Don’t Ever Underestimate Your Opponents — Especially When They’re Chinese

Americans couldn’t care less about foreign policy until the national ass gets caught in a crack, usually in places we can’t locate on a map. So it is today while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – third in line for the American presidency – cavorts around Taiwan. All while China threatens as never before to counter such an unpardonable insult to their sovereignty, pointedly telling President Biden not to play with fire. The bellicose Chinese rhetoric was met by a series of vacuous and self-serving excuses issued by the Biden White House: that Ms. Pelosi is a “legislative person” on an unofficial trip; that House delegations routinely visit the island nation; or even that she is just a shrewd business-woman checking her latest investments in Taiwanese electronic chip factories.

No matter: Ms Pelosi is swimming with sharks; indeed, she might count herself lucky if her junket ends with spectacular Chinese demos of their latest air and naval firepower, possibly even rehearsing an amphibious invasion stopping just short of Taiwan’s beaches. While the Biden White House was pre-occupied with self-congratulations over the recent killing of Al Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, cluelessness is their only consistency. They play checkers, savoring the occasional one-off triumph of eliminating a 70-year-old terrorist. Undaunted, our adversaries play a shrewdly orchestrated chess-match aimed at dominating nations and whole regions of the globe.

While ambitious Chinese investments in their conventional and nuclear forces are now attracting the breathless attention of national security analysts, I returned from a trip to Taiwan in 1999 to be startled by a shocking new book, Unrestricted Warfare, written by two Chinese Colonels. Arguing that the American approach to warfare largely ignored its economic and cultural dimensions, the colonels suggested the following vulnerabilities: lawfare, economic warfare (including industrial espionage) network warfare and (2 years before 9/11) terrorism. In its largest sense, that book inaugurated a new pattern of information-centered warfare worthy of Sun Tsu. It has since become wearily familiar to American corporations, university laboratories and research centers as a weapon of industrial conquest. While the colonels assumed 20 years ago that American technology would remain dominant, few observers today would take that bet.

Resolutely focused on the here and now, Americans often identify lessons rather than truly learn them. This is nowhere more sobering than with the Korean War, now known as the Forgotten War and seldom emphasized by the history professoriat. Yet its sobering lessons might today be usefully studied by the Biden White House as it ponders whether the Chinese are really serious about Taiwan.

In July and August, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur had just reversed a desperate situation when American forces came close to losing their foothold on the Korean peninsula. Yet MacArthur delivered a gambler’s master-stroke: charging ashore through the fearsome tides of Inchon and surprising a badly over-extended North Korean Army. With 3 American armies advancing well beyond the 38th Parallel, Macarthur had visions of winning the war by Christmas and re-unifying the entire peninsula. Not only was the ‘American Caesar’ the ranking “proconsul” in the Far East, his recent Inchon victory made him skeptical of Chinese intervention, despite the fact that strong American combat forces were rapidly approaching the Chinese border at the Yalu River. Sadly, the General’s towering stature meant that few intelligence officers felt empowered to speak truth to that kind of power.

Although there were persistent reports of Chinese forces moving closer to the border, many military observers totally missed the implications of confronting “confident veterans of the successful civil war against the Nationalist Chinese forces. (These) forces were …highly motivated, battle hardened, and led by officers who were veterans, in some cases, of twenty years of nearly constant war.” Eventually, “They came out of the hills near Unsan, North Korea, blowing bugles in the dying light of day on 1 November 1950, throwing grenades and firing their “burp” guns at the surprised American soldiers….” The Chinese offensive, thirty divisions strong, overran some American units while others, like the 8th Cavalry Regiment, ultimately lost over 800 men.

Douglas MacArthur and his subordinate commanders suffered from hubris, also known to the ancient Greeks. But he was more seriously deceived by what modern strategists call, “the culminating point of victory,” often the prelude to reversal. Every decent football team knows how it feels it to march all the way down the field and score – only to have the other team run the ensuing kickoff straight back the other way. So never, ever under-estimate your opponents, particularly when they are Chinese.

Other People’s Kids: An American Tragedy

This Memorial Day may be a good time for Americans to ask ourselves: Do we still deserve our freedom? I’m not talking about our slumping economy nor even descrying our media’s unblinking distortion of issues from our porous southern border to the perfidy of Hillary Clinton. But today we are seeing the tumultuous confluence of two basic decisions reached nearly 50 years ago: the “right” of abortion decided by Roe v Wade in 1973; and the adoption of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1974. While each choice was made separately, their protagonists could hardly have imagined how those separate choices would evolve to create twin challenges to our way of life.

