Joe Biden’s pledge to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack seems to have been an off the cuff move by the American president. It certainly raised eyebrows and alarm bells across the world, signaling a shift in long-standing US policy. In one instant Biden removed all ambiguity over the US military’s role in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Or did he? Even now, weeks later, it’s difficult to determine how sincere Biden’s comments were. There was a considerable amount of backstepping by the White House in the days after Biden’s pledge especially on the matter of how the US now regards the One-China policy.
In the eyes of many in Taiwan and in other areas of the Western Pacific, the United States is now committed to Taiwan’s defense should hostilities break out. Biden’s pledge carries a considerable amount of weight. If China managed to call Biden’s bluff somehow, the ramifications the security and stability of the Western Pacific would be altered significantly and not in Washington’s favor. An outbreak of fighting between China and Taiwan would have a similar effect of US forces remained on the sidelines.
With a new Taiwan Strait crisis lurking on the horizon, the Biden Administration needs to come to terms with the fact its pledge might bring the US and China to blows.
Note: The week has sort of gotten away from me here. I was hoping to get this out earlier, but the opportunity never came about. I want to discuss the US pledge to defend Taiwan more. Hopefully I can get another more detailed entry out by the end of the weekend on this subject.
Things have been a little hectic on my end for the last few weeks and I want to apologize. My book deadline was looming and there were some other issues that also crept into my blog time. As a result, I have not been posting as often as I would like. I apologize for that.
On the bright side, I’m happy to say that I met the deadline, submitted the manuscript and now have considerably more free time on my hands. Therefore, as of Saturday I plan to go back to the every-other-day schedule for postings. Or every third day at the very most.
Outside of regular updates on present situations and posts about potential upcoming hot spots, I want to get back to the North Korean Collapse project. I should’ve known that I’d jinx myself when I promised in late July to post entries every weekend or so, provided no major event or war came into the picture. A week or so later Afghanistan started to crumble, I devoted my DIRT time to monitoring and writing about that, and the NK Collapse project went by the wayside. I intend to brush it off and resume towards the end of September, war or peace.
Short term, I think we’re going to stay in the Western Pacific region. There’s been considerable activity in that area with regards to China’s diplomatic moves and military posturing. Also, when the time allows for it I want to discuss the present crisis in confidence that is looming for the US military. Some folks are starting to recognize it, but it has not been discussed much up to the recent revelations about the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff contacting his Chinese counterpart and discussing potentially secretive subject matters in January, 2021. There’s a lot more happening underneath the surface. Definitely worth talking about more.
At this point of the crisis the United States has laid its cards out on the table. Any sort of Iranian retaliation will likely result in air and cruise missile strikes against Iranian targets. The dilemma for Iran is how to retaliate and obtain revenge without it resulting in Tehran becoming the world’s largest parking lot. Pretty neat trick if they can pull it off, but highly improbable. The US killing of Qasem Soliemani must be avenged otherwise Iran will lose a tremendous amount of influence across the region. Saving face is an important aspect of geopolitics in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Iran has placed itself in a corner and has limited options to work with right now.
Many of my colleagues on the academic side of the IR field are using the Prisoner’s Dilemma model for this particular situation. I certainly understand their reasoning. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a standard model of game theory explaining how two individuals acting in their own self-interests do not produce an optimal outcome in a given situation. It is a clean, logical, straightforward instrument. Unfortunately, logic exists only in a controlled environment such as a lecture hall, or a lab. In the real world, there are hundreds of variables that can produce a desultory effect on a situation, and therefore cannot be effectively modeled ahead of time. There are countless examples of this found in economics, politics, international relations, and military strategy throughout history.
It would be counterproductive for me to lay out some models of strategic interaction, and use them to explain the present crisis, and forecast what might come next. The main purpose of this blog is to discuss current geopolitical developments unfolding around the world, and to do so in a manner less formal than what you’d find at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, or the Kennedy School of Government up at Harvard. In any event, now is not the time for this crisis to be modeled, or analyzed through game theory. That comes in the postgame period when folks will sit down and review the crisis with all of the facts available, and the benefit of hindsight applicable.
The time for this will come, however, that time is not the present. There is still a lot of crisis left to play out and this one will include a number of unanticipated twists and turns. As mentioned above, this is the real world where things are not as neat and clear as they are in a lecture hall or conference room.
The criticism stemming from President Trump’s decision to remove US troops from northeastern Syria and allow Turkey to move forces into the area should come as no surprise. The Trump administration’s foreign policy decisions have been under fire since 20 January, 2017. Pundits, former diplomats, retired military officers, and politicians have second guessed practically every move the administration made, as well as the reasons behind the decisions. In some instances the criticism was motivated by politics, in others by the simple fact that Trump’s foreign policy was, and continue to be a mystery to many inside and outside of the Beltway.
As far as Syria goes, there should be no surprise, or for that matter, criticism surrounding the move by the president. Outside of defeating ISIS, the United States had no other vital interest related to the Syrian conflict. ISIS has been removed from the board so there is no other compelling reason for the US to keep troops in the area. Even humanitarian reasons aren’t enough to justify a longer commitment.
Syria is in the process of being Balkanized by its erstwhile allies and supporters. Assad’s victory was a pyrrhic one in every way imaginable. The post-conflict phase is now getting underway. The corpse of Syria remains on life support, allowing just enough circulation and heart activity for Turkey, Russia, and Iran to start partitioning sections of the country off. What’s left of Assad’s government, and the territory it controls will become a vassal state beholden to Russia. Iran is busy attempting to craft southern portions of Syrian into a forward operating location where it can springboard operations against Israel. Now Turkey is getting into the act, and with tacit US approval is preparing to move forces into northeastern Syria and establish a security/buffer zone. Erdogan has been seeking this opportunity for years, and with good reason. For a nation-state, security is always linked to expansion.
President Trump has been eager to pull the US out of its open-ended military engagements in the Middle East. His efforts have met with some success, and some failure. Contrary to what some pundits, and politicians on both sides of the aisle claim, Trump is not abandoning the Kurds, or giving Turkey a blank check with regards to Syria. If the Turks move against the Kurds or take action viewed as being outside of the parameters of the arrangement, there will be repercussions.
We will discuss this, as well as Turkey’s coming operation in Syria around midweek.
New threats by Iran against US troops in Iraq have prompted a very public surge of US forces to the Persian Gulf region. On Sunday evening, the White House and Pentagon announced that the USS. Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, and a USAF bomber force would be moving into the Persian Gulf area immediately. The decision to expedite the movement of these forces came after new intelligence made the possibility of hostile action against US forces in the near future seem imminent. There’s also been concern about Iranian maritime activity in the Strait of Hormuz, and Persian Gulf over the weekend and it’s probable this concern also helped to prompt the US military movements. National Security Adviser John Bolton summarized the threats as “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
Additional reports from the region on Monday appear to indicate the current standoff between the United States and Iran could very well be escalating soon. Reports from Iranian state media have suggested that Tehran intends to announce a reduction in its compliance with the 2015 Nuclear Agreement. An announcement could come as early as Wednesday which, ironically enough, marks one-year anniversary of the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal. This particular detail makes Iran’s intentions questionable. Will Iran reduce its commitment to the nuclear deal, or is this move simply a response to the latest US moves?
Scrutiny will be fixed upon the Strait of Hormuz in the coming days as the already-jittery global markets watch for any signs that Iran could be moving to restrict movement through the strategically-important strait, or possibly close it entirely.