Amb. James Gilmore
Biden’s Afghanistan debacle increases risk of ‘hot war’ with Russia, China
President Joe Biden has tried to put the American involvement in Afghanistan behind us. He is determined to withdraw us from “endless wars.” But the truth is that war against those who use violence and terror to achieve their ends will never be over.
We do the American people an injustice by suggesting that we can simply put some Americans and some friends on airplanes and just walk away. The conflict is worldwide and may only be beginning.
The truth is that a real “hot war” between major powers in the world is now much more likely because of the U.S. mismanaged retreat from Afghanistan. Steps must be taken right now to avert that war and maintain the ability of Americans to influence events for the safety of Americans, and our allies.
Before World Wars I and II, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were clear in their national goals. Despite determined American opposition to Japan and somewhat more tentative opposition to Adolf Hitler, Germany, and Japan never deviated in their determination to achieve their objectives. Germany was determined to conquer Europe, and Japan was committed to dominating Asia. When force was required to achieve their ends, neither country hesitated – as we saw in Europe and at Pearl Harbor.
Today Russia knows that if a democratic Ukraine maintains its sovereignty, the Russian people will sooner or later seek the better alternative nearby for themselves. Likewise, communists in China run a government of labor camps, genocide and “civic report cards” that deny human rights of education, employment, travel, and even life itself. This communist regime cannot continue if Taiwan exists as an open rebuke to Chinese authoritarianism. This is the same reason Hong Kong’s freedoms are being suppressed to do away with another democratic example inside China’s sphere of influence.
What prevents conventional war by Russia against Ukraine or by China against Taiwan? Only their unwillingness to risk war with the United States and its allies and friends. In their commitment to their long-term authoritarian world view, Russia and China must measure whether they can take the risk of invasion of Ukraine or Taiwan. Today, the U.S. willingness to be humiliated before the world makes that risk may seem to be more acceptable.
The testing of a Western response goes on. Russian aggression in the eastern part of Ukraine has been underway for years. Last May, Russia massed over 100,000 troops on their border with Ukraine. Russia threatens Ukraine’s navy and shipping lanes every day.
For years the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has deployed a special monitoring mission to maintain some stability on that battlefield between Ukraine and Russia. The OSCE mission has long watched the border between Russia and eastern Ukraine, monitoring Russian movement in and out of Ukraine. Russia very recently refused to allow that OSCE special mission to continue.
Our government must decide now what America will do if either Ukraine or Taiwan are attacked.
Chinese efforts to conquer the East and South China Seas are well recognized. Military air incursions against Taiwan are increasing. China recently demanded that vessels entering the South China Sea seeks permission from Chinese maritime authorities. In the face of Chinese pressure, the U.S. and its allies sent warships to patrol those seas as allowed by international law. China has no doubt watched the American flight from Afghanistan to weigh the risk of a Taiwan invasion.
What can America do now?
First, the American people simply should not accept President Biden can conduct that shameful retreat in Afghanistan, walk away from a questioning press, and then imply that the issue is closed. It is not closed. This unsettled world of authoritarians is more dangerous now than before.
Second, we cannot just end “endless wars” by fiat and by just going home. Isolationism is no longer possible in a world of modern technology, transportation, communications and the internet. The U.S. is simply the most connected, powerful country in the world – economically, diplomatically and militarily. That is exactly why we are a target of foreign malicious acts.
Third, American choices need not be “all or nothing.” It was never true that the American presence in Afghanistan was a choice of either running away and abandoning a country whose citizens placed their trust in us or dramatically increasing troop presence. Mere American presence causes adversaries to step back. American leadership should demand that their diplomats and military leaders give our country more nuanced options.
Fourth, we should take more affirmative action to support Ukraine and Taiwan. These countries are the hinges of the future. When I visited Ukraine in May, it was clear that it is guarding against a potential Russian invasion this year. This month’s White House visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was helpful, including modest military and “humanitarian” aid.
However, this modest aid won’t go very far if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to invade. Likewise, Chinese increased aggression in Asia should be met with more affirmative defensive measures for Taiwan. Both China and Russia must see a higher risk to aggression, as they calculate how to achieve their ends.
Fifth, our government must decide now what America will do if either Ukraine or Taiwan are attacked. The chaotic Afghan retreat reflects a last-minute planning process that will lead to catastrophic consequences if Russia or China makes mistakes and initiates a war.
An honest discussion with the American people needs to be started to secure public support and deter adversaries – especially in the wake of President Biden’s catastrophic Afghanistan retreat. The goal here is not to commit to war, but to prevent war by making the choice for war too costly for our adversaries.
Finally, the American people need to decide what kind of people we really are. Those who seek a decent future based on human rights and the values of freedom and democracy still depend upon the United States. In Kabul, we abandoned people who put their trust in us.
The American role, thrust upon us by events and history, is not to dominate nor to dictate nor to remake other societies. The American mission is to stand against those who would consign the American people and all of humanity to a new Dark Age.