Barely a year apart, two fundamental norms of American life had changed. The right of an unborn infant to live was now outweighed by the right of the mother to choose life or death for her baby. The historical obligation of the American citizen for wartime service had also changed, now becoming a career choice like pursuing orthodontics or agri-business. The rationales were correspondingly different. Abortion, whether or not guaranteed by the Constitution, needed to be safe and legal; the Vietnam-era draft simply needed to end. Fifty years later, we have an expensive, professional military in which less than half of one (>0.5) percent of Americans defend the other 99%. The death toll since Roe v Wade: at least 60 million infants although no one knows for sure.

As one of the last draftees, my reprieve came too late. But ten years into the AVF experiment, I served on the West Point faculty, once moderating a campus-wide debate on the role of women, The contending advocates: conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly versus Sarah Weddington, victorious counsel in Roe V. Wade. Even in West Point’s disciplined environment, the debate was a raucous affair; but at least our cadets witnessed the emotions and intricacies of the constitutional process they would soon defend.

But for me that argument was settled forever the next year, when our newly adopted 4-day-old daughter wrapped her entire hand around my little finger. I was thankful beyond words that her birth mother, finding herself “in trouble,” decided to protect this new life, choosing to set aside every lesser consideration.  Thirty years later, a father’s emotions still run strong looking into her eyes and each of my three grand-sons!

Meanwhile, the Army kept getting smaller, post-Cold War reductions leaving the active force with a half-million soldiers. But then came the shock of 9/11. The voluminous memoirs of President George W. Bush, his vice-president, and his secretaries of State and Defense reveal a stunning omission: None of them apparently asked whether the AVF could sustain a long conflict. Rather than mobilizing the nation for war, the National Guard and Reserves were dragooned for extended overseas tours. Ordinary Americans were encouraged to return to the shopping malls or college campuses. “So your kid goes to Kandahar while mine goes to Yale. So what’s your point?”

With the War on Terror dragging  on for almost 20 years, manpower became even more scarce and expensive. Meeting combat requirements meant sending the troops back for multiple combat tours to various hell-holes. Not only were our soldiers running exponential risks of PTSD, but they were also becoming increasingly isolated from American society as a segregated warrior caste. And what happened when these Other People’s Kids returned home as veterans? Although the Veterans Administration is unsure of the exact numbers, they estimate that 17-20 veterans commit suicide each day.·

As you may have noticed, the United States is now involved in two separate Cold Wars but is seriously outmanned in each. (Air Force pilots describe this condition as “discovering you’re out of airspeed, altitude and ideas.”) Making matters even worse are our internal contradictions, voices from the left made even more strident by the prospect that Roe v Wade may be reversed. Listening to them, one ponders our national responsibility for the Holocaust of the Unborn, those Other People’s Kids now being aborted.

As I write these words, my friends and neighbors in Uvalde Texas are grief-stricken by the senseless slaughter of 19 elementary school students and 2 teachers by a gun-toting monster quickly dispatched by local law enforcement. Might this latest outrage finally move our secular, prodigal nation to lower our voices, bow our heads and pray for God’s forgiveness?

The Befuddlement of Alejandro Mayorkas

If you missed last week’s raucous congressional testimony by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, then you passed up television at its finest, the most compelling telecast since Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. Republican Congressmen shouted angrily at the witness and at each other as Democratic chairmen furiously hammered for order. While mostly ignoring it, the complicit mainstream press later explained away the frequent shouts of “Traitor!” and Resign!” by insisting that the Republican minority was grandstanding to heighten their slander of the hapless DHS secretary.

To be perfectly fair, Mr. Mayorkas conclusively demonstrated that he may be the only person in the nation who knows less about our borders than Kamala Harris, our reigning Vice President and National Embarrassment. Watching him, it was hard to understand how someone could be so consistently wrong, beginning with his assertion that DHS had “competently managed” the migratory hordes now rushing the border. Nor has he ever recanted his spurious September charges that mounted Border Patrolmen were using their reins to whip helpless migrants rather than to control their horses. Isn’t it the first responsibility of any leader, but especially a Cabinet Secretary, to back up his people while performing difficult and hazardous duties?

Since old books can often produce new ideas, my well-thumbed dictionary always comes through. There, just after the listings for “bed-pan” and “Beelzebub” was the perfect description of Alejandro Mayorkas: “Befuddled: to fuddle or confuse the mind of a person or to stupefy with liquor. Befuddlement (n.)” If that seems a little harsh, then remember that Mr. Mayorkas has apparently never grasped that the most essential function of borders is to keep foreigners out while protecting citizen’s lives and property; but instead of opposing immigration flows, he conceives the DHS function as merely managing them. Precisely that same naivete governs his responses to terrorism since he had no idea what happened to those 42 aliens on the terrorist watch list who were unlucky enough to have been apprehended since Biden took office. Well, where are they now, Mr. Secretary, in jail or released with cell phones, ankle bracelets and our best wishes? Oh wait, you’re befuddled, so please excuse me for asking.

