I expect my columns to be gems of lucidity and concision, such as to arouse despair in other writers. I have been expecting this for decades now. It may still happen. Meanwhile I fear today’s effort will be helterskelter, having the literary aspect of a tossed salad. I beg patience.
The Earth holds some eight billion people. It is interdependent with most relying, sometimes for life itself, on things from somewhere else: food, oil, gasoline, fertilizers, parts crucial to machines also crucial, electronics controlling the crucial machines and networks. A world war, even with conventional weapons, would kill incalculable numbers, if only by breaking supply chains. We don’t know how many since we haven’t tried it yet. Nuclear? Far worse.
Of the eight billion, how many would it take to start a world war? Who are they? Why do they hold the power of fdeath by burning or starvation over the rest of us? Why would they do it?
Biden, not very smart, pathologically aggressive, exploring early senility, Desperate for reelection, might be able to do it alone. One man. In theory he could order a nuclear strike or Russia, though it is unlikely that he would do so and not clear that the military would obey. Simply ordering US fighters to attack Russian aircraft over the Ukraine, or Syria, might do the trick. He is commander-in-chief, after all..
And Washington is poking hard at Russia in the Ukraine, escalating and escalating, raising the ante. We now have troops on the ground in Gaza, America is preparing for war with China. Situations of this sort are not predictable. Say Hezbola attacks Israel with Iranian support, America bombs Iran, Russia downs American planes, the US is now at war with Iran, which destroys American bases in the region and the large Russian reserve forces in the Ukraine roll toward the Polish border. It’s nuke’m or lose’m.
Here let us consider the crucial role of blank ignorance in American foreign policy. We may use China as a convenient example. I have read that seventy-seven percent of Americans, or some such number, think that China is a dangerous enemy. This of course is a majority manufactured by the media. But how many Americans know anything about China? Can they name three Chinese cities other than Beijing, Hongkong, and Shanghai? Even those three? Can they name one date in Chinese history? Know what happened in 1976? But they are quite sure that China, wherever it is, constitutes a grave danger.
The foregoing applies almost as well to the Congress. A friend, a former US Senator, has estimated to me that ninety percent of the Senate doesn’t know where Myanmar is. Congressmen, usually negligible lawyers from somewhere, have neither the background, time, or interest to master multifaceted foreign countries. They vote as the wind blows, as the rest of their party votes, as lobbyists n donors wish, and as they think that their constituents. also comprehensively ignorant, will approve.
The media, often little better informed, throw softball questions to avoid embarrassing either the pols or the viewership. The typical question is vague and lets the politician ramble into his love of democracy, opposition to dictatorship, and passionate concern for human rights. No reporter would ask Senator Rubio whether he can tell semiconductores from possum droppings.
Thus is policy made.
In two decades in Washington, I covered the military and its political hangers-on for Army Times, the Washington Times, the Washington Post, Universal Press Syndicate, Harper’s, and other stations of the journalistic cross. I had a Pentagon Pass and spent long hours walking the E-ring, talking to officers. I mention these not to puff my imaginary importance but to make the point that I know the smell, the attitude that moves the city, especially as regards the military.
There is a sense of omnipotence, of a right to rule. We have heard the phrases, the world’s policeman, the Indispensable Nation, a Shining City on a Hill, the Exceptional Nation. People believed this, and still do. This is hard to describe, but real. America had a God-given right, not infrequently expressed in religious terms, to intervene anywhere. Importantly, the US was believed to have the power to do so. In 1955, it did. Many of our gerontocratic leftover political fossils in power are old enough to have grown up in this.
There was, in those days, the American Imperium, US hegemony, the Empire, now consisting of something like 750 military bases around the world, control of the IMF, the World Bank, the United Nations, SWIFT, and so on. Washington came to think of this dominance as natural, eternal, a deserved fruit of European superiority. This is now collapsing, and Washington is ready to do anything, anything at all, to preserve it.
The desperate desire to stay in the saddle shapes America’s foreign policy. The approach is heavily military, in part because realists know that America cannot compete commercially or, for long, technologically with Asia. Washington has a short window of opportunity, perhaps of ten years, in which to crush first Russia and then China. Thus the war against Russia, a likely war in the Near East, threats to invade Mexico, and the frequent talk, and planning for, a war against china by 2025. They actually specify the year..
