Friday, 24 May 2024

    Warning of War

    by Pete O’Brien

    One of the strange things about evil people is that they often tell you what they intend to do well before they do it; we just choose not to hear. The long line of dictators who have stated what they meant to do, and then did it, is sadly too long to recount. Hitler famously – infamously, I suppose – spelled out his vision in detail in Mein Kampf. What’s more strange is that most dictators spend little real time trying to sell the tale that they really are peace-loving. They may say the words, but they will also make sure it’s clear that they’re building up their armies and navies and air forces. 

    So, when a dictator says, for example, that he wants to take a piece of land, we probably ought to pay attention.

    We have two recent examples.

    Just a few miles south of us, President (and de facto Dictator for Life (Is there any other kind?)) Maduro of Venezuela has stated that he does not agree with the 1899 map that defined Guyana, and in particular the western half of Guyana (in fact almost 2/3rds of Guyana) and claims that the original agreement (1899) was nullified after a 1966 agreement with the United Kingdom.

    Of course, this wasn’t even an issue until large despots of oil and natural gas were discovered in 2015 (western Guyana currently produces 380,000 barrels of oil per day). In 2018, per Maduro, the people of Venezuela, caring deeply for their country, decided they wanted it back. That year a case was presented to the UN to have the border changed. But that process is too slow and so early in December a vote was held – in Venezuela – and the people of Venezuela voted to take the land back. The vote of course, like other Maduro votes, was not exactly scrupulously fair. 

    After a bit of an international hue and cry, Maduro met with President Ifran Ali of Guyana in St Vincent on the 13th, and they will meet again within the next 3 months to try to settle the dispute. So far they have promised not to use force. But oil industry analysts expect tensions to rise. 

    Maduro needs more oil as he and his cronies have badly mismanaged Venezuela’s oil reserves; in 2006 Venezuela was pumping 4 times as much oil per day as it’s currently pumping. In 2014 it was still pumping 3 times as much as per day. Since then production has steadily fallen. Said differently, Venezuela – Maduro – wants that oil. It’ll be no surprise if they try to seize it.

    At the same time, there was another interesting story in the news this week. It seems that Emperor Xi of China, at his meeting with President Biden at their summit on 15 November, told Biden that Beijing “will” unify with Taiwan, though it was made clear that the actual time line had not yet been decided.

    As an astute friend of mine pointed out, Xi is simply preserving his own flexibility and throwing a lite ambiguity into the mix, a little smoke and mirrors. As he then goes on to say: Xi and his minions will want to take a little time to fully digest the lessons learned from the Russian – Ukraine war.


    Let’s be crystal clear here: Xi intends to take Taiwan. While he is not as old as President Biden, he is 70 years old. And certainly, if he is going to take Taiwan, he is going to want some time to bask in the afterglow of being a great conqueror. 

    It is accurate to say we now have clear warning, at the strategic level, of war. China will attack Taiwan (and Venezuela will attack Guyana) if we do not act definitively to prevent it. 

    Which leaves us where?

    Inside the White House and inside Congress there needs to be a serious discussion as to what we intend to do, because it will, or should, determine what we do next.

    If the White House really, truly intends to defend Taiwan, the US needs to start preparing for war. There are the obvious points: stop retiring ships, vote some extra money for improved readiness, pick up training. Take a hard look at certain specialties and stop them from leaving the service. Start weeding out senior officers who are good at paperwork but not so good “at sea.”

    Congress needs to start fixing things and doing it quickly. Start building lots of weapons, fill the ammo dumps. I can hear the whiners saying “it’s too hard.” They need to play a little game, a game called “Let’s pretend.” Pretend your life, specifically, your life, is dependent on fixing the problem – today. Not tomorrow, today. What do we need to do – today – to move the ball down the field? How do we get folks into trade schools to teach them how to make missiles? Or artillery shells? How do we set up that program today? And DOD needs to do this irrespective of what we intend to do so as to preserve the option for the White House in 1 or 2 or 3 years.

    And that thinking needs to take place not just across all of DOD but across the entire US economy.

    Congress needs to sit down and get serious. What programs do we NEED to survive? What programs can afford to be frozen? Or eliminated as not necessary?

    And we need to make hard calls. Maybe there are some things we simply can’t do right now. Maybe it’s time to force a ceasefire in Ukraine, build a DMZ, we’ll deal with that later. Send some Marines to Venezuela – label it as part of the Monroe Doctrine – and put Maduro back in his box. Do the same in Yemen. And then shift focus to Taiwan and the South China Sea. Maybe it’s time to dust off some more nuclear weapons and deploy them to the western Pacific. If we act, perhaps we can prevent that war. If…

    Or, we can stumble along, we can appease Xi – and make no mistake – he’s the key figure in all the mess that the world is now facing, we can continue not being serious about our national security. And folks in Washington will point around the world and say: “see, we haven’t been attacked yet.” 

    And that will be true, until it isn’t.

    Napoleon noted that you should never interfere with your enemy while he’s making a mistake. Right now, I suspect Xi is looking at western indecision, and fractured national security, and thinking the exact same thought.