Newsmax: Biden’s Foreign Policy Without a Strategy

As a young Foreign Service officer without authority or status, one of my first experiences in Washington was attending a debate between the senior foreign policy advisers to Senator Jesse Helms and Joe Biden.

I sat in the small hearing room and listened as both men displayed their acumen as surrogates regarding missile defense and the legacy of President Reagan’s SDI. It astonished me that Biden’s man had so little understanding of realpolitik and, in particular, the goals of our adversaries.

The back and forth continued until the Biden representative retreated into the old canard that the SDI vision could not be accomplished regardless of the political issues because of the problem of technology. During the Q&A, I distinguished myself as a member of the minority in the audience by asking the following question. I still ask today: “In the end, your argument is about a lack of technology and innovation, but that is not your real problem, if we had the technology today, would you still be against it? Is your real problem a disdain for American primacy?”

This vignette, reported to you by less than a bit player, was a colossal change for me. The exchange ultimately led to my introduction and friendship to one of the most outstanding Americans of the age, Ambassador Jim Lilley. The contrast to the vision of Ambassador Lilley and that of the Biden campaign could not be greater. It also serves as a microcosm that haunts Vice President Biden’s record and trajectory on foreign policy and national security.

It is, at its core, a view with no vision and without a strategy. It fails to embrace the very roots of successful American national security strategy, based on Primacy, Democracy Promotion, Preemption, and Prevention, all within the greater sphere of American exceptionalism and superiority.

A review of Vice President Biden’s foreign policy failures has been done and redone. Some have less meaning to the youngest generation, but for those of us in Generation X and older, much will resonate.

As far back as 1975, he showed his true colors opposing support of our South Vietnamese ally following American withdrawal and withholding assistance for South Vietnamese refugees requested by President Ford. In the 1980s, he fought support for the anti-communist resistance in Nicaragua and the anti-communist government of El Salvador. In the 1990s, he voted against Operation Desert storm to expel Saddam from Kuwait and, of course, opposed the National Missile Defense Act.

In the 21st century, he opposed the surge in Iraq that saved Iraq from further civil war and national disintegration. He even openly advocated that Iraq should destroy its sovereignty by dividing the country into three parts, a plan that would have been the greatest gift to Iran that could be conceived. He was consistently critical of President Bush’s foreign policy to right the ship of state from the disastrous Clinton years.

Naturally, as vice president, he supported President Obama’s trio of appeasement, apology, and “leading from behind.” Many are aware of Obama’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ quotation:

“I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Gates was right. He opposed moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and advocated a “two-state” solution. The same mantras that the Democratic Party has supported for decades leading to inaction and negative inertia. He was integral to an administration that allowed the people of Syria to live in a forever nightmare, failed to prosecute the war on terror, opposed the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, and squandered the successes that President Bush bequeathed them.

He continues to advocate a tactical rather than strategic response to counter-terrorism, returning to a Clinton-Obama policy that created the weaknesses in our defenses. As one architect of the Iran deal, he offers no solution to the fundamental problem of the Iranian regime and its imperial dreams.

China was and is Biden’s mixed bag; until he decided to run for president, Biden advocated more significant trade relations with China, downplayed their human rights abuses, has been ambiguous about Taiwan, and ignored their military modernization, attempts at dominating space and strategic aggressiveness. His current rhetoric is more hawkish, but his record is the opposite.

Russia is perhaps the strangest odyssey for not just Joe Biden, but also the Democratic party. One would wish Truman or Kennedy’s spirit was pushing them to talk tough, but this would not be accurate. Clinton, Obama and Biden were all part of the group that downplayed the Soviet and then Russian threat. They consistently mocked conservatives and Republicans (Romney-Obama debate) who warned of both. Only when they thought they could use Russia as an election tool against President Trump did they suddenly wake up to a Russian threat.

The very people who exposed the United States to the machinations and aggression of Soviet and then Russian foreign policy now expect the American electorate to believe they have had a change of heart and have morphed into stone-cold realists.

The most worrying aspect regarding specific policy is Vice President Biden’s total lack of vision regarding space, space policy, the new Space Force and the recognition that all the above will determine the future of American national security. His vigorous opposition to the Strategic Defense Initiative and national missile defense grants us a window that his attitude here is one of feebleness.

