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What does it mean to win?

What does it mean to win?

Recently in City Journal two associate professors in the department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations at the U.S. Army War College wrote about putting the war back into the war colleges.  Their basic argument is that students at the senior service schools are no longer taught about how to fight and WIN wars.  I can only hope that they are wrong, but in this era of “wokeism” they are probably fearfully correct.  My how things have changed!

Twenty -five plus years ago plus I wrote a booklet and taught a course at the Army War College entitled: Combat Termination: What does it mean to win?  The subject got the attention of the Commandant after I had given an hour-long presentation to the Chief of Staff of the Army in the context of Somalia.  This resulted in a two-hour long lecture on the subject to the entire War College classes of 1993-95.  The material probably still exists in the War College archives and the presentation to General Sullivan was captured in a chapter: “End State Planning: The Somalia Case” in Managing Contemporary Conflict: Pillars of Success, Max G. Manwaring and William J. Olson, Westview Press, 1996. 

Several years ago, I gave a lecture at my high school alma mater.  I am going to republish part of that lecture hoping that it makes my point.

So what does it mean to win? What is victory in real terms today?

Several years ago my book on my experiences in Vietnam was published.  I wrote the book trying to set the historical record straight and to ensure the stories of brave warriors—American, Vietnamese and Montgnard were saved for posterity.

Let my own experience and the conclusions in my book be used to the answer question of what it means to win.

From the Vietnam War experience we should learn the relationship between political and military objectives, if we learn nothing else. Sometimes those political and military goals can be at odds.  In this process we should develop a sense of what it means to win. Winning is not necessarily the destruction of the enemy, though it is often a consequence/objective. The Vietnam War was a political war — not for the United States but for the North Vietnamese. They understood that the war would not be won on the battlefields of Vietnam. It would be won in the streets of the United States.  In the United States of the 1960s and early 70s the anti-war demonstrations convinced the politicians that the effort was not worth the political cost—not the military cost, but the political cost. 

The same thing happened in 1954 in France.  In the French case the siege of a remote airfield named Dien Bien Phu lasted for an extensive period and eventually fell to the Viet Minh.  The French people were tired of war so soon after World War II and Korea.  They wanted peace and after the battle of Dien Bien Phu brought this fatigue to the political front.  The French people voted in the streets of Paris by their demonstrations and the French government then sought peace, resulting in the division of Viet Nam and planting the seeds for the next war.

The United States had not learned from the French experience this critical strategic lesson — the relationship between military operations and political objectives. We had stopped studying Clausewitz in our military and civilian schools.

Previously, traditional thought held that when diplomacy failed, things were turned over to the military. The linkage between the two was not apparent. This of course is the World War II model.

There was also prevalent in Washington a belief in gradual escalation/de-escalation, and the idea that you could vary the amount of force applied for signaling the opponent about your seriousness and intentions to convince him to quit. This is the rationalist argument pushed to the extreme and characterized Defense Secretary McNamara’s approach to conflict.  He believed that you could calculate an enemy’s willingness to resist in terms such as body count.  Unfortunately, today’s media are trying to continue the relevancy of body count as a measure of success.  It was not useful then and it totally fails in today’s conflicts.  The North Vietnamese understood the relationship of political and military objectives.

The North Vietnamese attacked the U.S. strategy and our political center of gravity (public support) through a combination of actions on the battlefield that created casualties, media concern for our POWs, and a greater than expected devotion to their objective of conquest of the South. In other words, McNamara’s rational calculation approach was incorrect. The North Vietnamese understood that they didn’t need to have a more capable army – they understood they needed to enflame the American public and provoke protests and dissension against the war.  That’s how they would win.   Their calculations were correct.

The North Vietnamese understood that if the American public stopped supporting a war that eventually the politicians would have to end it.  They were right!  We won the battle on the ground in Vietnam and lost it in the living rooms of America where war footage was shown on TV for the first time in history.

Tet is a Vietnamese holiday, the ‘high holy days’. Each year there was a cease fire agreed to by both sides so that they could celebrate Tet. However, in late January 1968 the North Vietnamese infiltrated large numbers of troops into South Vietnam and even attacked the US Embassy in Saigon. The Tet offensive and “Agony of Khe Sanh” of early 1968 were designed with precise political objectives in mind. For two plus months the American people were confronted daily in the media by the possibility of a major battlefield defeat. This was the high point of the war.  Following Tet the demonstrations in United States increased, which undermined the political support for President Johnson. During the Paris peace talks an American colonel said to his Vietnamese counterpart: “You know you never defeated us on the battlefield.” To which the Vietnamese colonel responded: “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

There was a Wall Street Journal article several months ago that argued that the North Vietnamese had actually been badly defeated on the battlefields of January to April 1968.

The political loss of the war began when the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive.  The American public was kept in the dark about the capabilities of the North Vietnamese to mount such an offensive in order to maintain the public perception that we were winning the war. The ability to launch such an attack so caught the public off guard that it GALVANIZED them and was the beginning of the end — the beginning of the political loss.

Politics is the diplomacy of national leaders as they deal with one another to manage the relationships of countries.  It is a game of control and has always superceded the military in importance.  Battlefield decisions are highly influenced by the political situation.  This is not always a productive situation because the objectives may not always be the same.

The announcement of the bombing halt by President Johnson is a classic case in point. He announced a partial bombing halt of North Vietnam in an attempt to induce them to enter into negotiations. During March 1968, while preparing to conduct the relief of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, the 1st Cavalry Division was given its next mission — an attack into the A Shau Valley 50 miles south of Khe Sanh to destroy the North Vietnamese Army “remnants” from the occupation of Hue during the Tet offensive.

On April 1, 1968, the division plans officer and I prepared a concept brief for the attack to the division commanding general. The concept was to execute the planned attack to relieve Khe Sanh, but the attack would be continued past Khe Sanh into Laos and then leapfrog south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while blocking and destroying the trail, and enter the A Shau Valley from the north — not the traditional attack route west from Hue. We would have achieved operational and tactical surprise at least and probably “won” the war.

The commanding general dismissed the concept quickly by asking whether we had heard the president’s speech the night before. He told us that President Johnson had announced a partial bombing halt. We answered that we had not. He said: “What you are proposing is not politically feasible.” He turned and left. Such a pursuit would have militarily destroyed the North Vietnamese forces in the northern part of South Vietnam and denied them their base areas and infiltration routes.  Three years later the South Vietnamese were to try this with devastating losses.

This is a classic example of the political limitations on even the most elemental operational aspects of the war in Vietnam. It also highlights the need for clear, unwavering military and political objectives that are in consonance before a conflict begins.

