In an editorial at the New York Post this weekend, Michael Goodwin raises a disturbing point that’s been discussed here before. He highlights the two most recent incidents where President Joe Biden has gone off-script when talking about our superpower adversaries in ways that might result in his “loose lips” literally sinking ships. One was the occasion earlier this year when he said that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” suggesting that the United States might support removing him by force. The second was the latest incident in Tokyo where Biden answered a reporter’s question by saying that America would militarily defend Taiwan if the Chinese were to invade the island.
In all of these instances, Biden’s team was forced to rush out and clean up the mess by “clarifying” what the President really meant to say. (That being the exact opposite of what he actually said.) If he hoped to cow our rivals into better behavior, those hopes were quickly dashed. The Chinese flew nuclear-capable bombers over the Sea of Japan while Biden was in Tokyo. Putin just test-fired another hypersonic missile that can be fitted with nuclear warheads. Some European nations are already expanding their military budgets significantly and NATO is forming an even more solid wall along Russia’s borders. With all of that provided as context, Goodwin reminds us of a similar situation in the 1930s and 1940s, pointing out that the line between saber-rattling and launching missiles can be crossed easier than some of us might think and it can happen in the blink of an eye.
In his book “The Sleepwalkers,” author Christopher Clark masterfully describes how World War I started despite no European leader wanting war or believing one would happen. As the title suggests, each was lulled into a false sense of security that produced one of history’s greatest calamities.
Are we on the verge of sleepwalking into World War III? Nobody claims to want it, but a global conflict involving the great powers nonetheless feels closer than it has at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962.
Hawkish language and threats are routine, and nations from Japan to Europe are rapidly raising their military spending. Merely to consider the possibility is distressing, especially on Memorial Day weekend, but there is no escaping the concern now that the idea of nuclear war is a fairly common topic in the media and international organizations. Putin has rattled his nukes repeatedly, including putting his forces on high alert, as the West has rushed to help Ukraine. There is widespread speculation he would not hesitate to use one if he feels cornered.
Xi Jinping has not only made threatening statements toward the United States. He recently warned Japan of a “full-scale war” involving WMDs if they involved themselves in the situation in Taiwan. And North Korea is back to testing its latest generation of ICBMs, with analysts expecting new nuclear tests in the near future.
In an environment such as this, it is fair to point out that it could be dangerous to have the leader of the free world frequently losing the plot and blurting out things that push these adversaries closer to the brink. Both Putin and Xi may be watching Biden’s performances and ignoring the clean-up work done by his aides. After all, it is Joe Biden who has access to the nuclear football, not his press secretary.
How serious is this threat? It’s serious enough to have military analysts worried at this point. It may still be true to say that no world leaders are actively hoping for a third world war or a nuclear exchange. But the reality is that it only takes one of them crazy enough to pull the trigger to take us over the edge. Take a look at the current slate of world leaders and ask yourself if any of them might fit that description.
Xi Jinping still seems to be in control of his faculties, but he’s also maniacal and seems to honestly believe that it’s his destiny to bring Taiwan fully back under the control of the mainland. Vladimir Putin seems to have simply lost the plot according to many analysts and he may not be concerned with the consequences of kicking off a nuclear war if he’s nearing the end of his days. And if we’re being honest, Joe Biden has far more “senior moments” than we should be comfortable with. Add in the maniacal mullahs in Iran and the diminutive despot in North Korea and you have a worrisome collection of kings on a chessboard that’s getting awfully crowded.
In America, we have a tradition of glorifying warfare based on the many movies that have been made about D-Day and the fall of Berlin. But the reality is that millions of people died (with a staggering amount of them being Russians) and many European cities were left in ruins that took a generation to rebuild. And that all took place without any nukes except for the two that forced Japan to surrender. A full nuclear exchange between the superpowers would dwarf what happened in Europe in the 1940s by a vast degree. Such a thing should be unthinkable. But as I’ve said here before, there are a lot of unthinkable things happening lately.
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