Like nearly everyone, I was thrilled to learn that the US has assassinated Al Qaeda big Ayman al-Zawahri. That man is responsible for the mass murder of thousands of people on 9/11. He got what he deserved in the end.
I bring that up not to be a buzzkill on this happy day, but to point out that we are really stupid in our strategic thinking. I had lunch today with an Austrian friend in Vienna, and we were talking about the coming cruel winter, with the lack of Russian gas. (Yesterday, Ursula von der Leyen warned that the Russians might cut off all gas this winter.) My friend, a businessman, said that he is as angry as everybody else about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, but that European leaders had apparently not thought through the ultimate cost of their stance towards Russia.
“If German industry doesn’t have gas, it shuts down,” he said. “If German industry shuts down, so does Europe’s economy.”
It really is that simple. My friend told me that the Spanish government has just announced that it would compel people and companies to keep their air conditioners set to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, to save power. “Can you imagine how hot it will be in those offices?” he said. “How can any work get done?”
You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but Viktor Orban has been warning about this kind of thing since the beginning, saying that the West needs to be trying to figure out how to make peace between Russia and Ukraine, if only for our own good. Nobody listens. Called him a Putin cuck. Well, we’ll see how well that turns out for Europe this winter.
Americans especially, but also many Europeans, have lost the ability to think realistically about these things. I get the temptation to think moralistically, especially when we in the West were the world’s hyperpower. As incredible as it is to think about now, twenty years ago, when America was making ready to attack Iraq, I honestly believed that we were so rich, and so powerful, that we could (as Karl Rove supposedly said on background) “create our own reality.” The situation on the ground in Iraq slapped people like me hard upside the head. Same thing is going to happen to the Europeans this winter, regarding the Russia situation.
Twenty years ago, I thought anybody who opposed the planned US war on Iraq was either a fool or a coward. I heard the same kind of talk about Orban and others who were skeptical of Europe and the US going balls-to-the-wall against the Russians. It could only be moral cowardice or moral compromise, or a failure to understand that If We Don’t Fight The Russians In Ukraine, We Are Going To Be Fighting Them On The Danube. We didn’t stop to think that even if the Russians are morally wrong to invade Ukraine — and I believe they are — that their aggression is not irrational. I mean, they have reasons — not persuasive reasons, but reasons. Overnight, the Ukrainian government went from being one of the world’s most corrupt to being heroic and pure, because we needed to see them that way to justify the stance our governments were taking towards Moscow.
I remember well how hard it was to oppose the war in Iraq. The moral clarity of that war was indisputable to people like me. Even if technically Iraq wasn’t involved in 9/11, it was beyond dispute that the US had to change something in the Mideast to stop Islamic terrorism. And we could do it! We could use our immense wealth and power to create a favorable reality there. If this sounds insane to you now, in 2022, I assure you that very many Americans believed it was so, because our government said it was so, and (more to the point) we wanted to believe it was so.
It was very hard to think about the situation from the point of view of Arab nations, and the Iraqi people, much less the French, who played the Hungary role as rhetorical spoiler back then. If we had, we would have understood that establishing liberal democracy in a society that had never known it, and that was riven by religious and tribal conflicts, was a fool’s errand. We would have understood that by toppling Saddam, we were basically doing Iran’s work for it. This and many more things were knowable in advance, or at least predictable — but we didn’t want to know. We thought moralistically. I remember how some of us neocon types criticized people like Pat Buchanan for possibly being racist in thinking that Arabs weren’t capable of democracy. That was not at all what Buchanan et al. were saying — that is, saying that Arabs were ethnically incapable of democracy; they were pointing to the cultural deficits of those particular societies — but anything we could use to club opponents of the war, including those “unpatriotic conservatives,” we did. We insisted on imposing our own conceptual framework on peoples who do not share them.
osedly revived a campaign for gay rights in Ukraine. One can certainly empathize with the plight of gay Ukrainian soldiers, but the idea that this war is going to make conservative Ukrainian society embrace gay rights is crazy. Buried deep in the piece are the results from a 2019 Pew survey, showing that 69 percent of Ukrainians believe homosexuality — not just gay marriage, but homosexuality itself — should not be accepted by society. Americans are once again imposing their own viewpoint on a part of the world that doesn’t share it. The former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe are really conservative on these issues. The story seems geared to pressure Zelensky to embrace gay rights, but that would make him really unpopular with his people, however much it would make him the toast of Manhattan and the New York Times editorial board.
Now we face a no-win situation with this Pelosi trip to Taiwan, over Chinese objections. I think it is ridiculous to think that the tyrants in Beijing reserve the right to tell American leaders where we can and cannot go, regarding other nations. On the other hand, as the foreign policy analyst John Schindler points out, this is a needless provocation. Excerpt:
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However, the possibility of war between nuclear powers over Taiwan is no longer a theoretical concern. Beijing’s willingness to resort to force to keep its “renegade province” out of the American orbit should not be underestimated. As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s late February invasion of his neighbor Ukraine demonstrates, major powers sometimes do violent things that seem irrational to the postmodern Western mind. Neither are Americans adept at understanding just how important Taiwan is for Beijing. While I detest the CCP and am a hard-line anti-Communist on principle, we should attempt to grasp why Xi and his party care so much about this. Let’s apply an analogy.
Suppose that in the spring of 1865, instead of surrendering at Appomattox, Gen. Robert E. Lee, with Jefferson Davis, led the defeated Confederate Army to exile in Cuba. From that island, 90 miles off Florida, protected by our then-rivals France and Britain, the Confederate government in exile claimed to be the real United States government. This went on for decades. From Cuba, the exiled CSA insisted to the world that it was the real America, and eventually, it’s 1938 and, for Washington, our terrible Civil War still has not ended. How can it have ended when the losers sit right off our shores, taunting us? Many Americans want to crush that arrogant rebel regime, no matter the consequences, to restore the country. To repair what is currently shattered.
Americans are uncomfortable reading that since the Chinese Communists are the bad guys while the democratic Taiwanese are the good guys. But that analogy is roughly how the Taiwan situation looks to many in mainland China, and we’re not talking them out of it.
This really comes down to the strategic principle termed the value of the object. Put simply, who cares more about the fate of Taiwan: China or the United States? It’s fine to extol Taiwan’s democratic virtues, particularly compared to the very undemocratic Chinese Communist Party. But are Americans willing to risk nuclear war to keep Taiwan out of Beijing’s control?
Schindler’s point is NOT that the Chinese are right — he says elsewhere in the piece that he’s strongly against the ChiComs. He’s making a Realpolitik point: that though China’s view of Taiwan seems as wrong-headed and malicious to us as Russia’s view of Ukraine, that does not mean that this view is not sincerely held by Beijing, and that Beijing is prepared to act on it.
As I write this, Nancy Pelosi’s plane is about to land in Taipei. I hope everything goes off without a hitch. But what if it doesn’t? Schindler’s question is an important one: Are Americans willing to risk nuclear war to keep Taiwan out of Beijing’s control? Tell me, readers, is US television even talking about this prospect?