It was the experience of this war with its constantly changing political objectives and limitations on military action and the constant interplay between the political and the military that gave birth to the doctrine of “overwhelming force” espoused by General Colin Powell and practiced during the Gulf War against Iraq. It had its roots in situations similar to the one described.  Powell believed that in Vietnam we had never truly tried to win the war militarily because we always limited the area where we could fight and never committed enough troops to get the job done.

What Khe Sanh in particular and the Vietnam experience in general should teach us is not necessarily the criticality of overwhelming force.

They should teach us the importance of military objectives being a clear translation of the conditions that a politician seeks for the U.S. military to achieve at the end of the conflict — what it will mean to win. There are three critical pieces of guidance that need to be developed during the policymaking process, before hostilities begin:

A clear statement by the political authorities of the desired situation in the post-hostility and settlement phases of a dispute — what the area should “look like” following hostilities. President Bush 41’s 4 clear statements are a clear example of achievable political objectives.

A clear set of political objectives that when achieved will allow the above vision to become reality.

A set of military objectives that will, when achieved, allow and-or cause the above to happen. The stated political objectives continually changed in Vietnam in reaction to battlefield realities. They were not linked to achievable military objectives. Therefore, we may have won the battles, but did not win the war.

There is an argument to be made that the same was true of our initial thinking when we went to War with Iraq in 2002.  We did not have a clear vision of the end state.

The final point is for the political leadership to have the courage to continue unwaveringly in the face of adversity.  He who quits loses!

We should learn from Vietnam that winning is the achievement of political objectives by military means.   As the political goals changed the military ones did not.  When that occurs, the conflict is over. This applies as much today in Iraq and Afghanistan as it did to Vietnam.

In the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848 the US captured Mexico City, which in those times meant that we had won.  But, there was no one Mexican authority who would surrender and be politically liable for “losing” to the Americans so the process dragged on for several months.

As we think about the Vietnam War, and all wars, we should be asking ourselves “Have we learned the lessons of Vietnam?”  Did we learn the lessons of the Gulf War?  Are we ready to support the politics of winning?

Conclusion:

Today the nature of warfare has changed. It is unclear what constitutes victory in the current political climate in the eyes of the media. What does it mean to win?  We fight against terrorists who know no rules of war and who want to deny us our freedoms.  Very pertinent to today is what Winston Churchill said in 1940, before the United States entered World War II “Victory at all cost. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory no matter how long and how hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.

As we contemplate the sacrifices made years ago by the men and women commemorated in this service today let us insure that these warriors’ lives continue to be relevant in our search for freedom from the tyranny that terrorists would impose on us.  We as part of an international community must remember that without victory there is no survival.  Those brave men and women of years gone by understood this—do you?

Let me close by reading “The Absent Legions” by – Edgar A. Guest, which reflects the gratitude of a nation for those who paid the ultimate price to insure victory.

Somewhere, far away, they heard us

When the word of Victory stirred us.

Safe within God’s Holy keeping,

Heard us cheer and saw us weeping;

Shared in all we did or said—

Freedom’s glorious, youngest dead.

Never doubt it, there was gladness

Where the dead are done with madness,

Hate and hurt, and need for dying.

As they saw our banners flying

On our day of joyous pride,

“ ‘Twas for this,” said they,

“We died!”

What if tears our eyes had blinded,

As of them we were reminded?

Never doubt it, they were voicing

Somewhere, songs of great rejoicing;

Glad to look on earth and see

Safe our country, still, and free.

I am an old war horse and it has been both my privilege and sacred duty to prepare the rising generations to be more prepared for the battlefields of tomorrow than all the generations before you.  Upon graduation you will make decisions that may bring you to the brink of accepting that call to duty.  I admonish you to be prepared, be diligent, and be firm in your calling to protect the freedoms of this great nation. And above all – understand how priceless victory is!

Thank you.

The Loss of Afghanistan

As an old soldier and scholar who has written extensively on conflict termination – or how to exit combat in a manner that serves your strategic objectives – the news of the past several days has been both heartbreaking and profoundly disappointing.

The Taliban’s rapid conquest of Afghanistan following President Biden’s order to rapidly withdraw US forces is a strategic disaster. No matter how hard the President or his defenders attempt to assign blame elsewhere, public opinion has rightly concluded that the buck stops with him. There are three critical areas to examine:

  1. Why did the Afghan Army fall apart so quickly?
  2. Why was the withdrawal so ineptly organized and executed?
  3. What will be the strategic outcomes of this whole episode?

The Afghan Army. There are numerous reasons for the failure of the Afghan military to stop the Taliban. There is much to learn from our failed two-decade effort to make them into a self-sufficient fighting force. Unfortunately, many of these lessons are ones we have been unable to learn before.

The cultural aspect of the failure of the Afghan military is more significant than many appreciate. Beyond Kabul, Afghanistan is still a tribal society with only nominal allegiance to the central government. While Afghanistan’s forces suffered significant casualties over the past several years, with some fighting valiantly, too often, their soldiers were not in their home regions and had no relationship with the area they were charged to defend. When confronted by motivated Taliban mujahedeen, they quickly surrendered or melted away.

I have seen several sources, especially on the right, comment on the cultural revulsion that many Afghans and others in the Muslim world feel when they see US facilities fly LBGTQ flags and publicize pride events. While tolerance is near-universal in liberal western democracies, it was painfully naïve to think we could export these values to Afghanistan in the span of less than a single generation.

The mostly illiterate Afghan armed forces were also incapable of utilizing combined land-air doctrine with its reliance on air support, intelligence, and technology. When the US pulled the contractors who had maintained the equipment, the machinery simply stopped working.

A brief bit of history is instructive. The collapse of the Afghan armed forces was not like the fall of Saigon and the defeat of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in 1975. In Vietnam, the Democratic-controlled Congress, including the support of the junior senator from Delaware, denied President Ford the ability to resupply the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). They also blocked Ford’s ability to provide air support against the advancing North Vietnamese (NVA) units. In both cases, there was corruption and bad to terrible leadership. In the Afghan situation, it was a voluntary, hurried withdrawal against an artificial timeline. In Vietnam, the US had withdrawn from the fight for some time. Vietnamization had been a long process that included attacks into Laos and Cambodia to gain time for ARVN to get on its feet.  In Afghanistan, there were no such spoiling attacks to attrit the Taliban while the Afghan units got on their feet. In both cases, the militaries had been built on a US model, and when the sophisticated US support was no longer available, things went bad—in Afghanistan, it was rapidly, and in Vietnam, it was a drawn-out campaign.  Both routs could have been stopped if the American leadership had had the political will to do so. Sadly, our political leadership again failed us.

Organizational Failures. Senior military officers and diplomats are already leaking they had withdrawal plans. It is quickly turning into a war of finger-pointing fought with more vigor than the effort to rescue stranded Americans.

