by Victor Davis Hanson
Wars often arise from uncertainty. When strong powers appear weak, truly weaker ones take risks they otherwise would not.
Sloppy braggadocio and serial promises of restraint alternatively trigger wars, too. Empty tough talk can needlessly egg on aggressors. But mouthing utopian bromides convinces bullies that their targets are too sophisticated to counter aggression.
Sometimes announcing “a new peace process” without any ability to bring either novel concessions or pressures only raises false hopes—and furor.
Every new American president is usually tested to determine whether the United States can still protect friends like Japan, Europe, South Korea, Israel, and Taiwan. And will the new commander-in-chief deter America’s enemies Iran and North Korea—and keep China and Russia from absorbing their neighbors?
Joe Biden, and those around him, seem determined to upset the peace they inherited.
Soon after Donald Trump left office, Vladimir Putin began massing troops on the Ukrainian border and threatening to attack.
Putin earlier had concluded Trump was dangerously unpredictable, and perhaps better not provoked. After all, the Trump Administration took out Russian mercenaries in Syria. It beefed up defense spending and upped sanctions.
The Trump Administration flooded the world with cheap oil to Russia’s chagrin. It pulled out from asymmetrical missile treaties with Russia. It sold sophisticated arms to the Ukrainians. The Russians concluded that Trump might do anything, and so waited for another president before again testing America.
In contrast, Biden too often talks provocatively—while carrying a twig. He has gratuitously called Putin “a killer.” And he warned that the Russian dictator “would pay a price” for supposedly interfering in the 2020 election.
Unfortunately, his bombast follows four years of a Russian-collusion hoax, fueled by a concocted dossier paid for by 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton. Biden and others swore Trump was—in the words of Barack Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—a “Russian asset.”
If Biden seeks to provoke a nation with 7,500 deliverable weapons, he is certainly not backing up his rhetoric with force.
He has cut military aid to Ukraine. And Biden may well decrease the Pentagon budget.
He seems to have forgotten that Trump was impeached for supposedly imperiling Ukraine, when in fact he sold to it the very weapons Biden and others in the Obama Administration had vetoed.
While Biden was talking loudly to Putin, his administration was serially humiliated by China. Beijing’s diplomats dressed down their American counterparts in a recent meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. They gleefully recycled domestic left-wing boilerplate that a racist America has no moral authority to criticize China.
If Trump was unpredictably blunt, Biden is too often predictably confused. And he appears frail, sending a message to autocracies that America’s commander-in-chief is not fully in control.
Biden has not, as he promised, demanded from China transparency about the origins of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan. By summer, that Chinese-birthed plague may have killed 600,000 Americans.
More disturbing, as Russia puts troops on the Ukrainian border, China simultaneously flies into Taiwanese air space, testing its defenses—and the degree to which the United States cares.
For a half-century, American foreign policy sought to ensure that Russia was no closer to China than either was to the United States.
Now the two dictatorships seem almost joined at the hip as each probes U.S. responses or lack thereof. Not surprisingly, North Korea in late March suddenly resumed its firing of missiles over the Sea of Japan.
In the Middle East, Biden inherited a relatively quiet landscape. Arab nations, in historic fashion, were making peace with Israel. Both sides were working to deter Iranian-funded terrorists, like Hezbollah and extremists in Syria, the West Bank, and Yemen.
Radical Palestinians were no longer beneficiaries of U.S. aid. Iran itself was stagnating by sanctions and recession. Its arch terrorist mastermind General Qasem Soleimani was killed by U.S. bombing.
The United States left the Iran deal that was a prescription for certain Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon. The theocracy in Tehran, the chief sponsor of terror in the world, was in its most fragile condition in its 40 years of existence.
Now U.S. diplomats bizarrely express an interest in restoring cordial relations with Iran, rebooting the Iran deal, and dropping sanctions against the regime. If all that happens, Iran will likely get a bomb soon.
More importantly, Tehran may conclude that the United States has distanced itself from Israel and moderate Arab regimes. One of two dangers will then arise. Either Iran will feel it can up its aggression, or its enemies will conclude they have no choice but to take out all Iranian nuclear facilities.
Biden would do well to remember ancient American diplomatic adages like speaking softly while carrying a big stick, keeping China and Russia apart, being no better friend—or worse enemy—and letting sleeping dogs lie.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.