Future historians may well debate this question underlying American destiny: Did we lose our national IQ after we elected Joe Biden? Or did we elect Joe because we had already Gone Stupid, the downstream consequence of having spurned our national values while reducing our educational system to Third World levels? Either way: soon we may hear Jen Psaki’s Farewell and Final Sophistry before joining MSNBC. “Our Republican friends seem to have missed an impressive benefit of these so-called border surges. Many of these new migrants are better educated and harder-working than their native American counter-parts!” Sad to say, Jen the Glib might even be right.

While the Biden administration and Democrats in general often ignore its provisions, the U. S. Constitution is very specific about border security. Article 4, Section 4 stipulates that, “The United State shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican (i.e., representative) Form of Government, and shall protect each of them from invasion…” If Trump-enacted COVID restrictions are lifted by May 23rd, current estimates are that the flood of illegals could reach over 18, 000 people per day, an invasion that even befuddled Secretary Mayorkas admits would strain limited DHS resources.

Texans prefer plain speaking to Washington double-speak so it was not surprising that Allen Castleberry, Sheriff of Kimble County Texas (not far from the overrun border) recently took the extraordinary step of using his Facebook account to post a stark warning:

The Kimble County Sheriff’s Office…(has) received information through several intelligence sources that a profound increase in illegal immigration entries and human smuggling activities are expected …in the coming months…There are reports that hundreds of thousands of people are staging throughout Central and South America, from Mexico to Brazil…(We) expect a very large increase in illegal immigration and human smuggling attempts that will inevitably impact Kimble County. Additionally, the international criminal gang…MS-13, has been taking full advantage of the wave of illegal immigration….

Since sheriffs are the only elected leaders in law enforcement, Sheriff Castleberry told me he wanted to make sure his Kimble County citizens knew what might lie ahead. I do too: Remember that the invasion striking us in Texas today will hit your neighborhoods tomorrow or next week. So protect yourself, your home, your families and your communities by any legal means available.

War in Ukraine: Week Three

So far, the only one being deterred seems to be Joe Biden, who clumsily refused to allow Polish Mig-29’s to be transferred to Ukraine despite the fervent pleas of embattled president Volodymyr Zelensky. Meanwhile, Old Uncle Joe was busy linking Vladimir Putin not only to the war in Ukraine but also to sky-rocketing American gas prices and rising inflation, twin outrages for which the Russian premiere bears only slight, if any, responsibility. Through such constant buffoonery, President Biden seems intent on channeling that canonical Mayor of Amity, hilariously reassuring townsfolk that a lucrative tourist season lay just ahead, despite Jaws occasionally snacking on their relatives.

Because we are a nation divorced from studying such politically incorrect subjects as military history, we can no longer distinguish the consequential from the trivial, the capillaries from the arteries. From Afghanistan to Ukraine, our intelligence community has been hit hardest, seemingly unable to predict whether Tuesday will be followed by Wednesday. Not only were our intel weenies utterly mistaken in predicting how fast the Taliban would triumph but they also admitted last week to the House Intelligence Committee that they had seriously under-estimated the fighting spirit of Ukraine’s citizens. Naturally, they over-corrected, reciting a laundry list of Russian tactical shortcomings. Caught up in the latest zeitgeist, Francis Fukuyama – famous for predicting the end of history several decades too early – argued last week “Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine…The army in the field will reach a point whether they can no longer be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize.”

While we can all hope that Professor Fukuyama will be proven right, America’s enemies seem to be a long way from desperation. While we plead for them to produce additional oil and prepare to sign yet another nuclear non-proliferation scam, the Iranians were not deterred at all – raining their rockets down on an American consulate in Irbil, Iraq. How much does Putin fear NATO – with or without a rearmed Germany – when he launches air-strikes that came within a dozen miles of Polish territory over the weekend? And for good measure also threatened to target logistical routes acting as lifelines to the Ukrainian resistance?

Please forgive me for casting doubt on such widely-cherished Beltway assumptions: But Vladimir Putin and his fellow conspirators in the new Axis nations are not desperate! Instead, they have concluded – correctly in my view – that America suffers from catastrophically weak leadership, that it has abandoned its core spiritual values, as well as the world-beating confidence that our country once took for granted. While conceding that American martial prowess can be painfully recovered (or at least not entirely ruled out) neo-Axis leaders believe that the timing will never be better for a basic re-ordering of the global order. That new order will naturally reflect non-Western interests and dismiss any weaker set of values.