What is unclear is whether the plans drawn up were utterly ignored by the President – according to Peter Beinhart’s piece in the Atlantic, this seems like a plausible if disturbing scenario – or the plans suffered from fatally flawed intelligence. It would certainly not be the first time that our intelligence agencies badly underestimated or misunderstood a threat in recent memory. I suspect that a healthy measure of both factors was at play.

General Milley, the chairman of the JCS, said last week that no one saw the Afghans falling apart this fast.  He thought that they could hold out for at least 30 days.  This admission from the man responsible for an orderly withdrawal

The “Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau” – which was designed to handle medical, diplomatic, and logistical support concerning Americans overseas was paused, by the Biden State Department earlier this year. The bureau was formed by the Trump administration so as to have the ability to respond rapidly to crisis situations and to avoid Benghazi types of incidents.

There is no doubt that there was not a headquarters to control the US withdrawal AND apply air power to delay the Taliban. Additionally, even though they have had months to prepare it is not apparent that anyone even considered having to fight a withdrawal.  The intelligence failure allowed for the sloppy unplanned exodus that has taken on all the appearances of a rout. Additionally, there was no plan for securing regional base access, for the contractors that maintain the Afghan military, for training that military after the US departure, for evacuating interpreters and helpers.  The current plan is if you can get to Kabul airport you can be evacuated otherwise the guidance from the Biden team to Americans who are stranded in the country “Hide”.

In addition, why are they using Kabul airport and not Bagram Air Base where there are facilities for security?  The only thing that makes sense is proximity to the US Embassy. 

There are currently about 6000 soldiers and Marines on the ground at the airport.  The administration has frozen Afghan assets in the US and appealed to the Taliban to let Americans be evacuated without incident.  In short, now we have a hostage situation and it would appear the Taliban have the negotiating leverage.  Maybe the Chinese will help get Americans out of Afghanistan. And finally, the French and British are going out and collecting their personnel and getting them evacuated while the Americans sit at the Kabul airport.  Are we afraid that they might get into a skirmish?  I am sure that the White House is afraid that a skirmish could turn into multiple skirmishes and we would be committed to a new fight.  Good military leadership should be able to manage such a situation, but…….

Unfortunately, I am accustomed to failures from the political class. So more disappointing is that our intelligence agencies were blind to the extent of political dealings the Taliban had made as the withdrawal loomed. It likely took weeks or even months of planning for the Taliban to organize near-simultaneous assaults on the Afghan provincial capitals. Our intelligence efforts missed (or were ignored) that Taliban shadow governors were already in place, alongside the requisite staff, to take over provincial functions immediately.

Both the Trump administration and now Biden’s team prefaced America’s withdrawal on the notion that US intelligence capabilities would enable the United States to maintain an over-the-horizon strike capability against both insurgents and terrorists. The CIA’s failure, however, shows that as US forces withdrew, they were essentially blind. These failures caused the White House to construct America’s post-withdrawal strategy on a rotten foundation.

To misread intentions and capabilities so completely raises more uncomfortable questions about whether the intelligence community has improved its products and capabilities since its well-documented failures on 9/11 and later weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The intelligence apparatus opens itself up to criticisms that they are more concerned with trendy social or political causes. As a group, they erode any faith that remains by a regular parade of retired senior officials parading on cable news shows to lend credibility to Russian pee tapes against their political enemies while dismissing evidence that their political ally’s son engaged in reckless personal behavior while auctioning access to his father.

Strategic Outcomes. This brings us to our final item of discussion—the strategic situation following the fall of Afghanistan. From afar, the US appears to be an aging, weak empire. Weakness emboldens our adversaries (especially Russia and China) and causes our allies to doubt our strength and resolve. It bears all the signs of the Obama Administration, which should not surprise anyone given the personalities who again control the levers of power.

While trying to point fingers away from himself, one retired four-star general lamented that our days as a superpower are over.  He went on to say that this might have been a continuation of the Obama-era goal of denigrating American greatness.  What this means is that President Biden has two choices:

  1. Watch almost impotently as the caliphate in the Middle East rises, and we lose strength in Asia, accelerating the continued fall from greatness for the United States, OR
  • Do something drastic to convince world leaders that the US is still the global superpower it has been for nearly a century. If this course is pursued, the US needs to engage and overpower someone over some issue. Think of this as Margaret Thatcher turning a dispute over a mostly meaningless island into the Falklands conflict. There are many candidates for such a move – and all are profoundly dangerous.
  1. Given that the Chinese are now telling the Taiwanese that the US can’t be trusted and are conducting live-fire drills in the Taiwan straits, some bellicose types of action/response in support of Taiwan are called for.
    1. Given the Russian stance that the Black Sea is a Russian lake, increased naval action there may be called for.
    1. Given the situation in Eastern Europe and Crimea, additional US presence and favorable armaments support might temper the Russian’s bellicosity. 
    1. Support for an anti-Taliban insurgent movement should be a natural course of action coupled with the diplomatic and economic efforts that are underway. But make no mistake, the Taliban will only laugh off strongly worded letters expressing the displeasure of infidels in far-away foreign capitals.
    1. The South China Sea stand-off over freedom of navigation can always be a way to show American strength and devotion to a high set of goals and ideas.
    1. And recently an East China Sea issue has arisen between China and Japan.  US support for the Japanese is just another way of trying to keep the Chinese genie  in the bottle.

Related to item two above is a drastic overhaul of the US military leadership.  The current leadership has failed in Afghanistan. It will probably take a new presidential administration before the damage that this leadership has caused can be remediated and reversed.  HOWEVER, if President Biden was to throw the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and several other generals out on their cushy retirement rears, he might reduce the growing call for totally remaking our military. This is a dangerous path politically for a president whose opinion ratings were recently measured below 40%. What will these officers say about the Commander in the Chief once free to speak freely (or at least for attribution)?

Whatever course the administration chooses will be hotly debated as the left leaning media awakens to just what they have created.  The emergence of balanced reporting and honest dealing with the American people would be a great thing to come out of this mess.  One can always hope.

Finally, back in April, we discussed some of the future international movements by multiple actors to gain favor with the new Afghan government.  The Chinese have already made diplomatic moves to align themselves with the Taliban, and one can be sure that Pakistan will be right behind them.  The Chinese will continue to push throughout the region. As predicted, the Russians are seeking to insulate the Taliban.  As suggested by my caliphate remark earlier, what was not discussed but now seems to be a logical extension is Iran offering the Taliban its good offices and a close relationship.

The April article on the future of Afghanistan is a good reference as we follow the post-Afghanistan events.  Please stay tuned.

