Austin Bay

Russia and China are conducting multiple probing operations intended to test President Biden’s administration as a whole and, to be frank, directly target Joe Biden as the septuagenarian human being who ostensibly leads what China’s communist propagandists ritually deride as the U.S.-led “Liberal International Order” but recently scorned as “U.S.-led anti-China cliques.”

These cliques include but are not limited to Japan, South Korea, France, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Poland and, in my view, Taiwan.

The ongoing probing operations are classic examples of “power cocktails” mixing what strategists dub the basic elements of power. The Pentagon uses the acronym DIME to sketch them: diplomacy, intelligence/information, military and economic.

The key operational cocktails Russia and China currently serve are Military shows of force (ships, planes, tanks), Diplomatic threats and Information-warfare operations (propaganda and psychological warfare). Military shows of force, like the one Russia is conducting on Ukraine’s borders with massed mechanized forces, could result in a sudden attack — in other words, a drastically escalated war in Eastern Europe.

At the moment, we have reason to doubt that is the Kremlin’s intention, but no one really knows. However, it’s a slam-dunk guarantee the military demonstrations, diplomatic intimidation and provocative lies are threats of war calculated to achieve a strategic effect: inciting fear that erodes the will to confront the Russian regime, first and foremost in America but also in other powerful democratic states.

China has the same goals, as it targets Taiwan and the Philippines, threatens Japan and confronts India in the Himalayas.

A key assumption this column makes but that is based on experience: Beijing and Moscow are coordinating their probes, at least at the wink and nod level.

This column’s bottom-line argument: Without strong leadership by democratic nations, primarily from the powerful U.S., our weaknesses, especially our self-inflicted weaknesses, could quickly become debilitating wounds the authoritarians will leverage, to our great loss.

Credit French President Emmanuel Macron with recognizing that, at least regarding Russia. He told CBS News the democracies must continue discussions with Russia but “define clear red lines” with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. He added, “sanctions are not sufficient in themselves, but … are part of the package.”

Macron criticized “a failure of our collective credibility” to respond effectively to Russia’s 2014 Ukraine invasion. The “international community” also failed to enforce the Obama-Biden administration’s now-infamous August 2012 “red line” forbidding use of chemical weapons by Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. During the interview, he made this strong statement: “We will never accept new military operations on Ukrainian soil.”

Bravo. But Macron knows that making that stick in the Kremlin craw requires U.S. diplomatic, economic and military power.

In August 2013, the Assad government launched a nerve gas attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. The attack killed over 1,200 and clearly violated Obama’s red line. He was saying he would not permit a war crime of that magnitude on his watch. But Assad crossed the red line, and he failed to take punitive military action.

The 2014 Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea also took place on the Obama-Biden watch.

The 2021 saber rattling is fueled, figuratively and literally, by the sharp jump in oil prices spurred by Biden administration “green policies” that undermine U.S. energy independence. High oil prices give the Kremlin money to spend on armed troublemaking and strategic spoiler operations. This is a telling example of self-inflicted U.S. weakness.

The Pentagon says Moscow’s current military buildup on Ukraine’s border exceeds that of 2014. The Kremlin announced that it has closed the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. This denies Ukraine use of two major seaports.

Meanwhile, Chinese strike planes penetrate Taiwan’s air space, and Chinese warships probe Japanese islands. China’s “sea militia” coast guard and fishing vessels occupy shoals and waters clearly belonging to the Philippines. China’s diplomats and propagandists claim the water belongs to China.

The Obama-Biden Syrian red line debacle worries Macron — for Joe Biden now resides in the White House.

Austin Bay is a syndicated columnist and author.


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