Will the Biden administration pay any price and bear any burden?

Will the Biden administration pay any price and bear any burden?
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In his recent address to Congress, President BidenJoe BidenBiden authorizes up to 0M for Afghan refugees Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe MORE declared that his foreign policy was for the middle class. One assumes the remainder of America is not excluded from the Biden agenda, especially as the president emphasized that democracies must compete with and prevail over autocracies in China and Russia. This ideological conflict is reminiscent of President Kennedy’s promise to “…pay any price, bear any burden…” in safeguarding our freedom.

JFK’s clarion call ended disastrously in Vietnam. Three decades later, George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda landed the United States in Iraq to impose democracy and  thereby change the geostrategic landscape of the greater Middle East, which he did — and not for the better. Now the Biden’s administration’s embrace of human rights to include recognizing the Armenian genocide of a century ago and underscoring the advancement of women’s rights in Afghanistan as the United States withdraws raises the question of, what next? Will the Biden team succumb to the siren’s song to advance democracy, and if so, at what cost? 

The first question is, why define the U.S.-China-Russia relationships in ideological terms? To the degree history is relevant, neither China nor Russia thrived or even tolerated democracy. Some states are and will remain autocracies. Saudi Arabia is the key case in point. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has cultivated Saudi Arabia because oil trumps democratic values.

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During the Cold War, democracy was less important for America’s allies and partners than opposing the Soviet Union. Not all NATO states were true democracies when admitted. Today, several member states seem bent on non-democratic trajectories. And Richard Nixon skillfully played China off against the Soviet Union irrespective of non-democratic values.

One danger of an ideological conflict is the risk of over-militarization. The U.S. National Military Strategy of 2018, reflected in the Biden interim strategy, directs the Department of Defense “to compete, deter and if war comes defeat” a range of potential adversaries with China as the “pacing threat” and Russia not far behind. Further, the testimony of two senior admirals in Asia to Congress that a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan was becoming more feasible reinforced the bipartisan consensus of the increasing threat posed by Beijing.

China lacks the military capability for a conventional amphibious assault on Taiwan. If the threat is so imminent, why hasn’t the Taiwan government reacted accordingly and engaged in developing its own anti-access, area denial military force? And would China risk some form of military adventure given that the bulk of Taiwan trade and investment is with the mainland and the tsmc.com company provides virtually all the chips on which the Chinese economy depends?

And would the U.S. go to war to defend Taiwan from a Chinese military assault, a guarantee that is not part of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, as there is no formal mutual defense treaty with the island? This use of American force could be extended to Afghanistan. Suppose the Taliban regained power or control over much (or all) of Afghanistan and subjected women to the harshness of Sharia Law. Would America go back? The answer is almost certainly no.

These arguments suggest a major change in American policy. The Pentagon’s objectives of “compete, deter and defeat” should become “contain, prevent, defend and engage” and applied to both China and Russia. With allies and partners, the U.S. maintains a significant advantage in virtually every category. Even if China surpasses the U.S. in GDP, does that have any meaning? Adding the GDP’s of allies in Europe and Asia to America’s dwarfs China’s. So, what is the threat if we are clever?

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One definition of tragedy is the collision between rationality and reality, especially as reality is often defined as perception. A highly rational and objective analysis would conclude that the U.S. and its allies are in and will remain in a superior position to China and Russia. But the political perception in Washington is of a surging China and resurgent Russia with a sub-theme of an America in decline because of the changing relative balances of power. 

To succeed, those terms need to be changed. America’s absolute power is growing and magnified by that of friends and allies. But will leaders in Washington recognize that and act accordingly?

Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is United Press International’s Arnaud deBorchgrave Distinguished Columnist. His latest book due out this year is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: The Tragic History of How Massive Attacks of Disruption Endangered, Infected, Engulfed and Disunited a 51% Nation and the Rest of the World.”