The Real Problem

By Bill Shuey

July 10, 2021

Recently a lady who interjected herself into an ongoing conversation on Facebook accused me of blaming, if not all, most of America’s problems on blacks. I don’t know if the lady has a reading comprehension problem or if she just wished that I had made the statement. Either way, I corrected her and told her that I viewed she and those of her ilk as the real problem.

From the day that the 13th Amendment was signed into law, Democrats fought allowing the freedmen from assimilating into society, voting, or owning property. This initiative continued all through the Reconstruction Era and gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan and the terror, torment, and killings of blacks it inflicted.

Once the 14th and 15th Amendments were established as law, Democrats resorted to another ploy. They banned blacks from restaurants, schools, drinking fountains, and lower seating in theaters, amongst other things. With the advent of the Civil Rights movement, Democrats beat, intimidated, harassed, sicced dogs on, and killed both black and white civil rights marchers and advocates. Those of us that were alive during the 1960s can remember Democrat Governors Lester Maddox and George Wallace blocking entrances to schools to keep black kids out.

When the white backlash grew after seeing black beaten, water hoses used on them, and the German Shepherds which were used to control them, a new tactic was invented. Since intimidation was no longer a viable tactic, then President Johnson and his cronies devised another plan. As LBJ is quoted as saying after he signed his Great Society legislation into law, “We’ll have those n—-rs voting Democrat for the next 100 years.” He must have been right; no Republican presidential candidate since the Great Society had gotten more than 20% of the black vote until Trump.

Suddenly there were two new vocations: breeders and single moms. Single black girls got paid by the child and the breeder got a small percentage of the action for his contribution. Within a decade the black household was disintegrating, and the nuclear black family was mostly a thing of the past. Black household income dropped like a stone off a cliff because there was no longer a breadwinner in the home. The federal government became the surrogate father and provider for the 70% of black babies born out of wedlock.

People are guided by human nature. If you give a person Section 8 housing, welfare payments, SNAP food stamps, free school lunches, free medical care, and top it off with tax credits and payments for children, even though you never made a dime, who wouldn’t be tempted.

Ever pliable, the former Democrats/liberals, who are now mostly socialists, are now introducing a new tactic. All white people are racist and oppressors. All black people are oppressed and victims. If one wants to keep a segment of the population subservient, one must constantly invent new buzz words and allegations. Blacks have been told for years that the deck is stacked against them. Reverends who get rich off the black community’s misery foment hatred and suspicion. The corporate black community and near-do-well liberals embrace the indoctrination.

Socialists treat blacks like perpetual children. The presumption is that they cannot survive without social assistance (44% of the black community draw some type of social benefits), they need special consideration in order to vote because of their skin color and ineptitude, and education has to be dumbed down so all their young can compete in school. (America is the richest nation in the world and ranks 30th overall in education) If I was black, I would feel demeaned and patronized; unfortunately many believe the propaganda.

 Now the socialists have invented Critical Race Theory, which is nothing more than a Marxist tool to divide Americans into tribes. Then the NY Times invented the 1619 Project which, in short, asserts that America could not have been developed without slave labor. This balderdash conveniently ignores all the industry in the north which was largely fueled by non-slave labor, or the westward expansion that was essentially a European endeavor.

No, Madam, blacks are not the problem and browns are not the problem. You and people with your narrow mindset that have created the culture of dependency and promised the free candy store are the greatest threat to our nation. The sad truth is that you and your ilk are so self-absorbed, you can’t even recognize the damage you’re inflicting.

Have a good week. Bill Shuey is a freelance writer in San Angelo, Texas

No, Madam, blacks are not the problem and browns are not the problem. You and people with your narrow mindset that have created the culture of dependency and promised the free candy store are the greatest threat to our nation. The sad truth is that you and your ilk are so self-absorbed, you can’t even recognize the damage you’re inflicting.

Have a good week. Bill Shuey is a freelance writer in San Angelo, Texas

Robert E. Lee and You

This is a book critique by my West Point classmate Colonel (ret) Barrie E. Zais

          The most visible socio-political movement of our time is identity-based politics. In its broadest sense, it includes a range of gender and racial causes. Agendas such as critical race theory, diversity and inclusion, the Me Too movement, The 1619 Project, Black Lives Matter, and equity are all part of this larger counter-culture war. Most claim the existence of an American form of systemic and institutional racism and discrimination and call for some sort of social justice. Today identity politics permeates governmental, military, and educational institutions at all levels. And it divides us.

          Emerging as a manifestation of this movement is the recent work, Robert E. Lee and Me, (St. Martin’s Press, 2020) by Ty Seidule. The author, a former head of the West Point Department of History, claims to have discovered that all we have been taught about the Civil War and the South are myth. While in his position, Colonel, now Brigadier General Retired, Seidule presided over a fundamental shift in the teaching of military history at West Point until his retirement in 2020. Announcing that “it is important that we get our gender and racial agenda right,” large portions of the military history curriculum were eliminated, specifically the Civil War.  As an example, the study of Lee’s brilliant campaigns were scrapped in favor of things like a Civil Rights staff ride throughout the South. Military history is the data base of the military profession. When it is diminished, as has been the case at the West Point, the result is professional catastrophe. Current faculty have told prominent sources, “Sir, it’s so bad I don’t think we are going to be able to fix the department.” Another more optimistic senior professor said, “Give us some time.” 

          Unfortunately, when one sets out to write history for political purpose, it usually turns out to be bad history. And Robert E. Lee and Me is just that. The author’s purpose is to indict Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders and purge them from the Army and West Point. In a fit of self-righteous virtue signaling, Seidule declares that “Lee was a traitor and does not represent my values.” So Seidule proudly committed to “change our history to reflect our values.” Some have argued that it is disingenuous to judge one’s views on an issue from another era by the circumstances and ideologies of today. Or judging historical figures based upon current mores and understanding does not lead to an accurate interpretation of the figure in question. Rather, they must be placed in historical perspective. If so, this book is the poster case of historical malfeasance.   

          Seidule’s method is to indict all white, Southern culture, and in doing so, take down its most revered symbols. How Seidule goes about this takes a classic page out of the Marxist handbook. It starts with what is called “The Big Lie,” in this instance, that the South seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War for the exclusive purpose of perpetuating white supremacy and expanding slavery.  Few, if any, of the hundreds of books tracing the coming civil war arrive at such a simplistic conclusion. Of course, slavery was the dominant issue of the time, but the cause of the war was far more complicated than that. One must go back at least to James Madison, the Constitution, and the rights of states in the new nation. But Seidule hammers his Big Lie over and over, four or five times in the Introduction alone. Once he gets the gullible to nod, the rest is easy. If the protection and expansion of slavery was the singular Confederate purpose, then they all must have been bad, and their version of events must be myth. And the actions of succeeding generations of Southerners must be evil and their historical interpretations, myth. In history this is called a single factor theory. This is not to ignore decades of slavery and segregation and their evils, but just to acknowledge that single factor theories are always simplistic and most often wrong.

