Is the Biden Administration Stumbling Into War?
Is the Biden Administration Stumbling Into War? By Victor Davis Hanson for American Greatness
Nothing is more dangerous than stronger powers, even inadvertently, sending signals that are interpreted as weakness by weaker powers.
What causes wars?
Innately aggressive cultures and governments, megalomania, the desire for power, resources, and empire prompt nations to bully or attack others. Less rational Thucydidean motives such as fear and honor and perceptions of self-interest are not to be discounted either.
But what allows these preemptive or aggressive agendas to reify, to take shape, and to leave tens of thousands dead?
The less culpable target (and wars are rarely a matter of 50/50 culpability) also has a say in what causes wars. The invaded and assaulted sometimes overlooked or contextualized serial and mounting aggression. They displayed real military weakness or simple political ineptness that eroded deterrence. They failed to make defensive alliances with stronger nations or slashed defense investments that made the use of deterrent force impossible.
In sum, without deterrence and the clear potential in extremis to do an aggressor damage, there can be no meaningful peace negotiations, no “conflict resolution”—unless one believes a Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Kim Il-sung can become a reasonable interlocutor across the peace table.
Weakness as Strength, Strength as Weakness
But there are also other more subtle follies that can turn tensions into outright fighting. And they are relevant in the current global landscape as we go not just from one president to the next, but from a realist and tragic view of foreign policy to an idealist and therapeutic one.
One catalyst for war is a lack of transparency about the relative strengths and will of potential enemies.
If, even unwittingly, President Biden projects the image that the Pentagon is more concerned about ferreting out wayward internal enemies than in seeking unity by deterring aggressors, then belligerents such as China, North Korea, and Iran and others will likely—even if falsely and unwisely—wager that the United States will not or cannot react to provocations, as it has done in the past. And accordingly, they will be emboldened to provoke their neighbors with less worry about consequences.
Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 on the false assumption that Stalin had been too busy purging his military elite, starving his own people, or executing both rivals and friends. He certainly did all that and more.