would risk one of the island nation’s most important assets, the very reason anyone would want to capture Taiwan: its hammerlock on the semiconductor industry. But just as American policy-makers worry that a failure to stand up for Taiwan could lead to a dramatic domino effect, in which America’s friends in the region would become anxious, lose faith in American support, and as a result align with a Chinese-led Pacific order, so surely do Beijing’s hawks hope that China’s taking Taiwan could deliver them dramatic upsides. These fears and hopes may be illusions, but wars are often stumbled into over dreams and nightmares like these.
Russia’s situation is trickier. It clearly wants to gain greater control over Ukraine without resorting to a dramatic invasion of regular uniformed Russian forces. Military exercises like the ones Russia is now conducting are a long-term feature of Russia’s coercive diplomacy. Already the Ukrainian authorities are begging for more clarity about the commitments of NATO and the United States. They need the clarity if they are to weigh their options. But even if the U.S. commits to more military aid to Ukraine, if it stops short of Kyiv’s desire for American, British, and Canadian troops on the front lines , Russia may up the stakes by encouraging proxies in the Donbas region to raise some hell and force the issue. Nothing about this is surprising. Russia has always sought to have guaranteed access to the Black Sea, and it prefers some buffer between it and Europe. After decades of watching NATO expand to its borders, Russia could attempt to draw some lines for itself.
Let’s put aside where you ultimately fall on whether America should commit more to Ukraine or to Taiwan’s defense. I tend to view both as ultimately peripheral to our core interests, but dear to heart for our rivals. You may feel differently .
But what should keep us all up at night is the fact that the United States does not have leaders ready for these challenges. Joe Biden has never met a foreign-policy idea he couldn’t screw up. He has a history of trying to write off problems by resorting to the most divisive solution imaginable, the partition of nations . Biden is also shockingly unpopular and widely considered a lame-duck by his own party .
Most worrisome of all is that he does not appear to be in great shape; he often looks and sounds every day of his 79 years. He could very well be succeeded by his vice president, Kamala Harris — who is widely believed to be loathed by the staff of the current White House, as well as by her own staff . She is known for not doing her homework on important questions, for not standing behind her own words, and she could potentially inherit Biden’s staff.
World history is full of satrapies, colonies, and revisionist powers who wait until an abdication crisis, or a leadership vacuum — however temporary — before taking their big gamble. The chance of an epic miscalculation — by us, by our rivals, or by our friends — is growing by the day.