           The author’s misuse of historical events and documents has gone unnoticed, as the book’s reception has been mostly unfettered acceptance. He is loose with both facts and interpretations. His assertion that the Ordnances of Secession of the seceding states confirm that the issue was slavery is not true. Some of the deep South ordnances stress the subject of slavery, but Virginia and others emphasize threats to their sovereignty.  Seidule’s mean attempt to bring down a great man consciously omits facts such as two thirds of Virginia born officers in the Army went with the Confederacy and that in 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arlington House and the surrounding grounds, now Arlington National Cemetery, were taken illegally by the Lincoln Administration without due process. The court returned the property to the Lee family. An attempt to advance “social justice” should not dispense with a respect for factual interpretation.

           Seidule’s intent to smear Lee as a cruel racist is a most egregious historical assassination. Lee was at least ambivalent, at most opposed, to slavery. However, his foe, U.S. Grant, only freed his personal slave in 1859, but his wife kept hers. There is some discussion whether the slaves were legally hers or her father’s, but they were in the Grant family. Years later she claimed the four were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. We know this is not true since the proclamation freed no slaves in Missouri where Julia Grant resided.

           These are only a few examples of the author’s selective use of facts. What we get throughout the book are disconcerting nomenclature changes, he refuses to use the term “Union Army,” using instead “U.S. Army,” and ideological interpretations rather than statements of moral and political clarity. The book is also bogged down by an overdone account of the author’s personal life and his purported epiphany.     

          Seidule, did, and continues to do much damage to the Army and West Point. Calling racism a “national institution,” he has played a key role in the cultural purge of Lee and Confederates at the military academy. It is all but certain that Lee Gate, Lee Barracks, Lee Hall, Lee Road, and Lee Housing Area will be erased from history by the cultural commissars. Heeding Seidule’s proposition that all use of the name “Lee” at West Point is “a protest against integration and equal rights,” the Military Academy leadership is all in on the purge.

            The Robert E. Lee Award for mathematics was eliminated and the West Point superintendent removed the Lee portrait from his quarters. Perhaps the Class of 1961 Reconciliation Plaza that recognizes post-civil war healing will survive. But that is not assured, as the current scorched earth movement shows no signs of abating.

            Riding the wave of uber wokeism sweeping the nation, Seidule received an appointment to another commission charged with renaming the ten Army posts in the South carrying Confederate names. Installation names such as Fort Gordon, Georgia will disappear from history. And the name of John Brown Gordon, civil war hero, once Governor, three times elected to the U.S. Senate, and idol of the state of Georgia for 40 years, will be purged from memory.

             It is no coincidence that Brig. Gen. Seidule is lauded in the 40-page June 2020 policy proposal authored by nine disgruntled West Point graduates. They allege that the Academy is racist to the core, that white privilege reigns, and that the institution does not accomplish its mission.  

           While political correctness, wokeness, and critical race theory thrive at West Point, expect no help from the very highest levels of our military establishment. The Secretary of Defense recently told Congress that the military does not teach critical race theory. He was wrong. The West Point superintendent confirmed the use of the book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. And Congressman Michael Waltz, R-Fla., provided slides from a West Point workshop entitled “White Power at West Point” and “Racist Dog Whistles at West Point.” At the same hearing, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified that he saw nothing untoward about teaching critical race theory to West Point cadets under the title “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage,” what some cadets have called a “woke effort to inspire race-based guilt among students.” The Chairman huffed that he found it personally offensive that the U.S. military was accused of being woke. He went on to say that he had personally read Mao, Marx, and Lenin and adamantly denied that political correctness and wokeism are rampant in the military. The facts do not seem to confirm his view.

  The Navy’s highest-ranking officer also wandered into the ideological stew by including several politically charged books on his officially endorsed reading list for all naval personnel. His refusal to address sailors’ complaints about Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist and what they called woke diversity training has drawn congressional attention. Two veterans, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex., viewed it necessary to establish a whistleblower hotline to report official military woke ideology training. The line has been flooded.     

          So, how does this end? Some are pessimistic. Others say the elections of 2022 have the potential to at least slow the tide. The elections of 2024 appear to offer a more critical opportunity. Prompted by attacks on the nation’s founders, in the waning days of the last Administration, the President signed an executive order establishing the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission. Calling America an exceptional nation dedicated to the ideas and ideals of its founding, the order noted a recent series of polemics grounded in poor scholarship that vilify our country. “This radicalized view of American history lacks perspective, obscures virtues, twists motives, ignores or distorts facts, and magnifies flaws, resulting in the truth being concealed and history disfigured.”

         The order called upon all of us not to abandon faith in the common story that binds us to one another across our differences. Those symbols that bind are, of course, the American flag, the National Anthem, the U.S. military, and places like West Point. Disrespect of those only deepens the division. It is identity politics that divides, rather than unites. At the most fundamental level, the order concluded that an informed and honest patriotism taught in our schools should be the goal. In closing it is only fair to note that early on the Biden Administration eliminated the Advisory Commission.

Barrie E. Zais is a graduate of West Point who served two tours in Vietnam and commanded infantry units from platoon to regimental level. He holds Masters and Ph.D. degrees in history from Duke University and has taught on three college faculties. He was the Course Director of the two semester course, History of the Military Art, in the Department of History, U.S Military Academy, West Point.  

US Pacific Maritime Strategy

In a recent Wall Street Journal article (“America’s naval strategy is at sea”) Seth Cospey, the author, argues that the US does not have a maritime strategy to conduct a naval war against the rapidly growing Chinese fleet.

There are two parts of his argument:

  1. The number of US naval combatants is much smaller that during the Reagan years and that numerous commitments has reduced readiness in terms of training and maintenance status.  This part of his argument is true and shameful.  What goes unsaid but is implied is that there is not a surge strategy to deal with a conflict situation.
  2. There is neither a set of strategic naval objectives nor a how to fight a naval battle in the Pacific doctrine.  To this I would say he is only a little bit correct.

Any conflict in the Pacific is not going to be only a naval effort.  The doctrine of multi-domain warfare makes it clear that most engagements in any conflict will be fought using resources from several services and several type—air, cyber, long range missiles, ground forces, etc.  

In my recent set of articles about the defense of Taiwan I introduced  the concept of long range engagements of Chinese naval forces by ground based missiles on small islands manned by soldiers or Marines.  In a simulation of such a concept we manned an island with a small multi-domain force—air defense, very small ground defense, drone and satellite feeds, long and short-range artillery and missiles.  The mission was to defend the island against a much superior attacking Chinese naval force.

