As Biden bluffs, American soldiers will pay a high price
Published: May 24, 2022 04:27 PM Updated: May 24, 2022 04:24 PM
US President Joe Biden speaks at the dedication of the Dodd Centre for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut on October 15, 2021. Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden speaks at the dedication of the Dodd Centre for Human Rights at the University of Connecticut on October 15, 2021. Photo: AFP

US President Biden has pledged to militarily defend Taiwan island if the Peoples Republic of China elects to reunify the country by force. Over 40 years of strategic ambiguity have come to an end, and confident politicians will now dare China to cross America's Taiwan red line.

A cascade of events is sure to follow. With a US green light, the Democratic Progressive Party will consider a declaration of independence from China and then petition for a seat in the United Nations as a sovereign state. The US and likely other regional allies will probably enter a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, with some stationing forces aboard the island. Patriotic US messaging, and denigrating othering of Chinese by the media, will shape public opinion providing the US Congress broad license to boost China-focused defense spending.

It appears to be a sudden turn of events. Some will attribute Biden's words to an unscripted gaffe. Others will say he sincerely believed he was practicing deterrence. But the national security team and its invisible handlers will certainly know the real benefits of what they have set in motion.

President Biden is polling badly. His image has been tarnished by media allegations of conflicts of interest, senility, and being held captive to utopian progressive agendas. He is also taking hits for inflation, energy policy, and leadership failures associated with our humiliating route from Afghanistan. His confidence in the power of sanctions against Russia have only reinforced perceptions of impotence.

His advisors know that military actions have historically eclipsed such shortcomings, and many indeed righteous causes. President Bush Sr.'s popularity soared after the Desert Storm victory. President Bush Jr.'s polls jumped after 9/11, the Afghanistan invasion, and his initial decision to invade Iraq. Similarly, Obama's popularity benefited from the Bin Laden raid. Biden needs that same confidence boost to influence the midterm elections, and secure democratic competitiveness for the 2024 Presidential election, whether he or another political ally is the candidate.

Biden's political advisors also know that military actions must be well-timed to reap benefits. Clinton's 1999 Tomahawk strikes and Somalia indecisiveness, as well as Obama's ill-timed response to the Islamic State were not ideal. Neither the objectives nor the tragic sacrifices were of convincing value. Aware of such cautionary tales, deeper US involvement in Ukraine was sure to be risky and discouraged.

However, a well-timed major military conflict to secure a coveted prize like Taiwan would be perceived as a win-win for any party in power, for a time, even if it is ultimately lost on someone else's watch.

For the US defense industry, ramping up capacity for war with China brings a windfall of sustained revenue. Hundreds of retired US Flag officers employed in the defense industry, who currently loathe the sitting President, will be fawning vocal admirers of their commander in chief. They excelled in their military careers, and defense industry dividends are their perceived reward. Yet, to retain salaries they must serve corporate interests before the public interest, even at the expense of those they once led.

Defense production will bring jobs, Congressional campaign contributions and ultimately secure member incumbency. As a result, sitting members of Congress - except for a few ideological doves - will join the patriotic chorus. The demographic of Congress benefits our President. Fewer than 17 percent of members have served in the military, and a much smaller fraction have children serving in the military.

With no understanding of service and no family skin in the game, over 80 percent of sitting members treat war appropriations as business transactions, with public opinion the only commodity at risk. The blood loss of the volunteer force never comes home to roost in their homes - except for photo opportunities. In the absence of universal conscription many democratic members of Congress perceive military volunteers as pathetic, duped, or desperate, and certainly politically expendable.

Returning to Biden's words, his advisors were fully cognizant of their impact. When a US President states policy, the Chinese listen. They assume his words are informed and not merely a bluff. They now sense heightened danger and will accelerate their efforts to prepare for the worst. A Chinese historian might perceive that outcome as an unintended consequence of Biden's words; however, any seasoned US politician knows better.

Short-term benefits for savvy politicians are assured. Our hawkish President could even guarantee maintenance of democratic majorities in both houses. If conflict is delayed until late 2023 any setbacks could be deferred to, even blamed on the following Administration. US politics can be ruthless, but smart advisors can always assure that their principals and their political allies survive.

The conflict with China will be terrible, and the world will suffer. 20/20 hindsight will lead to universal regret that no-one recognized that Taiwan island has and always will mean more to China than it does to the US.

The saddest part is that the Americans who pay the highest price are young, idealistic, all-volunteer soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, and notably their loved ones. All of them believe in the wisdom and empathy of their elected decision makers, only to be devalued in cold political calculations.

The author is a retired Marine Corps infantry officer and a former Pentagon employee. Opinions are of the author and do not represent the US government. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn