Mike Pompeo and the Guns of October

Former secretary of state and CIA director Mike Pompeo has written an op-ed piece in the Washington Times advocating what amounts to belligerent status for NATO and the U.S. in Russia's war with Ukraine and economic warfare against China.  He contends that unless the Biden administration and NATO confront Russia more directly and use America's economic leverage over China to force Chinese leaders to "constrain" Vladimir Putin, Putin will likely use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, China will invade Taiwan, and Iran will strike Israel.

America's goal, Pompeo writes, must be a "rapid, comprehensive victory by Ukraine," and America must use economic leverage to "mandate that China agree to meaningful nuclear arms reduction talks" and refrain from invading Taiwan.  And Pompeo writes that China "must be put on notice [that] if ... Putin uses a nuclear weapon, America will devastate the Chinese economy through our cessation of trade and capital investments."  This, to say the least, is a tall order for any U.S. administration, let alone the Biden national security team.  And it ignores the growing strategic partnership between Russia and China, who appear to be committed to working together to reduce U.S. global influence.  It is doubtful that Xi can or will "constrain" Russia's leader from his efforts to achieve victory in Ukraine, whatever threats the United States makes.  The unipolar moment is over.

Pompeo advocates that the U.S. provide Ukraine with "conventional weapons of decisive lethality" and mentions tanks and fighter aircraft.  He also writes that we and our allies should declare that "actions to liberate parts of Ukraine, held by Russia under the charade of false referendums, do not constitute an attack on Russia," as if that declaration will somehow prevent Russia's leaders from viewing them that way.

Pompeo, in other words, wants to put the ball in Putin's and Xi's court.  Putin's use of a nuclear weapon against Ukraine, under Pompeo's scenario, will risk the outbreak of World War III, with the United States fighting a two-front war in Europe and the Pacific — just as we did in World War II.  Except this war will be a war among several nuclear powers and involve military operations across the vast Eurasian landmass, at sea, in the air, and in outer space.  China's leaders will not sit back as we "devastate" their economy.  Novelists have written about it.  Our military services have repeatedly "gamed" it with results unfavorable to the United States.  And all this over Ukraine?

Before what author Barbara Tuchman called the "Guns of August" led to World War I, which George Kennan accurately described as the "seminal catastrophe" of the 20th century, the wise old German chancellor Otto von Bismarck ruminated that the next great war would be caused by "some damned foolish thing in the Balkans."  He was right.  The world went to war after Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in the wake of a Serbian terrorist's assassination of the Austrian archduke and his wife.  The other great European powers, reluctant to show weakness and split up into opposing alliances, marched their way to a horrific cataclysm the consequences of which still bedevil the world.

If we follow Pompeo's advice, historians (if there are any still around) may one day remark that it was some damned foolish thing in Ukraine that started the greatest global war in history.  

Image: Gage Skidmore.

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