The attacking force’s location was determined by satellite reconnaissance and the engagements in depth began by air launched missiles that were remotely guided.  As the naval force got closer it was engaged by land based missiles and long range artillery.  And finally, when the much depleted force tried an assault it was engaged by shorter rangr artillery and other defensive force systems.  The naval assault failed.

Now consider that there is a checkerboard of such manned small island redoubts throughout the Pacific and that they are mutually reinforcing, when possible, whose mission is to deny the Chinese Navy freedom of movement and to attrit it.  Then the naval forces would be the mobile counter attack force once the Chinese naval force had been discovered and engaged so as to remove the threat from one set of checkerboard squares and go on to the next.  A checkerboard island defense and a mobile attack force—a lethal combination.  I contend that eventually the US military will get there (They are over half way there now.)

What needs to be added is the mobilization and rapid deployment of the island manning and other forces needed.  This will be the expensive part and maybe the limiting part.  Reconnaissance and selection of the islands to be occupied at the beginning of a conflict is relatively inexpensive and could be done tomorrow.  Creating the multi-domain task forces, at least on paper, from existing resources would not be too difficult.  (The Marines are working on art of this right now.) Maybe, besides resource acquisition, the hardest part will be developing the mental agility to fight multi-domain battles.

Finally, strategic goals should reinforce the US belief in the freedom of seas and not threaten the existence of the existing Chinese government.  To do that would be to seek a world war that could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.

Need readers to respond.

The future of Afghanistan

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, first announced by President Trump, then delayed by President Biden is now an on-again activity.  President Biden, one must guess, wanted to make a big deal out of the withdrawal of the last 2500 US troops from Afghanistan by rescheduling it to September 11th.  What is more important is that in his announcement he provided a harbinger of what comes next.

In announcing the withdrawal, the president said that India, Pakistan, Russia, China, and Turkey have a significant stake in the stable future of Afghanistan and these regional stakeholders should do more to bring peace to this war-torn country.  This was tantamount to asking these countries, all of which have interests in Afghanistan to compete in bringing a peace that they can accept.  His administration also endorsed a Turkish sponsored peace conference, which may be held in September.

Probably the most consequential regional competition for influence in Afghanistan will be the contest between India and Pakistan. India seeks to cultivate Afghanistan as a reliable bulwark against Islamic militants, including Pakistani-backed groups, while Pakistan seeks to counter what it regards as an Indo-Afghan nexus to encircle and weaken it. To put this competition in perspective one must consider that:

  • India and Pakistan pursue mutually exclusive objectives in Afghanistan and leverage sharply different tools to achieve their respective goals. Pakistan utilizes militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban, as strategic proxies, while India places considerable weight on its economic influence among Afghans.
  • India and Pakistan view each other through an adversarial lens.
  • Pakistan is the regional actor with the most influence in Afghanistan owing to its patronage of a resilient Taliban insurgency, though the Pakistan-Taliban relationship is replete with tension. India believes supporting the existing Afghan system best serves its interests. However, India is unlikely to deploy, the military power necessary to generate conditions favorable to its interests.
  • Pakistan may decide to punish India in Afghanistan as an indirect reaction to India’s decision to mainstream the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Russia’s interests in Afghanistan center on ensuring its security and preventing the destabilization of the Afghan-Central Asian border area. Three of the Central Asian countries adjacent to Afghanistan — Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan — are Russian allies within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union.

An additional Russian policy goal is to keep Afghanistan as a neutral state that cannot be used as a launching pad by other powers, especially the United States, against Russia. Afghanistan’s geographic location — already considered by China, India, Iran, and Pakistan as a site for several transport and energy projects in the region — attracts Russia as it seeks to play a major role in Eurasia. Although Russia’s current economic participation in Afghanistan is weak, it does try to ensure its economic interests there.

China recently expressed concern over the US’s decision to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September, saying Washington should accommodate legitimate security concerns of the regional countries to prevent “terrorist forces” from taking advantage of the chaos in the war-torn country. The Chinese also slammed Washington for linking the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan to focus more on the threats posed by China, saying the fight against terrorism is in the common interest of all parties.

A foreign ministry spokesman said:

“The current security situation in Afghanistan is still complex and grim and the problem of terrorism is far from being solved. Foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan should withdraw in a responsible and orderly manner to ensure a smooth transition in Afghanistan and to avoid terrorist forces from taking advantage of chaos. The US is the biggest external factor affecting the issue of Afghanistan. It must take full responsibility for preserving the outcomes of Afghanistan’s peaceful construction and reconstruction and accommodate legitimate security concerns of the countries in the region,”

In short. the Chinese are concerned that Islamic terrorists will export their terrorism to China.  What actions China will take to prevent this is to be seen.  But the Chinese are not known for a reluctance to act.  Just how is the question.

Turkey has staked claims for the mantle of leadership of the Turkic world stretching from the Black Sea to the steppes of Central Asia and Xinjiang. Simply put, the Turkish role in Afghanistan and Central Asia will challenge its relationship with Russia, which is already under strain in Libya, Syria, Caucasus and potentially in the Black Sea and the Balkans.

Equally, the US hopes to keep Iran off balance regionally by encouraging Turkish revanchism. The Turkish-Iranian rivalry is already palpable in Iraq where Washington hopes to establish NATO as a provider of security. Serious rifts between Turkey and Iran appear also over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, Afghanistan’s future probably figured prominently in the discussions during Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif’s recent 6-day regional tour of Central Asian capitals.

Overall, these geopolitical realignments are taking place as the US intensifies its conflicted relations with China and Russia. But, for Turkey, the intervention in Syria has proved profitable. The Turkish-controlled territories of northern Syria consists of a more than 8,000-square-kilometre area already. The Turks probably have no intentions to vacate its occupation and may even seek to expand it area of control.  The US has supported Turkey in this area.  Of course, it is in Syria where the allegiances are directly in conflict.  The US and Turkey are supporting the Syrian separatists while Iran and Russia are supporting the Assad regime.  Having these players in opposition in Syria may carry over to their positions in Afghanistan.

But attempts at a diplomatic resolution continue.  The United Nations, Turkey and Qatar announced recently that a high-level conference between Afghanistan’s warring sides will take place in Istanbul later this month. The meeting is aimed at accelerating peace negotiations and achieving a political settlement to decades of conflict. Their joint statement said the conference will take place between April 24 and May 4. The three co-conveners said they are “committed to supporting a sovereign, independent and unified Afghanistan.”

The surprise announcement came a day after a Taliban spokesman said the insurgent group would not attend a peace conference that had been tentatively planned to take place in Turkey later next week, putting US efforts for a peace plan in jeopardy.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, responding to questions about the Taliban announcement, said: “My understanding is that there are still internal deliberations going on within the Taliban. An invitation was extended to them,” he said. “We very much hope to see them participate.”

