The 2020s are calling, and they say pay attention to China
The armchair generals, the MSM pundits, and the social media experts are debating passionately about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We should fight for Ukraine! We should not fight for Ukraine! Putin will go after all of Europe! Putin wants the entire world!
And so on and so on.
The fact is that most of these people don't know what we'd even be fighting for. Think about it. We didn't know what we were actually fighting for in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and you can see how all that turned out. We thought we did (you know — truth, justice, and the American way). We had to keep communism from spreading. None of our allies in those countries was really interested in that. And if those values are what we consider worth fighting for, then there are lots of other countries we should be invading but haven't.
Why is that? Because we cannot afford to fight every conflict on Earth. We must have more reasons to risk our time, treasure, and troops.
Here's what the Russians are fighting for: in this case, it is more a function of resources than ideology. The Russians want unrestricted access to warmer southern ports, easy access to Western European markets, and a buffer between Russia and NATO, which has foolishly suggested that Ukraine might become a member. Most importantly, Ukraine is the "breadbasket" of the former Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation.
In other words, Russia has strong strategic reasons to want to control Ukraine. This does not justify Putin's decision in any way. I consider what he's done evil. He could have come to a diplomatic solution if he wanted one. We could have all worked to simply keep Ukraine neutral. Western Europe understood this much better than President Biden, apparently, but we didn't hear enough from them.
We have no reasons to defend Ukraine. Clearly, the shaky government is corrupt. The country is not a formal ally with the U.S. We have no need of the terrain itself for strategic defenses. Keeping Ukraine neutral would have been enough of a buffer for both NATO and Russia. The pipelines from Russia to Western Europe in Ukraine matter less now that there is NORDSTREAM 2. Bringing Ukraine into NATO would have only heightened Russia's fear of the West, and, as part of NATO, the country would have been a military liability, rather than much of an asset.
Though we have no strategic reason to fight over Ukraine, this does not mean Putin should be ignored. Sanctions and other diplomatic means can be employed even though they are late to the table.
I can hear it now. "You are appeasing Putin. What's happening is just like Hitler!" So far, yes, it is.
The same people will suggest that Putin is ready to invade other countries. I don't think he will come after our allies anytime soon. Russia can't financially afford it and needs the West for economic reasons.
Image: Chinese Troops in Mongolia. YouTube screengrab.
But let's say he does invade other countries. Then our strategic situation significantly changes. Our military, combined with those of Western Europe, is quite adequate to stop him. If we see Russians posturing for a move on one of our allies, we can make the appropriate counter-moves. We could even threaten to take back Ukraine and deprive Putin of what he wants most by either liberating the country or destroying it.
My point here is that we are not strategically weak despite the signals from President Biden and others. Putin and his generals know this, too. Furthermore, the Chinese know it, and that is very important.
We have strategic allies who are being threatened. Taiwan is the most obvious. Half of the world's computer chips are manufactured by Taiwan. It is an $85-billion industry. Taiwan is also a formal ally with whom we have an active defense agreement (unlike Ukraine). Squandering any resources on Ukraine reduces what we have to stand against the Chinese. If the Chinese appear to be moving against Taiwan, the U.S. can put significant pressure on them.
Interestingly, it was accidentally leaked by Chinese media how the CCP plans to respond to the Russia-Ukraine conflict by backing "Russia up with emotional and moral support while refraining from treading on the toes of the United States and European Union," according to Ming Jinwei, a senior editor at the Xinhua News Agency. He added, "In the future, China will also need Russia's understanding and support when wrestling with America to solve the Taiwan issue once and for all."
While the U.S. is playing chess with Putin, the Chinese are playing the ancient and more strategic game of "go" — a game most Americans have never heard of.
The Biden administration and the West must look at these conflicts in terms of concrete strategic goals, not as contests of toughness or ego. Forget the Cold War mentality. Fighting the last war is sure to lead to defeat. We must make better strategic decisions in the 21st century.
Sun Tzu, the Chinese general from antiquity, said it well: "To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."
Let's not provide China the opportunity to defeat us in Taiwan or anywhere else because we are squandering resources in conflicts of relatively little strategic value. Mitt Romney was wrong then, and he's wrong now. For the time being, given limited resources, Russia is a distraction and bears watching, but China is the real threat.