Ultimately, we elect someone whose primary job is to manage American grand strategy, not a health adviser, curriculum planner, job officer or tax accountant. This, at a minimum, requires a president to understand the grand arc of American history and its trajectory toward the horizon and the stars. Biden’s lack of policy coherence and consistency, combined with his denial of American exceptionalism, will place the Republic on dangerous ground.

This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 8 October 2020.

Newsmax: 75 Years Ago the Bomb Saved the World

My last column concerned the legacy of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences that were the final summits at the end of the Second World War. The atomic bomb was integral to the outcome of those summits and completely altered both American foreign policy and American national security to this day.

It has and is fashionable to decry President Harry Truman and his decision to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese empire during the Second World War.

The decision has been mutated by the educational and media establishment, which seeks to cast the judgment as incompetence, but more likely, decries it as evil.

Like so much lost in America today, there is no appreciation for the history of this period, and more importantly, the existential struggle the United States faced against the Axis powers, and then immediately with the Soviet Union. In case some readers are unaware, the term “existential,” when applied to foreign affairs literally, means that the civilization involved will cease to exist if the decisions are wrong.

It’s probably difficult for those who possess little education, however much they might have on paper, to fully grasp the horrendous struggle America engaged in from 1941 to 1945.

They are less likely to understand how close to defeat we came on several occasions.

It’s lost on many that had the United States lost a few pivotal battles like Normandy, and Midway, the entire outcome of the war would have changed.

It’s also beyond the scope of many to fully grasp the casualty rates that America suffered.

Contemporary Americans may be shocked to know that America suffered 6,000 casualties on the first day of Normandy, and 49,000 during the battle of Okinawa.

One should pause here because part of Truman’s decision was because of the casualty rates that came in from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Truman’s decision followed the absurd fighting in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa and, more importantly, the projected casualties (as reported to Secretary of War Stimson) of Operations Olympic and Coronet (the projected conventional invasion of Japan) to be over 1 million Americans and 5 to 10 million Japanese.

Other myths and fairytales have grown up surrounding the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

We must keep in mind that the United States had three total bombs, one of which had already been used during the New Mexico test.

The most common myths associated with Truman and this period need a quick dispelling:

Truman had a committee considering alternatives, including using the bomb as a demonstration or continuing the much more horrific option of enforced starvation through a blockade. He also wanted to ensure that the targets made political and cultural sense, and therefore Tokyo and Kyoto were not ultimately targeted.

Truman’s decision was also affected by the growing kamikaze casualties and the militarists of Japan, who clearly stated that it would be better for Japan to be destroyed than surrender. Finally, it must be remembered the Soviets invaded Japan in between the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The question of whether Japan today would have been better off being divided like Korea is one that is easy to answer with an emphatic no.

Can the Japanese people or we even conceive of what the horrors and genocide inside a Peoples Republic (North Japan) of Japan would have looked like?

Finally, an item rarely discussed is that both the Germans and the Japanese were working on their own atomic bomb projects. We know the Soviets were stealing ours during our creation of it.

It’s worth reflecting on what kind of world would have existed if any of those powers would have had a first nuclear weapon, and worse, an atomic monopoly.

The decision to drop the atomic bombs was the hardest any president faced. Truman exhibited the first taste of his national security doctrine with this decision, and it was one that he neither relished nor regretted.

The dropping of the bombs ended the war in the Pacific and saved millions of allied soldiers and Japanese civilian lives. It blunted the immediate Soviet threat and gave the West breathing room to deal with the looming Communist threat that sought world domination through the spread of evil, misery, and terror.

This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 6 August, 2020.

Newsmax: Failed Economic Ideology on China

“Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the way to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.” 

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If you say something often enough, you can either talk others or yourself into believing it.  We have been told repeatedly by pundits who lecture us on how vital pragmatism in politics is and how ideology is irrelevant and that the only thing that matters is the bottom line.

Utilitarianism in politics and economics is equally attractive as it is useless. We call this column “From the Heartland,” and so a saying from the heartland is appropriate. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. This is especially true when one analyzes the assumptions of the status quo regarding China. The media devote much of the news to the “new Cold War” and “sudden tensions” between the United States and China. Those primarily on the Left will use this narrative, with help from some libertarians, to condemn the current administrations’ more robust approach towards China, advocated by officials like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The problem is that the narrative is false.