In the agreement with the Taliban, the Trump administration committed to removing the last of its troops from Afghanistan by May 1, but the Afghan government blames the Taliban for rising violence and for not abiding by its provisions.

President Biden’s announcement Wednesday that the withdrawal will be delayed by more than four months has upset the schedule for this conference. The Taliban has balked at reports that American troops would remain after May 1 and has warned of “consequences” if Washington reneged on the deal and the withdrawal timeline. One of the consequences may be reprisals against the remaining US troops.  This would put the Biden administration in a quandary—To respond with punitive military action or pretend the attacks never occurred.  This response would be closely watched by all of the contestants in the Afghanistan competition as being telling on how the US will act in both the above-mentioned negotiations and ALSO in the bigger national conflicts that the administration has confronting it.

Most likely the Taliban will defer on participation in any peace conference until after the US withdrawal is completed.

In spite of the Biden administration spin all is not peace and quiet in Afghanistan.  There are numerous claimants for a say in the future of this landlocked mountainous country.  How will it turn out?

Do you remember?

A little less than a year ago the press and the Democrats were hammering the Trump administration about Russians paying bounties for the lives of US service personnel killed in Afghanistan. Do you remember that story. The administration denied the story . Because it refused to take action against the Russians based upon false news the media repeatedly hammered them for being soft on the Russians.

Now this week the truth comes out of the intelligence community that the story was false. Probably made up by the intelligence community members in the swamp and then sold to the drooling media.

Will the Biden administration apologize to President Trump? That is unlikely! We now know that CNN has acknowledged making up news to try and force Trump out of office. There will be more false news exposed as time goes on, Just remember what you though of such news. Were you bamboozled?

The US role in the deterrence of an attack on Taiwan and if necessary, its defense—Part III

The US over the years has continually pledged its support for Taiwan.  During some episodes of higher tension between the Chinese and the Taiwanese the US has made military demonstrations such as the recent transit of the Taiwan straits by the USS  John McCain.

Policymakers have long argued over whether to jettison the idea of “strategic ambiguity” that has underscored decades of America’s Asia policy, and outright declare that the United States would militarily defend Taiwan in the event of an attack. The Biden administration is making all of the right noises, but force deployments will prove US intent.

Since early September, as noted earlier, China has been carrying out the most provocative and sustained show of force in the Taiwan Strait in nearly a quarter century. Chinese military patrols, some involving more than 30 combat aircraft and a half-dozen naval ships, have roamed the strait roughly every other day. Many of them have breached the median line between Taiwan and China, a boundary that—until last year—both sides had respected for decades.

It is these rising tensions that should justify hardening and improving of the only two US bases within 500 miles of Taiwan—which is also the maximum unrefueled combat radius of US fighter aircraft—and both are easy targets for China’s land-based missiles. If China disables those bases, US air forces would have to operate from vulnerable aircraft carriers and from Guam, located 1,800 miles from Taiwan. The extra distance and midair refueling would cut the number of air sorties in half, giving China an opportunity to dominate the skies over Taiwan and inflict heavy losses on allied forces that try to fight their way into the combat theater.  This thus argues for use of the longer-range missiles that the Army is developing and the USMC is seeking.

Interestingly the Marines are analyzing creating small task forces of Infantry to secure small islands, rocket/missile systems to attack enemy shipping and air defense systems to protect the small task force.  The Army is looking to develop similar multi-domain capabilities.  I have even participated in simulations of such capabilities.  The Army is probably ahead of the Marines in system development and fielding but there are plenty of islands to assist in the isolation of the Taiwan area of operations.  Maybe some commonality of doctrine and systems would speed the capabilities being ready for use?

The reliance on American air is most likely a reaction that air is the only asset that the US can bring to the fight.  Before making the force decision there needs to be a decision on the role to be played and what the theater of operations includes.  If operations are to be contained to just the Taiwan straits and the land masses adjacent to them the critical roles for the US would probably be intelligence collection and dissemination, isolating the area of operations and assisting in the deep battle.  In short, the US would seek to isolate the area of operations to prevent Chinese reinforcement from ports and bases further north or west of the area.  This would require naval forces and air.

While containing the combat area the US might also contribute to the deep attack against Chinese bases.  Such missile and air attacks would necessitate extensive cyber operations to limit Chinese air defense in critical areas.

If the US sought to expand the area of operations it could launch attacks from Japan and South Korea and possibly even Vietnam.  Such missile, cyber, naval and air threats would force the Chinese to fight on several fronts and could limit the assets available to enter the Taiwan straits fights.  Even the threat of such attacks could heighten deterrence.

An air-land battle like strategy coupled with area of operations containment would allow the Taiwanese to defeat Chinese forces on the beaches while preventing/reducing Chinese reinforcement and follow-on attacks.  The burning question at this point would be whether the Chinese would escalate by attacking allied forces outside of the area of operations.  Would the Chinese accept a limited defeat?  Would the Chinese obliterate Taiwan? They could do this easily, but what would they then gain?  A wasteland?

When one gets to the end of this long tale of the issues involved in the conflict in the Straits of Taiwan he has a deeper understanding of the military and diplomatic issues involved and a deeper conviction that deterrence must work.  For deterrence to work the Chinese must be convinced of US resolve and US and Taiwanese capabilities to increase the costs to China.  Does the current administration have the required resolve?  That is probably what the Chinese are trying to determine.

Adding to deterrence and being able to win—Part II of Deterrence in the Taiwan strait

To ensure its existence, Taiwan’s military, with US help, must deter war with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and, if deterrence fails, win the war. Taiwan’s war planners envision that China would seek to achieve the annexation of Taiwan through conquest and occupation of the island. Hence for Taiwan winning the war means foiling the PLA’s mission of successfully invading and exerting physical control over Taiwan. Taiwan must think about fighting the PLA with a flexible mind.  A typical war of attrition with the PLA is a losing proposition. Facing a stronger adversary, embracing an effective asymmetric defense posture and incorporating tactical asymmetric capabilities could compensate for Taiwan’s disadvantages on paper and prevent the PLA from getting boots on the ground.

Taiwan’s military must retain the ability to defend itself and strike back after the PLA conducts its missile, air-strike and cyber campaigns. Principles of force preservation including mobility, camouflage, concealment, deception, electronic jamming, operational redundancy, rapid repair and blast mitigation must be adhered to. Robust force preservation must sustain Taiwan’s capabilities beyond the first phase of a full-scale PLA attack.

