In the summer of 2013, with the United States’ attention focused on the home front with terrorist attacks and threat assessments, Israel bombards Iranian nuclear centers, military bases and outposts. Iran quickly responses with a salvo of missile launches at U.S. carrier groups, military bases and the Israeli homeland. Hezbollah rockets and short range missiles over tax the Iron Dome system and cause much destruction and loss of life in Tel Aviv and other cities. Israel is now in full blown war on at least two fronts. The United States is forced to respond to the Iranian assault on its soldiers and seaman with heavy bombardments of Iranian oil interests and military assets and nuclear facilities. Iranian ground forces invade Iraqi Kurdistan, with support from Turkey and possibly Iraq, to eliminate the massing threat of a declaration of independence from a Kurdish nation that would benefit from a strategic relationship with Israel. And here we go. The United States is now committed to another war in this region. One’s imagination need not stretch too far to foresee this situation.
What if China, seeing the U.S. bogged down in its fourth war in the Middle East decides that the time is now or never to expand its control over vast portions of the South and East China seas? Imagine that China surrounds the Senkaku Islands and deploys a radar station on Japanese claimed territory or has a regiment of marines dig in. Will Japan respond by re-taking the islands? Will China counter by threatening Okinawa or further deploying ships and troops to Japanese waters? China may very well bet that the U.S., wrapped up in a devastating war with Iran, et al., will fail to respond to Japanese calls to confront the Chinese threat. After all, the U.S. is busy and the Senkakus are uninhabited. Will Japan back off or use its considerable naval and air advantage over China and engage in uncertain warfare? Will the Chinese assumptions about U.S. response be wrong and result in war between the world’s two largest economies?
What if North Korea seizes the opportunity to attack Japan or South Korea? After all, they are not getting the attention they deserve. And by pushing forward on an impressive albeit minor military maneuver, they may secure a peace treaty and concessions from the U.S. What if the Russians jump on the bandwagon and retake islands claimed by Japan which hold vast oil and gas interests? They’d be right that no better time had come and such an opportunity may not surface again for decades or even centuries.
These threats, while forward looking are outgrowths of almost 70 years of U.S. policies. From the 1940s through the 1990s we, the United States, were the mother on the playground that faced down many small time bullies, one hulking dangerous killer and hid our allies in our amply sized apron. We assured them that no contingency could occur that we couldn’t either prevent or repel. Times have changed. We have proven our ability to take on a single bad actor. We have, since World War Two, demonstrated our enormous power potential and exercised military restraint for the whole world to see. We have the ability to hit any target anywhere in the world within minutes and to destroy entire nations from a command center in North Dakota. We have also, most notably under President Obama, demonstrated a complete lack of strong and meaningful foreign policies. Our President has drawn a “red line” in Syria should the regime there deploy chemical weapons. They did, we did nothing. Russians have flown nuclear armed bombers around the U.S. mainland as well as strategic military basis thousands of miles from Russian territory. We did not respond. North Korea has threatened to annihilate U.S. and allied cities. We offered direct talks. In short: We have no credibility. The Obama administration has taken the United States image from that of a strong and able superpower that will confront any enemy, at any time with vigor and determination to that of a waffling old codger who might have been fearsome once but now has no appetite, no backbone for full scale war…even in defense. We look weak. Looking weak is arguably more dangerous than actually being weak. There is no doubt that the United States could win any war it is forced to fight. The problem is that we have promised to fight more wars for more nations that we are really willing to fight. By spreading our considerable nuclear-umbrella-backed might willy-nilly across the globe, we have encouraged our enemies to test our resolve. Now, with the United States embroiled in wars all over the Middle East and Africa, and facing terrorism at home and abroad, our Asian-pacific enemies may sense and opportunity, one too glorious to pass up should all the pieces fall in place.
Back to the hypothetical: What would we do if China and/or North Korea and (dare I say it) Russia takes advantage of the Iranian mill stone around our neck should that war break out? Would we, as we’ve promised to do, head long in to World War Three or would we, as our enemies suspect, surrender ground and allow a rebalance of power in the Pacific? It is simply too much to contemplate and certainly more war than we should ever offer to fight. And mostly likely much more war than the American public would accept. And it’s a scenario we can do a lot to avoid.
America’s projection of power is only as effective as long as it prevents war. By giving security assurances that cover every inch of our allies’ soil, we have painted ourselves in to a corner. Should China seize the uninhabited Senkaku islands, we won’t respond militarily, either because we cannot effectively do so considering the other wars we are waging or because we simply do not think it is worth the cost. But if we do nothing the façade of American security guarantees will be shattered. Once it is shattered, it cannot be rebuilt. Once it is shattered, the whole world will know that the United States is unwilling to go to war over minor land grabs. Then intermediate land grabs then who knows what. But as long as the façade stands appearing strong, other nations will be hesitant to challenge its extent.
Iran is a threat but a regional one that Israel and Saudi Arabia can contain. Our time to fight Iran was when they were actively killing our soldiers in Iraq. Our time there has come and gone. It is just not in our interest or our allies to fight another preemptive war at the moment. It is in our interest and that of our allies to keep our eyes on the bigger threat, one that is less likely to blow up if the United States is not already embroiled in multiple wars on multiple continents. The Iranian threat is a regional one that could turn global but only with U.S. intervention. Without U.S. intervention, the threat remains regional. The Chinese situation is unlikely to become a real threat unless the U.S. turns her weary war gaze back towards unending conflict in the Middle East. War is often brought on by perceptions of weakness. Another U.S. war this time with a pre-nuclear bellicose Iran would sap U.S. resources and demonstrate such global weakness. Peace is often obtained by projections of ready strength; standing ready to protect our interests in the pacific against enemies that do have nuclear weapons and huge number of soldiers without the distraction of a faraway regional conflict demonstrates such ready strength.