A hot war with China is unlikely – but possible. Clear signals, credible deterrence, allied unity, military readiness, and affirming America’s commitment to global “peace through strength” is how wars are avoided. The risk is in an error, appeasement, or rash act. China could start a war, but as Biden’s political corruption grows, watch for his pivot, a foreign distraction, rash act. That would be unwise.
The rise of Communist China, facilitated by Western political naivete, economic dependence, and uncorrected tolerance for unethical, inhumane, illegal acts is done. How we got here is academic. Reestablishing primacy of Western values – freedom, equality, and respect for life – is now vital.
Gradually, a consensus in the United States is emerging that China represents a threat to our way of life, is behaving like an aggressor. This conviction is shared by both political parties, Biden the counterweight.
What does this mean? For starters, it means we need to state clearly on the world stage what we stand for and why, fortify allies, rebuild defenses, diversify our economic relationships, and disentangle ourselves from dependence on China – for everything from medicine and technology to rare earths.
Americans need to become economically independent of China, a process that takes time, is overdue. We need to reaffirm relationships with our allies – across defense, shared values, and trade. We need to prove again that we know who we are, can lead reliably, and do not get lost in the weeds, or falter.
More than this is needed. The emerging consensus on China should remind us how similar we are, and how different communism is. We respect individual liberties, constitutional checks and balances, self-determination, individual equality, property rights, prosperity, and the power of freedom. They do not.
Together, America’s leaders need to boldly take that “show on the road,” reminding allies, potential allies, even adversaries that the future is us – not Communism, freedom not oppression.
Battlelines with China – for the long contest – are drawn. This battle that will decide the future – and may, waged right, keep hot war at bay. It is one of ideas, backed by strong physical defenses, rock-solid alliances, and gradual disentangling of our economies, that is, creating less dependence.
What we do not need is a rash act by Biden, intended to deflect from his domestic political woes. What we do not need is more misjudgment, leading to an accidental, unnecessary, devastating hot war. Yet this is real possibility, often the course taken by leaders in political trouble, sudden foreign distraction.
As Afghanistan and a dozen other examples illustrate – and as Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates wrote – this president gets every foreign policy decision wrong. He seems genetically predisposed to make horrific errors, sometimes grand errors. That is also why he is entangled in political crimes.
Notably, the nation has been distracted by escalation of Ukraine’s war with Russia, driven by White House reversals, first inviting a “small incursion” then watching horror unfold, saying “no tanks” then giving lots of tanks, saying “no fighters” then lots of F-16s, only shortrange missiles, giving long range.
A hot war with China would be worse, stakes far higher, incalculable – potential economic and physical damage, death and loss profound on both sides – and lasting. The global economy would tank, de-escalation be hard. Like two Maine moose who lock horns and die locked, harder to stop than start.
The rub: America and the West will win – as a matter of objective truth and human wants – the battle of ideas, since freedom is favored over oppression every time. For that reason, starting a hot war now would be folly. The West would prevail, but at enormous cost and loss, both sides suffering for decades.
Calmer heads should bolster American defenses, widen alliances and trade, and offer global thought leadership, as Reagan delegitimized and displaced the Soviet Union, winning by right not might.
That is always the best course – prepare and believe, build insurmountable defenses, show resolve to win, but speak truth, and understand the global appeal of individual liberty, prosperity, and equality.
The worst outcome would be panic by Biden’s White House, political desperation that drives Biden to shift public attention with a rash act – beyond indicting a political opponent, which he has already done.
A throwdown with China – a reversal like his other unwise decisions – would be far more devastating than Afghanistan, Ukraine, or past follies, easily cascading into intentional or accidental war with China.
The chances of such a reversal – given Biden’s obvious relationship with China – are perhaps low; but cornered political leaders, like cornered animals, do rash things. As his political fortunes continue to dive, watch for the pivot to foreign distraction. Hot war with China would be a disaster. If unlikely, so was the notion that a sitting president would indict his predecessor – and possible successor.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.
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