Ukraine is already one major stake in this game, Taiwan is surely next while NATO’s newly-minted Baltic states might not be far off. When measured against the potential stakes, who cares if Russian logistical problems persist, if they lose a few tanks or if they sacrifice a few more generals trying to recapture the morale of their troops? As my friend LTG Jim Dubik wrote recently, “Like other raw realists, Putin has no intention of stopping with Ukraine…Raw realists (like him) take what they can, when they can, until someone stops them.”

I am also a realist of sorts, one who cherishes memories of the West Point faculty but now wonders how far the fault lines extend when five cadets are hospitalized after taking fentanyl-laced cocaine while on spring break. To say nothing of that loser who belatedly forfeited his commission only after posting a selfie that argued, “Communism will win.” It is also frustrating to see other losers with stars on the shoulders of their World War II knock-off uniforms, who have either forgotten or never learned the harsh lessons of real war.

They now confront an opponent who will shrug off small shortcomings to focus on the larger objective- using traditional Russian reliance on massed troops and massed firepower to compel the enemy’s total compliance or complete obliteration. He will not be stopped by the mindless half-measures or the bloodless counter-moves now passing for “deterrence.”

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on on 3/15/2022.

War In Ukraine: Week Two

As he often does, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates succinctly summarized the Ukrainian crisis, telling CNN’s Fareed Zakaria “Our long holiday from history is over.” He should know, having long shaped the structure that suddenly collapsed when Putin savagely invaded an inoffensive, neighboring republic. In a flash, seven decades, innumerable precedents, conventions, untold trillions in defense expenditures, and a pervasive sense of peace vanished in the roar of missiles reaching their targets.

The burning question: How long could the courageous but over-matched Ukrainians hold out before Admiral Nelson’s famous dictum caught up? “Numbers annihilate.”

But from the conflict’s first hours, Ukrainian fighters seemed determined to walk a hero’s path running from Bastogne and the Alamo back to Thermopylae. Thirteen Ukrainian border guards achieved immortality when their wonderfully obscene response to a Russian warship quickly galvanized global websites. There were startling reports of Russian transports being shot down, of armored columns ambushed and destroyed. Yet even as the bristling combined arms force bore down on him, Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelenskiy provided a classic demonstration of courage under fire, coolly dismissing an American attempt to evacuate him. “I need ammunition, not a ride!”

Defying early assumptions of Russian cyber-war, the global info-sphere instead carried resounding messages praising Zelensky and his embattled cohorts, while universally condemning Soviet-style aggression. That’s the thing about genuine heroism: Its blinding light immediately reveals and shames anything less. That is why, as the war grinds into its second week, Vladimir Putin is in real trouble. Not only has the outside world turned against him – the ruble plunging to all-time lows – but internal dissent is growing, thousands of peace demonstrators arrested on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. A star Russian athlete even used his television time to write “No war, please” on the camera lens. Were these people no longer afraid of the gulag and the dreaded secret police?

Far more serious was Putin’s chilling announcement that Russian nuclear forces had been placed on high alert. Was this anything more than an obvious intent to intimidate, invoking the nuclear genie to distract from Russia’s lack of progress on the ground? If so, it didn’t deter Germany – Europe’s center of gravity – from announcing that it would now support the Ukrainian resistance with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons. Berlin’s stunning reversal – from what had been a deeply ambiguous neutrality – may have been a mortal blow to Putin’s reputation for winning by intimidation. With growing diplomatic and economic reversals now added to military ineffectiveness, there were immediate questions about the strongman’s own survival. Senior American officials like Condoleezza Rice were even wondering about Putin’s mental stability.

So is he crazy or just incapable of making sound decisions? Either way, one looked for answers from Russian history, where popular “elections” mostly ratify previous decisions of the ruling elites. So it was that Nikita Khrushchev, in October, 1962, boldly gambled and placed Soviet missiles in Cuba: but he was forced to withdraw them when confronted by President Kennedy, backed by American military might. Not many months later, Khrushchev was gone, quietly replaced because of his “adventurism” in Cuba. So why should Putin’s fate be any different?

That answer may well depend on the battles now immediately before us. Russia can reinforce its advantages in armor, artillery, hyper-baric rockets and long-range fires to trash major population centers like Kharkov and Kiev – all of it viewed in exquisite detail by an aroused global audience. NATO countries on Ukraine’s borders can reinforce the resistance by covert infiltration routes – also subject to Russian counter-attacks and increasing risks of escalation. The courageous persistence of Ukrainian fighters has already been established: but how long before Nelson’s Law takes effect? Can they win a longer insurgency?

It is a dangerous time, perhaps our most perilous since the Missiles of October, but there is no conceivable way of turning back. Watching these events unfold over this momentous weekend, I kept comparing Putin to the mad Inspector Javert from “Les Miz.” A single tune kept replaying in my mind and perhaps you heard it too:

Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!