Making deterrence effective, as pointed out in part 1 of this series, is based upon raising the price of a Chinese attack.  This requires a strategy very much like Air-Land Battle, but with some twists.  In Air-Land Battle we sought to isolate the first echelon from follow on echelons.  The same must be true in Taiwan.  The Taiwan military capability to survive the first attacks and defeat an invasion on the beaches must also have a deep attack component—the ability to attack second echelons in the water and in staging areas on mainland China.  It is this demonstrated ability to conduct deep strikes that must be survivable in the Chinese initial onslaught and then able to attack critical deep targets while the defense of the beaches is going on.  These deep strikes might also include missile launch sites and airfields.  True isolation of the beach battle allows the Taiwanese forces to not have to fight severely outnumbered in the most important battle—the battle on their own territory.

Realizing that Taiwan has said that it will never strike first, however it is in the same situation that Israel has found itself in and must consider pre-emption under certain circumstances.  Disrupting a Chinese effort to stage for its initial assault could be better than having to defeat it on Taiwanese beaches.  The acquisition of such a capability might be difficult as the acquisition could in fact cause the Chinese to attack sooner rather than later.  It is this deep strike capability that is critical for a successful defense that could constitute a pre-emptive capability.  Isn’t deterrence a cruel and difficult game?

Deterrence in the Taiwan strait

Policymakers have long argued to jettison the idea of “strategic ambiguity” that has underscored decades of America’s Asia policy, and outright declare that the United States would militarily defend Taiwan in the event of an attack.   

The rhetoric over the possibility of armed conflict between China and Taiwan has escalated recently.  In a statement released on Friday, China declared that the Taiwanese military “won’t stand a chance” if China chose to annex the island by force. These threats come as the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), committed a wave of incursions into Taiwan’s air and naval territory. A military analyst who chose to remain anonymous told the Chinese state-run media outlet, Global Times, that “The island’s military won’t stand a chance.”

This series of three articles will examine the issues in this strategic ambiguity and how Taiwan could actually succeed against a Chinese attack.

The China – Taiwan struggle dates back to the late 1940s.  When Nixon and Kissinger “opened up” China in the early 1970s the US withdrew recognition of Taiwan as representing all of China.  China has sought to return Taiwan to its control while the island has sought to maintain its independence.  The US has sworn that it would defend Taiwan’s independence.  Militarily that might not be feasible. 

The Global Times further reported that: “The PLA exercises are not only warnings, but also show real capabilities and pragmatically practicing reunifying the island, if it comes to that.” The PLA has been particularly bold in recent weeks as they sent an aircraft carrier – the Liaoning – accompanied by a fleet of five other vessels towards the Pacific through the tactical waterway connecting Taiwan with Japan. Chinese aircraft also breached Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone which saw eight fighter jets and two other aircraft enter the sovereign nation’s territory.

The Biden administration’s relations with China have not progressed as it had anticipated.  Many members of the administration had economic and social ties to China and had been optimistic that the new administration could have better ties with China than the Trump administration.   China may have been hoping for a relationship more like that it enjoyed during Biden’s last stint in government, under President Barack Obama, whose rhetoric about being tough with China and a supposed “pivot to Asia” did not have much effect on the two countries’ economic ties, nor according to critics, do much to restrain Chinese territorial ambitions.  However, Secretary of State Blinken has said that relations with China are critical and must be based upon a less belligerent China.  China for its part probably sees the Biden administration as soft and more interested in socialism than containing Chinese expansionism.

Against this backdrop the US has been slowly increasing its support for Taiwan’s autonomy with a recent official visit to the country by an ambassador, which China met with threats and warnings.  This was reinforced last Wednesday when the USS John McCain transited international waters in the Taiwan Strait as part of a “freedom of navigation operation” to contest China’s claims in the South China Sea over which it has claimed 90 percent as part of its territory.  This exercise is just one part of a larger freedom of the seas effort throughout the region.  Currently an amphibious assault group and a carrier battle group are conducting exercises in the waters off of the Philippines in response to over 200 Chinese ships (claimed to be fishing vessels, but accompanied be hydrofoil coast guard patrol boats) are denying access to the area where these “fishing boats” are.  Is this an attempt to draw US resources away from Taiwan?

A spokesman for the Pentagon said: “We don’t conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to respond to some specific event or the specific action of another country. We conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to send a message about how strongly we believe in international law and in the freedom that all nations have to sail, operate and fly in accordance with that international law.  “Freedom of the seas doesn’t just exist for fish and icebergs and that’s the purpose of conducting these operations, to reinforce that notion.”

The US military is warning that China is probably accelerating its timetable for capturing control of Taiwan.  A military move against Taiwan, however, would be a test of US support for the island that Beijing views as a breakaway province. For the Biden administration, it could present the choice of abandoning a friendly, democratic entity or risking what could become an all-out war over a cause that is not on the radar of most Americans.

“We have indications that the risks are actually going up,” Admiral Davidson, the most senior Pacific Commander, told a Senate panel last month, referring to a Chinese military move on Taiwan. “The threat is manifest during this decade — in fact, in the next six years,” Davidson said.  Days later, Davidson’s expected successor, Admiral Aquilino, declined to back up the six-year timeframe but told senators at his confirmation hearing: “My opinion is, this problem is much closer to us than most think.”

Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is skeptical of the any military’s fixation on dominance. “Given the way the world works now, having one country be dominant is just hopelessly unrealistic,” he said.  He said the US military can maintain sufficient strength, in partnership with allies, to send the message: “China, don’t invade Taiwan because the price you’re going to pay for that isn’t worth it.”

This is the essence of the defense issue!  In the grand scheme of things Taiwan may not be militarily defensible, if China is willing to pay the price. Conquering Taiwan could in fact be a pyric victory.  If the PLA was to take significant losses and if the Chinese economy could be adversely affected by world economic boycotts, then the gaining of an obliterated Taiwan might not have been worth the price.  If the war extended to the Chinese mainland this could also raise the price to the Chinese extensively.  Do not be surprised if such threats are not forthcoming soon—probably not form the US but from Taiwan.  The above is the essence of the game of deterrence.

Biden administration officials have spoken less pointedly than the congressman, but the message is the same as they stress the intention of the administration to deepen ties with Taiwan.  Also playing upon the deterrence theme Taiwanese Foreign Minister Wu said the military threat against his country is increasing, and while he said it was not yet “particularly alarming,” the Chinese military in the last couple of years has been conducting what he called “real combat-type” exercises closer to the island.  “We are willing to defend ourselves, that’s without any question,” Wu told reporters. “We will fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day. “

The price issue cuts two ways.  Are the US and their Asian allies willing to pay the price in military losses not to mention the loss of face if/when Taiwan has fallen to Chinese occupation?

For the time being one would expect the saber rattling to continue.  The Biden administration will continue to try and look tough to the public while quietly trying to return to the Obama era in terms of US-Chinese relations.  This will be a difficult mission to accomplish.