The horrifying thing is how very few are the men and women who can bring about a war in which hundreds of millions could die. In a world of eight billion, fewer (I will guess) than a hundred can start a holocaust. Much is made by conservatives of the Jewish Neocons, Victoria Nulan, Blinken, Zelenski, Kristol, and the gang, but there are also Biden, Bolton, Pompeo, Graham, Rubio, various Pentagon generals, and the arms industry.
In Washington there is talk of putting US boots on the ground in Ukraine, this being thought of as something the Russians would find fearsome. It isn’t’. America is no longer a nation of tough country boys. The Army can’t meet recruiting quotas because the American young are obese. Physical and mental standards have been lowered. Recruits with felony records are accepted. For years the services have been laboratories for political indoctrination, feminized, larded with sexual curiosities, rotted with affirmative action hires. The Army has no troops or officers who have experience with combat against a serious enemy with massive artillery, tanks, helicopter gunships. In recent decades the American military has bombed goat herds armed with rifles from secure bases with PXs.
The Russians they would try to fight in the Ukraine are battle-hardened with over a year of experience of combat against a modern Ukrainian army. It would be a slaughter.
Here we come to a major element in Washington’s purported strategic thinking: Wars are containable and fought somewhere else, never in America. This curious delusion is palpable in all the threats of direct intervention. A mistake. If American soldiers fight Russian soldiers, America will be at war with Russia, whose submarines could easily torpedo American troop or supply ships. Today’s cruise missiles, such as those used by Russia in the Ukraine, are accurate and have in some cases ranges of 1,200 miles. Several of these launched from submarines and killing most of the people at the Pentagon would be a shock. The Pentagon, note, is a short bicycle ride from the Capitol and the White House.
What then would Washington do? Russia is a huge nuclear power, able to incinerate the US and Europe at the same time. Nuclear saber rattling by Washington won’t intimidate it. Russia is independent in both food and energy. Its air force is large and powerful. God help an aircraft carrierthat tried to fight continental Russia. What do America’s toy soldiers do now?
A very, very important point: Wars usually do not turn out as expected. Here i repeat myself but I ask regular readers, if I have one, to be patient. Let’s look at some actual wars and how well they matched expectations. The American Civil War was supposed to be over in an afternoon at First Manassas. Wrong by four bloody years and 650,000 dead, equivalent to about six and a half million today. Nobody had the slightest idea of what that war would be. When Napoleon invaded Russia, he had no idea that Russian troops would soon be marching in Paris. Which is what happened. When the Germans launched WWI, they expected a short, victorious war of maneuver. They got four years of bloody, losing trench warfare. When Hitler invaded Russia, having Russian and American GIs divide up Berlin was not a major war plan. It happened. When the Japanese army urged war with America, it did plan on American sailors doing the boom-boom, as the Vietnamese used to say, with its daughters in the bars of Tokyo. When the French recolonized Vietnam after WWII, they did not expect to be outfought and outsmarted at Dienbienphu. When the Americans repeated the French mistake, they also did not foresee being handed their ass, as is said in the military. It happened. When the Russians invaded Afghanistan, they did not expect to lose. But did. When the Americans, seeing the Russian defeat, also did not expect to lose. But did. The current war in the Ukraine goeth not as expected.
Now, regarding the Ukraine: Militaries are often as bad at predicting the kind of war as its outcome. The game changer, as we like to say, in this war has been the drone. For one thing it allows armies to make precise attacks on targets, such as tanks, without risking the lives of soldiers. Further, when a drone spots, say, an enemy battalion, it can instantaneously relay its coordinates back to the artillery which in three minutes can bring down fire on said battalion. This wasn’t foreseen.
Now, as Washington prepares to start a war with China, it probably lacks a gerbil’s idea of how that war will go. There are the usual complacency, self-assurance, belief in America’s superiority in weapons and their use, the expectation of a short, sharp, victorious war, with the continental US remaining an untouchable sanctum. I find officials in the Federal Bubble talking of using F-35s to fly deep into China to bomb command centers. They say this in the same casual tone they would use when speaking of bombing Guatemala.
China isn’t Guatemala.
It is a country of huge population, vast resources, large numbers of excellent engineers and scientists who feature prominently in the world’s elite technical journals. It is a country that sent a combined orbiter, lander, and rover to Mars, successfully, on its first attempt. It leads the world in number of supercomputers. It is not a dragon casually to be poked by overgrown little boys in the Five-Sided Wind Tunnel.
And it is a country that over decades has crafted its armed forces specifically to fight America in its nearby waters. I have a hard time imagining a situation better designed to produce surprises.