Stumbling toward war on two fronts


Biden’s apparent abandonment of strategic ambiguity is only the latest indication that our establishment can only overshoot.

So much for strategic ambiguity. At a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, President Joe Biden pledged the United States to militarily defend Taiwan in response to a possible Chinese invasion. A reporter asked Biden, “If it comes to that, are you willing to make a military commitment to defend Taiwan?” To which the President flatly replied, “Yes.” The reporter followed: “You are?” The President was adamant: “That’s the commitment we’ve made.”

Excuse me if I sound overly concerned, but can we please not go down this path? For heaven’s sake, can America avoid opening a direct confrontation with the nuclear-armed People’s Republic while we are already engaged in an openly admitted proxy war with Russia, another nuclear power?

Biden’s words in Tokyo were so direct and clear that his staff in the room were visibly surprised. according to that New York Times. And understandably so: the supreme commander erased what little remained of America’s long-standing policy of letting Beijing decide whether it thinks Washington will take charge of Taiwan’s defenses, given the idea that ambiguity and unpredictability can act as a deterrent. From their perspective, knowing that an attack will be met with a US military response, the Chinese only question is when is the best time to carry it out, given the political climate and balance of power.

Biden’s “engagement” would also reverse decades of American policy: Taiwan is not a treaty ally like Japan or Poland, for example, and has not been recognized as such by successive governments. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, which has structured America’s relationship with Taiwan since 1979, the US government is obligated to help arm the Taiwanese, but not to defend the island directly.

The White House quickly went into damage control mode, with a spokesman told Fox News, implausible that “our policy hasn’t changed”. Rather, the President merely “reaffirmed our obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with military means for self-defense.”

This is the second time in as many years that the Biden administration has had to clarify Biden’s comments on Taiwan. Last year, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Biden an almost identical question: “Are you saying that the US would come to Taiwan’s defense if China attacked?” Biden replied in the affirmative, adding menacingly that the rest of the world “knows” that America will field the strongest military force in the world. Even then, the government quickly made it clear that Washington would not deviate from the parameters of the one-China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act.

“Old fool making gaffes” is the easiest way to explain these alarming statements. The more likely and troubling explanation is that Biden, albeit a little too enthusiastically, is giving voice to a new consensus building within the Washington varsity party. Other signs include recent delegations to Taipei by current and former officials, not least the ultra-hawkish former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. There are also rumors of a planned visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the growing drumbeat the war propaganda.

Biden’s words also chime with a broader mood of general western belligerence on both sides of the Atlantic. Read the major international editorials, and voices calling for even a degree of restraint or prudent restraint are an extreme minority, if allowed to be heard at all.

The liberal internationalists, of course, are once again leading the charge of “defending democracy” with bombs and drones. But it’s not just them. As I noted at CompactAcross the West, with the honorable exception of Hungary, the “new nationalists” are increasingly playing second fiddle to the liberal hawks, often outflanking them by clamoring for the expansion of the very transnational institutions (NATO, EU) they were chosen to limit. With Poland’s President Andrzej Duda calling for Ukraine’s speedy EU admission, who needs Anne Applebaum? With Chris DeMuth, a leader of the “national conservative” movement, pushing for war with Russia and China, who needs the Atlantic Council?

The whole scene is completely surreal. America is struggling to provide baby food to its newborns. Inflation skyrockets. Gasoline is $7 a gallon. Similar supply and energy crises are gripping Europe. And yet the transatlantic political class is genuinely content with the prospect of a two-front war with Russia and China. As the West weakens materially—the more its political economy shifts toward financial exploitation and useless apps—the deeper its internal cultural rottenness becomes and the more aggressive and off-kilter it becomes on the world stage.

Get ready for a tumultuous century.

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