In the face of the ongoing debacle in Kabul and in Afghan provinces, Americans’ first priority should be to pray for our soldiers and our allies, and check out the veterans operating #DigitalDunkirk. Our soldiers are proving, once again, that they are the best among us.
Then, it’s time to adopt a little bit of realism about the world.
Management of international terrorism will be harder now, but Afghanistan is not the lynchpin of American power and counterterrorism is not the only priority for the United States.
Even in the age of missile-based warfare, the freedom of navigation and the passage of goods, energy and people on the seas is essential to a peaceful and prosperous world. Command of the seas and the ability to ensure this freedom is what makes a superpower.
The United States is the only country that meets this definition; no one else can do what we can do.
Freedom of navigation in the Pacific is an American priority. Beijing would have us believe China can and will be that freedom’s guarantor, but it just spent a decade claiming territoriality along the extensive chains of Pacific islands off its mainland. It built and armed new landmasses. The countries along the chain strongly object but have been cowed by Beijing. Every single one of them—including Vietnam—is friendly to the United States. And don’t forget Taiwan.
Freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea is another American priority. Oil from the Gulf passes through the Indian Ocean to those Pacific rim countries worried about China—which is establishing a potential base at the port of Gwadar, Pakistan, along the route. And don’t forget the China-Iran relationship. Controlling the passage of oil in the Persian Gulf itself would provide China the ability to control oil at the origin for itself and its friends—and keep it away from its adversaries, our friends.
The prospect of Chinese and Iranian control of Middle Eastern waterways, Pacific coastal islands (natural or man-made, armed or unarmed) and Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative which spans western China through Central Asia to Iran and beyond, should make Americans decidedly unhappy.
The United States has to reassure its allies on all those fronts. It can be done.
First, return the U.S. Navy carrier task force to the Pacific and our fleet of strategic bombers to Guam. The Biden administration’s decision to take them out was foolish and shortsighted. The White House must fix that.
Second, shore up the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Return the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to the terror list and strengthen the embargo on Iranian weapons entering Yemen. The Bab El-Mandeb Straits at the eastern end of the Red Sea are only 18 miles wide—with Houthis on one side, and Americans at Djibouti on the other. In the Persian Gulf, our allies increasingly see Israel as an ally against global jihadism that threatens them and the countries of North Africa, as well as Jordan. The Biden team must affirm that cooperation.
Third, speaking of Israel, Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett is in Washington. The administration should reiterate that U.S.-Israel security cooperation is, in the American view, essential to a peaceful Mediterranean Sea, NATO and Middle East. Cooperative research and development, procurement and training are as important to us as they are to Israel. Regarding Israel’s defense against Hamas and Palestinian Authority incitement, we stand with our democratic ally on all fronts, all day, every day. That message should be loud and unequivocal.
Fourth, cancel the Iran talks in Vienna. They are a delaying tactic for the mullahs and Tehran’s criminal “president.” Iran has no intention of honoring a new deal any more than it did the prior deal. Being honest with Iranian negotiators about our understanding of the country’s nuclear program will make America’s word more credible in the region and elsewhere.
Fifth, close the Mexican border to illegal immigration and issue a statement acknowledging that not only do our southern neighbors use that route, but so do terrorists who hide among them. The priority here is weeding out jihadists of all sorts.
Sixth, reopen the Keystone XL Pipeline in a joint statement with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau that specifically identifies energy independence as a key to American power.
And, finally, whatever you do, make it real—which leads to an important “don’t.”
Don’t be satisfied with empty posturing when it comes to Russia. President Biden just banned the importation of Russian ammunition to the U.S., ostensibly because of President Vladimir Putin’s treatment of dissident Alexei Navalny. It is a small, petty, laughable thing to do on Navalny’s behalf after permitting Russia to finish the Nord Stream II pipeline, which will yield billions of dollars of hard currency earnings and the ability to hold Europe hostage to Russian energy sources in the winter. Biden’s move was designed to irritate American gun owners. Don’t think Putin doesn’t know it.
The hole the United States is in today does not have to be permanent.
But now for a little realism about the current administration. It isn’t likely to take any—much less all—of these steps to carry the right message to America’s allies and adversaries.