In reality, America and the PRC have been on a collision course since 1949. The Truman administration quickly realized that the creation of a left-wing totalitarian dictatorship would not only destabilize Asia, condemn the Chinese people to state terror but also create a permanent enemy to American values and strategic concerns. This situation literally blew up with Mao’s engineering (with the support of Stalin) of the Korean War, which set the tone not only for our relationship with China but with the tragedy on the Korean peninsula.

Early on, there were advocates in the United States that sought accommodation and during the Nixon years, an attempt to use our enemy in Beijing with our stronger enemy in Moscow. When Deng Xiao Ping began opening China in 1978, there were early American promoters who wanted to take advantage of this situation. This resurrected the 19th century American merchant dream of the “China market.”

The 1980s and 1990s saw this blossom into full-throated advocacy of entering China, no matter what the cost, in order to take advantage of a cowed workplace, low wages and a corrupt Communist Party willing to accept bribes and favors to streamline business ventures and foreign investment.

China was lauded as the “workshop of the world,” and billions of dollars of products ranging from heavy industry to electronics to medicines were moved to the communist dictatorship. Many Democrats and libertarian inclined Republicans bought into the idea that globalization and a mutated free-market could change China’s behavior and reap generous profits at the same time.

This became the status quo religion and anyone who opposed it was a heretic. These “panda huggers” took over the levers of the American foreign policy, academics and the corporate boardroom establishment. In more formal language, this camp referred to itself as advocates of “constructive engagement.” This group believed that the economic liberalization and greater opening to the West would lead to democratic liberalization. They saw China’s military growth in the context of internal national security rather than expansion. They argued the necessity of keeping trade open as the only source of Western influence in the PRC.

These establishment thinkers in the public, private and academic sectors were wrong on all counts. It was, to use modern slang, an epic fail. These same experts were the ones who told us that the USSR would never collapse and that terrorism was only a mild irritant.

This “practical” argument was as attractive as it was useless. When I was in the government, I took from a Fulbright report I authored earlier, where I wrote, “The Peoples Republic of China will be the next superpower in the 21st century. She will rise to prominence economically, politically and militarily over the next few decades. The PRC will either rival American supremacy or work around it… these security issues that America faces will lead us and the PRC to conflict.”

Such ideas were heresy and had there been some firewood and stakes I might have ended up as a human bonfire. Later, at the beginning of the 21st century, I and other conservatives identified the flashpoints where conflict with China would occur: the South China Sea, a potential military or economic invasion of South Asia, an attempt to dominate the various maritime straits in Asia such as Malacca, Taiwan and Tsushima. China would use intimidation to coerce Taiwan and Japan, destroy freedom in Hong Kong, modernize its military to expand and use coercive economic diplomacy.

Unlike the constrictive engagers, those advocating containment were right on all counts.

We can add to this the latest and boldest attempts by China regarding their insidious actions concerning the COVID virus, the economic imperialism of “One Belt-One Road,” and the beginning attempts to dominate space.

Those who opposed the status quo thinking of the late 20th Century, advocating containment, were castigated as right-wing warmongers. The “panda huggers” excoriated them, insisting they did not understand the supremacy of the market and the inevitability of democratic thinking.

Just as liberals and progressives have suddenly discovered the Russian threat, a threat they belittled for decades, they failed to see the threat from China and continue to misunderstand China’s strategic objectives. Republicans, who had stars in their eyes about the China market, allowed themselves to rationalize PRC behavior and told conservatives to wait, that China was an adolescent that needed to mature.

Conservatives understood that there was never a utilitarian argument, just as there is no right moral utilitarian argument in philosophy, a curse from the nonsense of Jeremy Bentham and the Benthamites.

Conservatives are believers in the free-market, but they do so because they believe the free-market enhances economic and political liberty. A conservative would never serve his nation on a platter to a foreign entity for business. Conservatives made the case that there were national security imperatives that overcame economic utility and industries ranging from high tech to medicine to heavy steel were, by necessity, needed to be domestically maintained. They understood that the driving force behind the Chinese government is the twinning of a corrupt communist party and her grand strategy globally.

