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Biden’s looming winter of war — and discontent

Greg Nash
President Biden listens during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and other military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House on April 20, 2022.

The free world is on fire and President Biden and his national security team are still ostensibly proceeding as though it were the day before Pearl Harbor or 9/11. No equivalent of an Atlantic Charter on a global scale has been envisioned, let alone declared, and evidently the Pentagon has not been ordered to resume planning, preparing and scaling up to fight simultaneous wars with Russia and China, should this become necessary. The proverbial 2 a.m. call came to Biden on Feb. 24 when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and the telephone, effectively, at a global level has been ringing unanswered ever since.

Governments and economies of key NATO frontline allies are beginning to fall or falter under the weight of Putin’s counter-sanctions and lost trade. Italian Premier Mario Draghi was forced to resign as Italy, like many of its EU partners, is reeling from “soaring prices for everything from food to household utilities as a result of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.” Germany, in April, for the first time in 30 years, because of the decline of “German goods sold in Russia,” imported more than they exported.

As winter approaches, free Europe is in serious peril. Poland and the Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia sitting on the frontlines opposite Belarus and Russia have been hardest hit economically outside of Ukraine. The EU is wavering in its economic commitments to Kyiv “as fears spike of [a] gas crisis at home.” And, disconcertingly, Putin is shrewdly recognizing his opening to create even more leverage come winter to undermine NATO by reopening — for now — the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Nor are the emerging existential risks to the U.S. limited to eastern Europe in the coming months. Beijing is threatening “forceful measures” over Taiwan. Iran continues to accelerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Plus, Russia, despite being kneecapped in Ukraine, is seeking a backdoor to Washington through Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Containment, for now, on a region-by-region basis appears to be the only watchword out of Washington. The notion of articulating a comprehensive global vision to ensure democracy triumphs over tyranny as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill once did at the outset of World War II, is finding no currency in the White House. Biden appears to be more content declaring global war on climate change. The fallacy of this approach, however, is that the U.S. would be hard-pressed to take on “two conflicts at once,” as U.S. military officials continually have warned Congress.

It will not be enough. Biden’s national security team needs a reset — they are failing the president, the United States, and our allies. They are reactionary, desynchronized and without a clear global strategy or end state — a collective body playing Whac-A-Mole to every emerging crisis. As the upcoming winter reaches its coldest months, they will be confronted with a nuclear capable Iran and an Israeli government forced to do something about it.

Countering the China threat in the Pacific, particularly Taiwan, is a monumental task. China is not Russia. Beijing is outspending the U.S. in military capability in the Pacific and threatens to overwhelm the U.S. and its allies. Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the U.S. military desperately needs more of the “critical capabilities” that will allow it to operate effectively in “contested space.” China will continue to intimidate Taiwan and to seek hegemony throughout the Pacific Rim.

Washington needs a winning plan — but that plan will not come about unless Biden embraces a new national security team that stops subordinating U.S. foreign policy to the domestic identity politics of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. We are at war. Debate the nomenclature if you must, but whether you call it “World War III” or a proxy war or something in between, the new reality ever since Russia invaded Ukraine is that the free world is facing down existential threats.

Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East is a case in point regarding the futility of his current national security team yielding to identity politics. Biden’s regional approach to his diplomacy and the adverse reaction to it in Washington laid bare just how chilling it is for a foreign policy to be devoid of its own identity in order to not offend domestic identity stakeholders, whether they are anti-war, human rights advocates, or those opposed to totalitarian regimes.

Yes, you might win an individual just battle here or there, including taking a stand against Saudi Arabia for the unjustifiable murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But you needlessly risk losing far wider reaching just wars, such as preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon or attaining more oil for Europe in time for winter.

Moreover, on the most significant issue of our time — whether liberty will prevail over tyranny — the Progressive Caucus gave us their answer. Freedom is not worth the cost. They screamed that, loud and clear, when they greeted Biden’s return from the Mideast by tweeting, “There is no reason for [Biden’s] $839 billion defense budget.”

Enough is enough. Biden must boot White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and the national security team from the West Wing. They are not setting the conditions needed to prevail over Russia, China, Iran or North Korea. Aside from suffocating progressive influence, they appear to be rudderless, without direction, and at the mercy of dangerous crosscurrents coming at the U.S. from all directions.

Imagine winning World War II without FDR or Churchill. And yet, here we are. John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Winter of our Discontent,” is manifesting itself. Biden is gripped by the societal and political dysfunction of the progressives and his national security team — and he is failing to find a way to rise above it to provide the free world the global leadership it demands and needs in a time of war.

Mark Toth is a retired economist, historian and entrepreneur who has worked in banking, insurance, publishing and global commerce. He is a former board member of the World Trade Center, St. Louis, and has lived in U.S. diplomatic and military communities around the world, including London, Tel Aviv, Augsburg and Nagoya. Follow him on Twitter @MCTothSTL

Jonathan Sweet, a retired Army colonel, served 30 years as a military intelligence officer. His background includes tours of duty with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the Intelligence and Security Command. He led the U.S. European Command Intelligence Engagement Division from 2012-14, working with NATO partners in the Black Sea and Baltics. Follow him on Twitter @JESweet2022.  

Tags Biden China Iran Mario Draghi National security progressives Russia tyranny Vladimir Putin
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