The communist party will do anything to stay in power, exemplified by President Xi’s lifetime presidency and a political crackdown on any dissent or freedom. Strategically, China desires to overcome U.S. power regionally first, globally second and finally to dominate the final frontier in space. The “constructive engagers” were wrong in the ’80s, the ’90s and today.

Their poor decision-making has cost America dearly, including the thousands dead of the COVID virus. Beware when someone advocates pragmatism, as it is rarely “what works,” but it is almost always a ruse for a selfish narcissism whose goal is sinister and backward. Conservative principles are the only anchor for any policy regarding China now and in the future.

This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 19 May 2020.

The Hill: What Russia is up to in Syria

Although the world has ground to a near-standstill as a result of COVID-19, America’s foreign policy problems have not disappeared. To the contrary, many are becoming much worse, as dictators across the globe forge ahead with their destructive plans.

Russia’s recent machinations in Syria are a case in point. The Kremlin’s 2015 decision to enter the Syrian civil war on the side of dictator Bashar al-Assad was informed by the “Putin Doctrine,” which had been laid out by Russia’s president in 2008 and the chief focus of which is blunting American influence globally while increasing Russia’s regional status and ability to project power. The subsequent Russian incursion was a prime example of a marriage of Tsarist imperialism and Soviet expansionism: Although Syria’s Ba’athist state does not border the old Soviet empire, it served as a critical piece to Soviet strategy during the decades of the Cold War — and today, of Russia’s, too.

Russia’s activities there over the past half-decade, in turn, have yielded concrete dividends for the Kremlin. Under the guise of an ongoing struggle against ISIS and other “wahhabists,” Moscow has transformed the country into a laboratory for the testing of weapons, technology, strategy, and tactics. In a reflection of this role, the Russian High Command has termed Syria a model for training and its operations there a “strategy of limited action.”

Today, some 5,000 Russian troops, primarily military advisors, special forces, and air support personnel are estimated to operate in Syria. Russia continues to supply Assad with weapons and gives the Syrian dictator much needed diplomatic backing on the international stage. Russian airstrikes, a critical component of the Assad regime’s continued survival, have been directed primarily against rebel forces fighting Assad rather than against ISIS.

These airstrikes, moreover, have indiscriminately targeted Syrian civilians; according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the total civilian death toll in Syria since March 2011 was 226,247, with at least 6,514 of them killed directly by the Russians. Other estimates put the number closer to 8,400. Further, the United Nations has accused Russia of engaging in war crimes through indiscriminate airstrikes against civilians that have terrorized the population and displaced large numbers of Syrian people.

Moscow has learned from its past military mistakes, however. Unlike the Soviet experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Russia has been very measured in its commitment to the Syrian battlefield. The Russian government has prioritized the use of stand-off tactics (like aerial strikes) and military contractors. The results speak for themselves; as of last Spring, the Kremlin has officially confirmed just 116 Russian fatalities.

At the same time, Russia has put a premium on strengthening its military foothold in the country. It has reinforced its naval presence in the southern port city of Tartus, erected an airbase at Hmeimim, and created military encampments elsewhere in the country. For these facilities, Moscow has managed to secure long-term, open-ended leasing arrangements from the Assad government, which remains weak and is eager to see Russia stay and provide security protection.

Economically, Russia has deftly exploited Syria’s precarious situation. Its energy conglomerate Stroytransgaz (which has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department) dominates the Syrian energy sector, developing gas fields whose revenue feeds Assad’s killing machine. The company has secured contracts for exploiting hydrocarbons in eastern Syria, completing pipelines linking Syria and Jordan, multiple gas processing plants, and is given preferential treatment by the Assad regime. 

These activities, and Russia’s continued presence in Syria, represent a threat to American interests. They help to undermine U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. They have allowed the Kremlin to reemerge as a serious player in regional politics and begin to shape Middle Eastern affairs in its image. And they have helped to strengthen Russia’s long-standing ties to Iran, which is also aiding Syria, and which the Trump administration continues to seek to isolate and contain. As such, Moscow’s machinations should be understood for what they are, a serious national security concern for the United States, and should be treated as such by Washington.

This piece originally ran at The Hill on 4 May, 2020.